Eckhardt went into today’s final in seventh position, then had to sit and wait as other competitors also struck trouble on the difficult Penrith course.
“I can’t even explain how excited I am,” Eckhardt said.
“It’s so overwhelming. I can’t believe it. After my run I didn’t think I would be in medal contention, but once we got down to the last few paddlers I saw I had a chance, my heart was beating pretty fast, I tell you.”
Eckhardt had three gate touches, which added six seconds to her time.
The gold medal was won by Brazil’s Ana Satila, who finished in 114.48 seconds with a two-second penalty for a gate touch.
Eckhardt’s time was 121.77 seconds.
One of the first to congratulate Eckhardt was her father, Peter, who paddled for Australia at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.
Experts were tipping a big improvement for the Hobart-based paddler this year, but even Eckhardt was surprised how far she’s come.
“I’m so excited to see how far I’ve progressed, from coming 24th last year to second this year, it’s so exciting,” she said.
“I can’t say that was my best paddling, but I guess I was able to put together a good enough run under so much pressure.”
Australia’s other competitor in the women’s final, Noemie Fox, finished fourth.
In the men’s K1 Mario Leitner won Austria’s first ever gold medal at a Junior World Championships, with Slovakia’s Vid Kuder Marusic second.
The Czech Republic’s Michael Matekjka and Jan Vetrovsky won the men’s junior C2 gold, ahead of New Zealand’s Daniel Munro and Luke Robinson.
The World Championships finish tomorrow, with Jessica Fox attempting to complete a K1/C1 double.