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The World Championships History- My first hand experience

I first found out about the World Rodeo Championships in 1991 right after it happened. It was the first such event and I didn’t know about it until it was too late. Jan Kelner from Germany won that event. I was not happy that such an event happened without me. In 1984 I was training in Augsburg Germany for slalom and Jan Kelner sought me out to learn about playboating. It was unheard of in Europe at that time. Somehow, he knew that I was a playboater and wanted a demonstration. I was, in fact, a playboater. I even kept my Protec helmet instead of adopting the Ace helmets the other slalom racers used just to remind people that I was, “a playboater first, slalom boater second”. Well, Jan brought a plastic boat over for me to show him my stuff. I was quite excited. I did big enders in the “washing machine” with pirouettes, retendos, hand surfing, back enders, spins, and rock spins. He was convinced that this was his future. The next time I heard his name was when he won the first worlds. I, of course felt that should have been me.

In1993 the Worlds were scheduled to happen on the Ocoee River in Tennessee. I was determined to win these, it was all part of my “mega plan” which included slalom, flatwater sprint, and wildwater. I made the US Freestyle Team for the first time in 1993 (the first time there was a team trials). That trials is another story.

The 1993 Worlds were at Hell Hole. It was a monumental event for the kayaking industry. This event was the first time in history kayakers designed boats for freestyle and the manufacturers made them! I was in a Dagger Transition. The prototype was a great boat, flat hull, short and super slicy (for a 9 foot boat) The worlds included both the Freestyle through a rapid and the hole riding competitions. Scott Shipley won the Freestyle through a rapid, and I won the Hole Riding. Dan Gavere got second in the hole riding. I only needed to beat Scott in the finals to win the event. It was the first time I could truly show off my playboating abilities. I invented the split-wheel in that event and used it to help me win. Scott Shipley was second and Shane Benedict was third.

In 1995, the next world championships, it was in Augsburg Germany. Here Linking cartwheels became the norm and Ollie Grau from Germany won with a 10 pointer in his Dagger Blast. Corran got second, and Donald Calder from New Zealand was third. In the women’s class Jamie Simon won, after the women tried to make a pact that no women should try cartwheels since it is a power thing and really is only for men. Jamie told them to shuv-it and cartwheeled to win, a big win for women boaters. The old school women boaters took a back seat to the new age of women freestylers after that. I hit bottom on a cartwheel so hard in the first ten seconds of my finals ride that I tore muscles in my ribs. It was bad enough that I couldn’t finish my ride or do my second ride. I finished last in finals. The event was held on an artificial course designed for the 1972 Olympic Slalom event. Mercedes was a sponsor and the whole thing had a professional atmosphere. I was crushed when I hurt myself, it was less than 10 seconds into my 60 second ride. I floated down the course alone, unable to paddle. Needed help to get my gear off. I walked back up the course to watch the others finished their second rides and to see Ollie win with a linked 10 pointer. It was a low point in my freestyle career, but it was beyond my control, except for the fact that I would focus on developing super strong torso muscles that could handle hard hits as soon as I healed (which was 6 months)

In the next couple of years paddlers like Clay Wright, BJ Johnson, Dan Gavere, Ken Whiting, Marc Lyle, Lee Bonfiglio, Brad Ludden, and Javid Grubbs became awesome playboaters and really pushed the envelope in holes. They learned to link ends, splits, loops, spins on waves, etc.. Corran moved to Montreal and spent his time surfing Lachine and was getting good at doing spins.

The next worlds were held in 1997 on the Ottawa River. There are three features there to use, two holes and a wave and there was time to use them all if you wanted. Ken Whiting lived in a cabin that overlooked the hole and learned to paddle there. He was clearly the guy to beat. Our boats that year were the 3-D, Vertigo, Stubby, Blade, and a Glide prototype. The competition came down to Ken and I on the right side hole and Kenny Mutton of New Zealand on the left side hole. Ken got 35 ends to win to my 34 ends with Kenny not to far behind. It was an intense competition with everybody waiting to the end to see who won, because it was so close. Ultimately Ken won and I was second, Kenny third.

In 1999 the World’s were held on a wave in New Zealand. Blunts, backstabs, clean and super clean cartwheels, loops, and aerial blunts were all new moves for this worlds. I was confident with this event since I had been winning most events and was winning after quarter finals. Both Ken Whiting and I blew off the wave on our opening moves in Semi-finals to get knocked out of the competition before finals. It was another crushing moment for me but it can happen that your bad ride comes at a bad time. In fact I have a theory that if you average twice as high of a score as anybody else, you still only have a 50% chance of winning. Eric Southwick was the sleeper that scraped into each round and just kept plugging away until the last ride in which he won it all. Corran Addison also had was a sleeper that kept moving forward and took the silver with Steve Fisher getting the bronze. This particular spot was good for both wave and hole surfers. The water level dropped for semi-finals and I didn’t adjust appropriately. The foam pile almost disappeared and I tried to get vertical when I shouldn’t have, so I flushed and that was game over. In that worlds the boats were the Wave Sport ForPlay, the Glide, the Centerfuge, and the Amp, along with the FJ by Blisstick.

In 2001 we went to Spain for a big hole competition. This spot spoiled everybody in terms of the location in downtown, everybody in hotels within walking distance. Beautiful setting, relaxed atmosphere, until the competition. This competition introduced the grandstands, and nighttime events to the worlds. Thousands of spectators partying and having a good time during the event, cowbells, horns, loud music, spot lights, strobe lights, colored lights, everything to create an intense competitive atmosphere was in Spain. People paddled the Wave Sport EZ, the Shock, Spin prototype, the Ego, and the Disco. I paddled well, having won the Pre-Worlds there the year before, and winning round after round, it looked good for me. I had an unbeatable routine that should score 849 points if done perfectly. I never did it perfectly, but averaged almost double everybody’s scores coming in with lots of 500+ point rides. The finals were intense and the hole was demanding physically. By the last ride with Eric Southwick and me being the only ones left, I was exhausted. I actually stalled a little because I saw a raft coming down and I waited for it. I did my last ride and the score was good enough that Wick would need a great ride to beat it. The result was my second world champion title and a great feeling that I have waited for . I thought for sure I would win in New Zealand, but didn’t. I got second the time before that, got injured the time before that, so it was 8 years between wins.

So now another two years later, we are here in Austria. I am paddling well, confident that I can win this one barring bad rides with poor timing. Last year here, I set the new world’s record for the highest scoring freestyle rides of all time, twice. I still got fifth because my one ride where I flushed out was during finals and I got knocked out after winning the last two rounds. It is a crazy sport that rewards doing the right rides at the right time. The hole is quite difficult here which will make the scores spread out quite a bit, I think. I think there will be quite a few rides in the men’s kayak under 100 and lots in the 100’s, a dozen or so in the 200’s, a few in the 300’s, and a couple over 400, and an occasional ride at 500+. This hole is difficult enough that there is no easy way to get technical points or variety points without some set up and potential crashes. This means more time in the 45 seconds is spent setting up and less time doing a new move.

The boats this year are the Wave Sport Transformer (I feel sorry for anybody not in one!) the Kingpin, Pocket Rocket, Sub 6, the Air, the Red Fred (Robson) and the new Rainbow boat (I don’t know the name) Some of the Riot boaters are getting the Disco out as well. 90% of the paddlers in the Transformer are using the medium or longer tips. The super short boats seem to get lost and fall down a lot in the hole. It will be interesting to see how it pans out during the competition.

Obviously the ending to this years worlds is unknown. This is what is so exciting about it. It depends upon how skilled you are during the event, how well you handle pressure, and just a little luck.