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August 31, 2006

The Inaugural World Cup for Freestyle Kayaking is only 1 day from being officially open. While most competitors are here training already, it seems that people are pulling in every day. Last night at 2am there were about 5 cars parked at the Garberator and people training like it was noon. The main organizer, Sharky, put up a generator and flood lights to extend training times from daylight hours to 24 hours. At the 2001 World Championships in Spain the Semi-finals started at 11:30 pm under the lights. At Graz, Austria for the 2003 World Championships the streetlights were bright enough to paddle at any hour and that was well taken advantage of. But here in the middle of no-where, literally, on a wilderness river in the trees, a mile off the nearest road you can find paddlers hooting and hollering for each other in the wee hours of the night with no other sounds other than the roar of 15,000 cfs ripping through the Lorne Rapid into the Garberator Wave. This is summer low water on the Ottawa at -1 feet on the Gauge, which is perfect for this wave. In the spring next year the water will be around 16-18 feet and running at 100,000+ cfs and the roar will be even louder on the same rapid for BusEater which is only 50 yards downstream of the Garberator.

The demeanor of the athletes here is very laid back and friendly. There are few team managers or coaches to amp up the athletes and pit them against each other because they come from another country. This event feels very much like a normal event that just happens to have paddlers from around the world. Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Croatia, Slovenia, France, Swiss, German, England, Ireland, Costa Rica, Mexico, USA, Canada, etc., etc. The athletes have been coming out in small groups, usually with other team members, so when you see one Japanese guy you see a few of them, and a couple on the shore videoing, etc. You also see junior women or men paddling and their parents on the shore watching, coaching, or just running shuttle.

The hangout is the “platform” or the judges platform right beside the wave. It has a tarp over it so dew doesn’t settle on it making it a popular camping spot. When I paddle early in the morning I will see sleeping bags from one side of it to the other and we usually end up waking a few of them up from making noise on the river. They keep their boats just behind them or in the next eddy up or down and wake up, eat whatever they carried in and do lots of surfing. Another tactic for getting in quality training with the shortest possible lineup is to hang out in your gear and boat ready. When a group leaves and the line suddenly gets shorter, they jump in for a few rides before the next group shows up. I have a different plan. Team Jackson Kayak has the ultimate accommodation program. We are in the “Farmhouse” bed and breakfast where we have a house that sleeps 14 comfortably and it is a short walk to the river where we paddle up to the Garberator! This means that we can come and go as we please with no vehicle needed. Right now we have Swiss, Australian, Costa Rican, USA, and Canadian Team JK paddlers staying here. Kristine and I sleep in the RV, leaving more beds open in the house. I must admit that we have an awesome, super fun to hang out with, team. Last night we played a game called “Assassin” with 12 of us. It was loud and fun, and everyone from Jason Craig and Dane (13 years old) to the adults had a great time. This was after a big cookout where Nick manned the grill, Kristine handled all of the food, and everyone cleaned up. It is 9:30 am and I haven’t paddled yet. Kristine just drove to Watertown, NY to pick up 4 boats that we need for Team JK members who didn’t fly here with theirs (from other countries). I am still up in the air about which boat to paddle, my Fun or my All-Star. I competed in a Fun at USA Team Trials on the Garberator and that is what I won in. That is all I am going to say about that at this point, Oh yea, SWEET!

The whole air of this river will change as soon as the Opening Ceremonies take place. Nothing wakes you up like the Pomp and Circumstance you experience when you march into the ampatheater as a representative of your country and you know that the only thing separating you and your first round of competition is one night’s sleep and no more training. You get to see you competition march in and it occurs to you at that moment that there is more talent in one spot that you imagined and that everyone wants to show it off during the competition. The distance between winning and not even making finals is measured in a few points that can be lost or won with the blink of an eye. Everyone knows what moves you have and you know what moves they have. The mental calculators start whizzing during each ride as you see in the deliberation of each athlete’s moves whether they throw it with confidence or if they are scared of it. Any move that causes you to flush off the wave will be your last move and your score is done. In USA and Canadian Team trials it was obvious when athletes were paddling scared, scared of flushing. Everyone flushes off the wave at some point, or pull off intentionally, (I have seen that about 5 times out of 1,000), so everyone knows that 45 seconds is a long time stay on when you are throwing moves, but it goes by like a flash when you chicken out and miss a pass, not throwing a move. There will be a lot of 45 second rides where people get 4 moves, but much fewer 45 second rides where there are 8 moves. 8 moves means you are not scared and you don’t goof up and flush on a move that you threw from a bad position. 4 moves means be really careful and don’t throw it if you are set up just right. The prelims will see a lot of 4-5 move rides that progress to quarter finals. The quarter finals will see some 5-6 move rides progress to semi-finals, but the semi-finals will only see 6-8 move rides move to finals, and the winner will be doing 8 move, or more rides that are full-on with Huge bonuses( BIG AIR), and the hardest moves on the score sheet.

SWEET! That is what it is all about!

🙂 EJ