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Persistence, determination, and perseverance lead to nearly a lifelong dream being realized – world champion!

I am a world champion!!! It still feels surreal to say. This has been a dream of mine ever since I started competing in freestyle kayaking nearly 25 years ago. I’ve had a tremendous range of thoughts and emotions to process since achieving this goal at the 2023 ICF Freestyle World Championships in Columbus, Georgia. This blog is a musing of my thoughts and dialogue leading up to and throughout the World Championships in October of this year.

Thank you to everyone who has supported, encouraged, and believed in me over the years. I can’t begin to make a list of everyone that has influenced my paddling over the years; it’s just too numerous. But I am genuinely grateful for the fantastic paddling community. I love the sport of whitewater paddling and the community within it.

I have been competing in freestyle kayaking for nearly 25 years, and my first World Championship was in 2003. The World Championships for freestyle kayaking occur every two years. Over the last two decades, I’ve competed in 9 World Championships, and my only previous medal was a silver in 2015. And I have placed 4th four times.

The journey to this World Championship took work. My wife and I were wrestling with whether to go or not, as we faced many challenges and stressors. Team trials were at a difficult time for us. We ended up traveling with our two young daughters: a newborn and an 18-month-old. We had illness, a car crash, lack of sleep, and numerous other challenges. I qualified for the team in 4th place, the last qualifying spot, thanks to Landon Miller’s “bye” from winning the previous worlds.

All the challenges make the success that much sweeter. My priorities have shifted as I enter my mid-30s, and I am eagerly and happily embracing my roles as a husband and a new father. I love the shift in priorities, and I am so happy to be a dad and raise two fantastic girls with my wife, Annie. My time on water is much less than it used to be, and in some ways, I wondered if my window to become a world champion was coming to a close.

In 2022, I won the ICF Freestyle World Cup overall for C-1 and OC-1. Winning the World Cup gave me renewed confidence that I still had a shot at winning the World Championships if I could stay strong and healthy. Over this summer, I had some minor injuries that I was careful to take care of. During training week for worlds, my body felt good and strong. I was making the most of my limited training time and building confidence.

During the competition, I paddled consistently and qualified through the preliminary and semi-final rounds. I was not hitting my perfect ride and kept running out of time before my bigger tricks. I had yet to hit my goal of scoring 800+ points in a single ride for this World Championships. I had a theoretical ride plan that was over 1000 points.

When finals came, I continued to paddle consistently, but I still wasn’t quite finding the flow and the “magic.” As I prepared for my third and final ride of the World Championships final round, I was in a situation I had never experienced at worlds. I was confirmed to be in 3rd place and definitely on the podium. Both my US teammates, Landon and Dane, were ahead of me with really strong rides and 800+ points on the board. I breathed a sigh of relief, knowing that I had competed well and had one more shot to have fun, give it my all, and see how things shook out.

Getting onto Good Wave (the Worlds competition feature) requires a strong ferry on my offside. Often, I have to paddle pretty hard to make the ferry. When I left the eddy for my final ride, things seemed to click from the beginning. I caught the little reactionary wave perfectly and skipped across to the center of the river effortlessly. I dropped onto the wave knowing I needed to go big. I abandoned my normal ride plan with the intention of moving straight to higher scoring more difficult tricks sooner in my ride. On my first trick, I caught a great bounce and went big! I continued to throw my tricks as hard as I could.

I felt like I had nothing to lose. It was a really fun feeling as the ride was coming together and tricks were working. I was near the end of my ride and I knew I needed at least one more big trick. I attempted my second Mcnasty and it didn’t work, I flipped over and tumbled in the wave. I rolled as quickly as possible. I was still on the wave. I distinctly remember looking up and seeing 2 seconds left on the time clock. I thought to myself “it’s now or never”. I immediately attempted the Mcnasty again. I dug deep and pulled as hard as I possibly could. The trick came around and the loop stomped really hard and straight, just in time! It was the absolute best feeling I’ve ever had while competing. I wasn’t sure if it was enough points to win, but I knew I had given it my all and my ride came together when it counted.

I came off the wave feeling completely elated. So happy to pull off a great ride that I could be proud of, no matter the result. My score came in and moved me into first place by a tight margin. I could hardly believe it. I was leading the world championships in the last round of rides! I watched excitedly as my teammates and incredible paddlers Landon and Dane took their final rides. I knew either of them could pull together a fantastic ride and retake the top spot. It was not to be, final ride scores confirmed, and I was still on the lead. Still feels unbelievable. Nearly a lifelong goal achieved. World Champion!

This win feels so amazing. I could not have dreamed of a better way to finally achieve this goal. Having two amazing daughters and my loving, supportive wife present with me to share this moment and victory means more than it could have ever meant by myself. I had my mom and a large portion of my family present wearing matching shirts in support. There were so many friends and teammates present, remaining family on the livestream, and so many friends far and wide tuning in for the moment. The outpouring of support after my win has been so humbling and amazing. Congrats to Dane Jackson and Landon Miller for an epic showdown and really solid finals. They definitely made me earn this one! Shout out to Jordan Poffenberger who took 4th place. Not getting the rides I know he planned/wanted but still solid representation and a USA sweep 1st through 4th place in C1! 🇺🇸

Below is the full replay of the C1 Finals. My winning ride starts at 4:15:00.

Thanks so much again to everyone for all the kind words, congratulations, and support. It means so much to me. Shoutout to the Jackson Rockstar V. I love the Rockstar V design and it served as the boat I paddled to my win. And was also paddled by the other two competitors on the C1 podium. This blog ended up being longer than I originally intended and still does not cover all the thoughts, thanks, and feelings in my mind. What a moment! Thank you to anyone who took the time to read this far.

Much love to everyone! Winning worlds earns you a “bye” to the next worlds, meaning you don’t need to qualify for the national team to compete. I am really excited to be able to plan on that trip. And I eagerly look forward to returning to Plattling, Germany in 2025 for the next World Championships.

I truly hope that someone who reads this blog can find inspiration to keep chasing their dreams. If you keep showing up and trying your best, you never know what you may be able to achieve. It took me 9 attempts over a 20 year span to finally achieve my goal of becoming a World Champion. If I had not been so persistent, determined, and persevering, I likely would have never achieved this goal. With that said, I believe the biggest reason I have been able to stick with freestyle this long is because I enjoy it and made sure to keep it fun. So I recommend you keep it up and make sure you are having fun in the process.

Including a link here to my post finals interview:

Happy paddling!

-Seth Chapelle
Instagram: @sethc1