AFL rookie turned Sprint Kayaker, Jackson Collins developed his love for paddling as a surf lifesaving nipper.
With his sights now firmly set on Paris 2024 and achieving his Olympic dream, the 25 year old relocated to the Gold Coast almost 18 months ago where he trains under Men’s Sprint Kayak Coach, Jimmy Owens, at the National Centre of Excellence.
“I always competed in surf lifesaving doing ski paddling, so when I stopped playing AFL I made the transition into kayaking full time, it just seemed like the logical thing to do,” said Collins.
“It wasn’t until I completely gave up AFL that I thought ‘ok, if I’m going to do this I want to do it properly and want to go to the Olympics’. I was playing at the highest level in footy and I wanted to compete at the highest possible level in kayaking as well, and that’s the Olympics, so as soon as I made the transition, that became the goal.
“It’s been good starting at the National Centre of Excellence with all the boys. It’s challenging in that training sessions are really hard and everyone wants to be at the front, but at the same time it’s amazing to have such a competitive group that pushes each other. Everyone’s pretty nice and it’s a good environment to be in, so it’s the best place to be.”
Having moved to Sydney to train with the New South Wales Institute of Sport (NSWIS) and North Bondi Surf Club a few years ago, Collins is happy to be back in Queensland and close to his surf lifesaving roots, noting there’s not much to complain about when you live on the Gold Coast.
“Surf lifesaving is massive for me, it’s where I get a lot of my joy and it’s such a great outlet. It’s really nice to just go along and race and not be too fussed about the result. I can put a lot of pressure on myself in my kayak, so when I get out on the ski it’s just for fun which is really nice,” said Collins.
“It feels so great to be out on the water on the Gold Coast, all the waterways are beautiful and the weather is awesome pretty much all year round. It feels really good to be up early and paddling while the sun rises, like you’re doing the right thing for your body.
“Ultimately, I just really enjoy paddling, whether it’s in a kayak or a ski, so I just love being out there,” he said.
Establishing himself on the international paddling scene in 2022 when he won the Mixed K2 500m event with teammate Aly Bull at the World Championships, the Olympic hopeful says pulling on the green and gold is always special.
“Winning the K2 race with Aly Bull was the highlight of my paddling career so far. It was so much fun and Bully is so great, so it was good to go and win with her,” he said.
“You get really nervous pulling the Aussie singlet on cause you know it’s all on the line at that point. I don’t wear that singlet unless I’m racing at a World Championships or a World Cup, so every time you put it on you feel really honoured to race for your country and compete at the highest possible level. It’s very humbling and nerve wracking but also very exciting.
“There’s been a really big emphasis lately on qualifying the maximum number of spots for Paris 2024 and it’s such a great feeling knowing we have qualified a full six quota spots for next year’s Games. I’m doing everything I can to give myself the best chance of going to Paris 2024,” said Collins.
While looking forward to next year and the competition season it will bring, Collins always ensures he has time to reflect on his journey and enjoy the process.
“There’ve been quite a few people that have made a really big difference in my life and they’ve all played different roles,” said Collins.
“My dad [Olympian Dan Collins] is a massive role model for me, he’s made such a difference in my life the whole way through. Jake Michael down in NSW has helped me massively, and Nick Crilly was my first ever coach and the person who taught me how to paddle, so I owe him a lot too.
“Those three people have had a huge impact on me and have always made sure that I’m enjoying my paddling and having a good time, even when it’s as serious as it is, so I’m very grateful to have them in my life.”