By Claire O’Hara
The PaddlerUK magazine issue: http://joom.ag/QlGb
In seven months time the ICF World Championships will be taking place on ‘Garb’ wave on the Ottawa river in Canada. The Ottawa River is renowned amongst freestyle kayakers as one of the best training venues and is home to some of the best surf waves in the world. In the summer there’s warm water, sunshine and a mixture of small, smooth and fast technical waves, whilst in the spring it’s home to some of the biggest and most challenging waves ever surfed.
Claire training on the White Nile. Photo by Dennis Newton
A test to its quality and standard, this will be the third time the river has been selected to host a freestyle kayak World Championships. In 1997 the Rodeo World Championships took part on the waves of the McCoys rapid. In 2007 the first ICF World Championships took place on the Lorne rapids ‘Bus Eater’ wave and now in 2015 it will host another ICF World Championships again on the Lorne rapids but this time on ‘Garburator’ wave.
On a wave
This is my fourth World Championships and second on the Ottawa river and will be one of my biggest competitive challenges yet. I will be returning as the three-time and defending Squirt Boat World Champion and two-time and defending Freestyle Kayak World Champion, to do battle for gold in both events. I will be competing against the best paddlers in the world, in categories where the standard is rising rapidly week after week, this time on a wave!
Competing in holes
I grew up paddling and competing in holes across the UK and therefore became very proficient in hole boating., going on to winning my two Freestyle World titles competing in holes. Now, for the first time in over eight years I will be competing in a wave worlds. In 2007, where I finished 11th, I could count the number of days I had spent surfing waves on one hand – I was new to competing and new to surfing waves. I enjoyed the event and did really well but still didn’t have much grasp on how to paddle waves, let alone how to paddle them well. In 2009 I skipped the Freestyle Worlds, a wave event, to concentrate on squirt boating where I won my first gold. Now in 2015 I have the challenge of competing against some extremely talented and experienced wave boaters on a extremely technical, fast wave.
Over the last seven years I have been aware that my wave boating level and experience has been significantly lower than my hole boating skills. However, in the last few years with the help of my coach Dennis Newton (Sweetwater Coaching), I have been doing specific wave training trips to Uganda and Canada to concentrate on developing these skills.
At the start of 2013 the standard difference really began to show again as I started nailing some crazy combos in the hole but still didn’t have much grasp of the basic wave skills. So we set about creating a plan for change. We looked at the year and set about creating a wave training and development strategy plan that would see me spending as much time as possible on waves. We noticed that all four of the major events on the freestyle tour were once again on holes and during the main wave training season in North America.
So with my goal (as it has been for many years) to be the best paddler I can possibly be and with a focus on the 2015 ICF World Championships, it was a relatively easy decision. I decided to miss the ICF World Cups and European Championships and go and spend the summer training on the waves. To some it was a big call but to me and Den it just made sense. It was the only chance I would have to really gain the wave boating experience I needed in order to give myself the best chance to be as good as I possibly be in time for the Worlds.
Claire throwing a Helix on Nile Special, Uganda. Photo by Dennis Newton
So now over a year on and after spending a full summer on waves, I realise the decision we made was the right one. It was so worthwhile. Over the last 12 months I have had some major breakthroughs. and developed an understanding of wave boating. I have not only begun to be able to throw a whole range of different moves but I have also learnt to adapt them to the different styles, speeds and shapes of the different waves.
With the help of Den and many other paddling coaches and friends around the world, I have now thrown almost every wave move (left and right). I have medalled in a number of wave competitions and been able to lay down some solid routines and rides. I have made massive progress in my paddling and confidence on a wave and I am beginning to feel ready for the Worlds.
My challenge now, with seven months left to go, is to take what I’ve learnt and to keep applying it to a whole mix of different waves. – to get these new wave moves consistent and technically perfect and to be able to perform them on demand as part of a routine. This is a challenge, a fun challenge, a big challenge! One I am enjoying and one I can’t wait to put to the final test.