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The World Championships are barreling down on us and you can feel it here in Austria!

One week before the first rides of the worlds, the hole is no longer available for open practice. Team times are set up by the organizers and each team gets two spots before the competition. It is the sudden realization that you can no longer train when you want to, combined with the arrival of 90+% of the competitors, that let’s you know game time is approaching quickly.

The past 24 hours we had rain here in Graz, while it dumped snow in the mountains down to 1,000 meters. This morning the river was up to the biggest water yet in 2003. The hole became quite big, but yet, it was more friendly to surf. The eddies nearly washed out making it difficult to catch, but the walk was easy enough. The U.S. Team trained from 8am until noon today. It was exciting having the entire team in one place at one time for the first time this year. Great Britain trained next and in good ‘old English manner they broke their training session down into classes with 20 minutes of water time. It wasn’t exactly Swiss clockwork, but it was a “proper training session”. The U.S. team used the Liaise’-faire approach and just let the traffic monitor itself. I am not an expert in government, but must say this method is quite effective for such a group.

The Canadian Team was next and they are a powerhouse of talent. The Ottawa River pretty much is their secret. Combine that river, with programs like the “Keener Program” at Wilderness Tours where teens go and learn to kayak while working off their keep at the kayak school and resort and you have a winning combination. Ken Whiting, Tyler Curtis, Kevin Varette, Ruth Gordon, Chad Hitchins, James McDermott, and others all came from this program. Many are obviously names you now know. Watch for more top boaters from Canada.

Yesterday we had the Germans in the water. Watch for Jutta, the top woman from Germany. She just won the Lyon, France event and is paddling well here. Tobia Bersch is the best of the men’s team, as well as European Champion.

The Austrian, New Zealand, Australian, and some other smaller teams paddled yesterday as well. Each one with a top boat or two showing off impressive stuff.

At night time, everybody has a favorite restaurant to eat at. I went to Flan O’Brians Irish Pub with my family. We had to wait a couple of minutes to get a table, but everybody there was a kayaker. The British and Irish teams were there, of course, for a “Pint of Guiness” .Andrew Holcomb and I were commenting on how often we experience a new country surrounded by the same people. We were on parallel paths in Africa this year and paddled together on both the Nile and Zambezi Rivers, and now here in Austria.

I was whisked off by Margaret from the “Rodeo Worlds” office to attend a press conference where the major sponsors, and media would get their first introduction to this years event. We had it at a cool old theater, known by the local college students (40,000 of them) as the “Devils Triangle” because of the parties there that suck you in and you never let you out. The press conference started off with some handshaking and then right to a cool video leader that goes on the front of every movie before it starts. It will be the opener for both the X-men and Matrix II which start tomorrow. I get the feeling that the crowds will be huge at this years event. They also showed a TV commercial that is being played across Austria that shows a computer animated guy in his lazy-boy watching TV and a short commercial on the World Championships comes on his TV. He picks up his lamp and uses it like a paddle and does tricks in his living room. It was a cool commercial. After that they paraded me to the front of the room along with the other VIP’s. I sat there and paid close attention as they spoke German for about 30 minutes, each sponsor and organizer making a statement. I didn’t understand much. Then they had me talk about the hole, the event, etc. and I guess I did a good job because the sponsors were quite happy. The main sponsor is “Select” which is the electric company here in Graz. Afterwards, there was quite a selection of food, drinks, caviar, etc.. Not a bad way to spend an hour or so. I understand that they have recruited me for another such event. This one, however, is a full on party for the sponsors and media. It will be done on the “Murinsel” or Mur Island. Mur is the name of the river here and they built a cool glass and stainless steel island just a stones throw from the hole, literally. It is complete with a cafe’ and outdoor theater for plays and concerts. It will be another hour of talking, with me making a short presentation on Terminator III (the hole) and then a concert and party. The cool part about this party is that it is on Monday night and my Prelims rides aren’t until Thursday. This means I will probably take the kids home at about 10 and stay at the party with Kristine until whenever we have had enough!

Sorry if that was all off the subject there! It is all part of the event though, kind of. You can’t just come here and somehow insulate yourself from the hundreds of kayakers you are competing with, the coaches, friends, and families tagging along. The past two days we have had to go to the office and get our picture taken for the badges we have to wear to get down to the river front which is off limits to the public. There is now guards there 24 hours a day to watch your stuff. I still don’t know if I want to leave my kayak there. Kristine picked up all 41 U.S. Team bags. In those bags are our Bibs, as well as meal tickets, a rubber duck, lots of information, coupons, discounts, and goodies. It took the whole family to carry these bags to the river last night for the first official U.S. Team Meeting. We all got our bibs, instructions, do and do nots, and the EJ welcome to the rookies at their first world championships.

The big question everybody has now is: What is the hole going to be like for the worlds? The water is super high today, but going down already. Apparently it is still raining in the valley, according to Rudi. I don’t know how accurate his predictions are though since he said it would rain for two more days. So the hole is most likely to be somewhere between the super low level of yesterday to a medium level. Both are fine, medium is better though. How do you train for an event where the water changes a lot? One way is to come early enough to get the various levels under your belt. That is what I did. Of course much of my training was not at the right level, but that is OK too. The other technique is to arrive and just use your general skills and apply them to whatever hole you get on competition day. I actually am a fan of this method and used it to win the 2000 Pre-worlds, where I got to Spain the day the competition started. I can honestly say that most people get worse after a few rides and it could take them up to a week to get as good as they were on their first ride, especially if they are intimidated by the hole at all.

I am planning on doing a video premier of my “Advanced Playboating” video here later this week. I am excited about getting it out in the next week and a half!!!

Ruth Gordon from Canada carving up the hole.

Ruth showing off her winning smile!

Devan Barker’s first worlds, lots to smile about

Kayakers eating kebab’s on the square

Tanya Shuman, another smiling Freestyle queen

David Hughes of Huge Experiences coaching his kids