“Today, racing wouldn’t be what it is without Gene,” said Jensen’s former partner and longtime friend Dan Hassel, who remembers his friend every time he sees recreational paddlers carrying bent-shaft paddles and Jensen-designed canoes over the Nym Lake portage.
Hassel cottages on Nym Lake every summer, and it was his privilege to paddle Jensen’s wife Audrey to the middle of the Mississippi River so she could cast his ashes onto the water. Hassel also set drift a paddle on the river in Jensen’s memory.
“I let a paddle go that was one of Gene’s very first that he ever built, if not the very first. I thought it fitting to put a little poem on it with instructions [to anyone finding it to send it back on its way]. He was a very good friend.”
Jensen paddled bow, so Hassel had a lot of opportunity to check out his partner’s technique.
“There isn’t anybody I’ve ever been in a canoe with that’s had such command in front of the canoe. His mind was so quick and he could make decisions so quickly - reading the water for instance - he never wanted to ease through rapids or high water - he would attack it. That made it easier because the faster you go, the more control you have.”
Jensen was not just an excellent paddler; he also used his excellent sense of humour to heighten the level of friendly competition almost to the breaking point.
“He loved to taunt other racers. He’d take a little thing of peaches; we’d be wave riding and Gene would put his paddle down, grab a plastic spoon and eat his peaches. One team always used to get frustrated and tried many times to reach over and grab the spoon…and Gene’s smiling at him, eating his peaches.”
After a life of paddling, and designing and building canoes and paddles, Jensen spent a lot of time in his second home in Florida. Dozens of paddlers would travel there every spring to get an early start on their training, and Hassel figured that Jensen’s lifelong commitment to the sport and his magnetic personality were the real attractions that drew the crowds of paddling enthusiasts.
“A lot of it was just being around Gene. He was the centre of everything even when he could hardly get out of his chair because of his arthritis. He loved reminiscing. He had a family, but paddlers were his second family,” Hassel said. “He definitely was one of a kind, one of the true thinkers of our time and he’ll be missed.”
by Jacqueline Boileau, Atikokan Progress