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It is hard to believe that it was 5 years ago when I attended my first Midwest Freestyle Championships to coach the pre-event freestyle clinics. It has been fantastic to watch the community’s skill level as a whole rise up. The scores in the intermediate class this year could have placed in the expert group just a few years back. Constant improvement to the course has also been a great asset. There are two totally new and two improved features in the past five years. The clinics have been so successful that we still have a waiting list after the three instructors are fully booked! Enough reminiscing, let’s get to this year’s event.
We coach two sessions a day on Thursday and Friday with homework time in the evening after the second group wraps up. I am constantly impressed by the drive that the Wausau boaters have. I know that after spending the whole day shouting over the sound of the river I am tired, but after 3.5 hours of nonstop boating in their session everyone is back in the evening looking for just a bit more. I was invited to go back on the morning show for the second time this year, and that is always a good time. It is a bit of an early start on Friday but well worth the early wake up call.

No trip to Wausau is complete without some quality time in the VFW. Friday evening is when that started to fire up on this trip. Karaoke, crane machine, competitor’s parents, and all of team PBR made for a fun but tiring night. When Saturday rolled around I judged every event other than my own. We had a great group of volunteers that made all of the logistics of running the event go super smooth. When the time rolled around for my event I will admit that a day full of sitting on the rocks had zapped a fair bit of my energy. I did my normal paddling warm up and floated down to the feature. I proceeded to have one of my roughest days of competition ever. I felt like I spent more time paddling back up the eddy than I did in the feature. When it was all said and done I managed to advance to semi finals in third place. I must have stuck the moves that I threw. Thank goodness for fundamentals! Ben Kinsella, former WCKA head coach, won the day with team JK member and current Midwest Freestyle Champion John McConville in second place. After surviving the day it was off to judge a few more events.
I cannot think of too many river festivals and events that have so many opportunities for boaters of all skill levels. The event list includes team freestyle, expert freestyle, intermediate freestyle, beginner freestyle, women’s freestyle, master’s freestyle, and boatercross! Saturday evening brings around two Wausau traditions that are not to be missed, movie night in the basement of the VFW and more importantly 4 square in the parking lot afterwards. I was introduced to 4 square for the first time in Wausau, and it is one of the highlights for me each year.

Sunday brings around finals, team event, and boatercross. I did a bit more judging and helped set the new and improved boatercross course prior to my finals rides. I paddled much more consistently, survive each round, and move into second place heading into the final three. I had one botched initiation that cost me some time and I ended up in third place over all. I paddled well and had a blast! John won his 5th consecutive Midwest Freestyle Championship. Well done John! Team event was next with no break. This event is the most unique at Wausau. The organizers take a beginner, intermediate, and expert and make random teams. Each team gets one 2 minute ride. You can have two folks in the feature at the same time if you want! I was pared up with a fantastic team and we formulated a plan on how to best utilize everyone’s skills. Due to two tragic flushes I found myself without my team mates and 1:45 on the clock. I paddled my butt off and about 1:15 into the remaining time I was smoked! I fought through and was unsure as to where my team would end up. In the end we managed to pull out a second place finish! Last but not least was boatercross. My first heat had 7 boaters in it, one of whom has been my fiercest competition for the boatercross race each year. We have both managed to win the race in years past, so it is always a good race! Ben and I had a good battle for the hole shot into the first dive gate and I was able to drive him up onto a rock! I did have to take a good pause to let two upside down boats come through big drop before making the ferry into the second gate. After that it was a sprint to the finish. The final heat had 12 boaters in it which made for an interesting start. Watching how everyone jockeyed for start position was a good show by itself. Ben managed to get the hole shot this time and I was unable to make up the ground while dodging the other 10 boaters. This year Ben one and I got second. We will have to see how it turns out next year. Thanks to everyone at Wausau for another great year. I cannot wait for my 6th Midwest Freestyle Championships.

Later ; Colin
Team JK