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An interview with… Claire O’Hara

Claire O’Hara

Looking up to a giant in the world of freestyle

Two World Freestyle titles
Three World Squirt Boat titles
Three European Freestyle Champion Squirt Boat titles
Nine times British Freestyle/Squirt Boat Champion

Born, raised and educated in Leeds, Claire captained the Leeds Met University Kayak club and started competitive kayaking in 2001, eventually to become a British team member in 2006 – the rest as they say, is history. Claire is also an aspirant Level 5 Kayak coach and a BCU UKCC tutor trainer. She is also qualified to teach and deliver several other outdoor activities and sports. Claire is currently training full time and works as a Freelance Instructor for Claire O’Hara Coaching.

Claire O’Hara

Photo by: Peter Bishop

What kayaks do you own at the moment?
Three Jackson Kayak Rock Star freestyle kayaks small (two competition and one standard spec), A JK Murky Water Composite Rock Star freestyle kayak small plus two Murky Water Slip squirt boats. ­

Where and what was your first paddle?
It was on a small lake in Wales back in the early 90s. I went canoeing on a family adventure activity holiday with my mum and sister and loved it.

What and where was your first competition?
In freestyle my first competition was the Tees Barrage Peak UK Challenge in 2001. I had done several slalom and canoe polo competitions before but this was the start of my freestyle kayaking career. In Squirt Boating my first event was GB team selections at Nottingham in 2005.

After paddling over most of the planet – where is your favourite river and why?
Every play spot I have paddled has it own unique quality that I like so its hard to choose just one. If I had to narrow it down a little bit I would probably choose the inlet gate at Nottingham (UK) and the Pigeon river hole in Tennessee (USA) as my two favourite holes as they are so uniformed and friendly they make freestyle easy which doesn’t happen often. They are by far the best places I’ve been to train, learn and develop the big and complicated tricks.

Wave wise I would now say Skook, after my recent trip, as that place is incredible. A glassy green wave with a sweet pile and the most amazing scenery and wildlife. Then for squirt boating its got to be Fascination Alley on the Cheat River in West Virginia (USA). Super friendly, it offers awesome long and deep rides with so many different Charc options. Plus the master himself Jim Snyder is living right there and paddling there all the time – it’s great.

Are you naturally competitive?
Yes, very. I’ve tried to play this down a few times in the past but the truth is I am very competitive. I have always played competitive sport since a very young age so love the challenge of competing and trying to get better and better. I like to think I have a healthy approach to competition though. I want to do well but I also want to see others doing well. For me it’s not all about the winning. Yes the winning is great and I strive to be at the top but even more than that, I enjoy being able to do great performances at competitions and paddle to the best possible level that I can.

What do you consider is the most satisfying accomplishment in your career?
Well in many ways I’ve have to say winning six World Championship titles. But if I think about it a little more it’s probably mastering my white water roll. That opened up so many doors and opportunities that I really think that were my biggest and most satisfying breakthrough moment as a paddler.

What are your goals for the next 12 months?
To improve my wave boating skills so they are at a closer level to my hole boating skills. To try and break the 1,000 point barrier in a 45-second competition. To master the tricky wu and lunar orbit on both sides. To be a positive ambassador for the sport world-wide, to help coach and develop other kayakers on their journey as a paddler.

Claire O’Hara

Claire at Holme Pierrepont, Nottingham sporting her new custom Peak UK kit.
Images Pete Astles / Peak UK

What would a typical food day be for you from breakfast to supper?
Ah. Now this varies a lot depending on where I am and what I’m doing and if I’m having a good nutrition day or a bad nutrition day. If I’m travelling it can be anything, whatever I can get hold of at the time. But on an ideal good nutrition day it goes something like this.
Breakfast: two Weetabix with milk honey and blueberries and orange juice.
Snack: fruit (banana or apple).
Lunch: chicken salad sandwich.
Snack: granola bar and chocolate milk shake.
Dinner: meat and veggies with pasta or rice and ice cream or fruit for desert. ­

Any advice for those starting out in freestyle?
If you enjoy it stick with it. It will be one of the most challenging journeys you go on but also one of the most rewarding. Freestyle is not easy. You have to get a move wrong a million times to even begin to get it right but when you do get it, you will love it and it will be worth it. You will have learnt it and earned it. So ultimately love the journey and the process and try not to be too goal focused. Enjoy being out there just playing on the river:)

What would be your ultimate achievement?
I’m not sure? That’s a tough one. I guess just to keep living an awesome life. To have fun adventures as many days as possible and to share those experiences with awesome people.

Which paddlers out there are currently pushing the freestyle boundaries?
Wow there’s so many right now. In the men, Dane Jackson is absolutely flying, as always. He is constantly pushing the whole sport of white water kayaking forward and I don’t see him stopping being up there for a very long time. With him I’d say the one person who stands out for me is Jason Craig. Back after a tough few years he is once again an unstoppable force, unbelievable talented and with the best attitude and approach to kayaking and life. He is going to continue to be the one to watch.

Then in the women the depth of field is constantly growing. Emily Jackson of course continues to push and drive the sport forward but she is followed by a whole host of other girls from across the world. Young and old who are throwing tricks well beyond the expectations and level that existed only a few years ago. Plus with so many young paddlers, both male and female coming up through the ranks, the future of freestyle is looking very exciting. It will be interesting to see where it goes next.

Can you talk about your training?
Training is part of my daily life. Every day I wake up and take part in some sort of daily structure that is based around my development as a person and as an athlete. No matter what the day’s activities there is definitely some sort of focus given to how it fits in with my training and whether I am eating right. Whether it’s a work-based day to fund my training, a rest day, a travel day, an activity day or a comp. It’s all set with training in mind.

Greatest inspiration? Role models /who/what kept you motivated?
Over my entire life I have met and been inspired by so many people. Every day I meet new people who make me think in different ways and who motivate to continue to live the life I live and strive to be the best person that I can. I think a lot of this comes from my awesome family who have always been there to encourage, motivate and support me my entire life and who continue to do so. Plus my awesome friends, who are there to share the adventures with me and keep me on track. They know who they are and I am extremely grateful for them all.

Have you ever been scared and if not – what would it take?
Yes, I am actually regularly scared by things but thankfully most of the time its just psychological. I think fear keeps us safe and is an important part of life so I take it as a reminder to always keep thinking and making good choices wherever I can. One of my most recent scary moments had to be my winter in Australia and the wildlife out there. That kept my heart pumping and my mind awake!

What has been your best ever day on the water?
Today was pretty awesome. Yesterday was pretty amazing and the five days before that. In fact thinking about it, everyday on the water is an awesome day.

What’s the craziest thing you have ever done?
Squirt boated the Menai Straits in Wales – that was pretty insane. About 12 of us went on a snowy winters day several years ago and had an awesome time but looking back it was crazy. We were all in squirt boats – it was so cold and the water was pretty messed up. There’s whirlpools and crazy boil lines everywhere and we were there in boats that don’t float playing them. There’s a video online somewhere of it called ‘Darkside Eddy!’ Yep, thinking back, that was pretty crazy.

I’m a paddler and going on holiday, where would you recommend?
Go to that place you’ve always dreamt of. The one you’ve watched on videos, seen pictures and heard stories of and always want to go to. Do whatever it takes to make it happen – because it will be worth it.

Claire O’Hara

Enjoying paddling the Grand Canyon 2012 (photo by Dave Whortley)

What’s the most courageous thing you have done in life?
I went swimming in the ocean in Australia. That felt pretty courageous!

Coaching or competing – what gives the most satisfaction?
Both equally. I love coaching and helping others improve and get enjoyment from this awesome sport and other aspects of life. However, I also love developing and improving myself as an athlete. Working with my coaches to try and get better and better. So both.

Where do you see yourself in 20 years?
Paddling some awesome rivers and taking part in loads of other fun adventure activities with my family and kids.

OK let’s finish with something short and snappy…

If you could sit down and converse with somebody for an hour – dead or alive who would it be?
My Nan, she was awesome and I would love to tell her all about what my family and me have been up to since she passed away and hear her tell me all her stories and tales again.

Which famous person would you most like to see play you in a film?
I have no idea!

Favourite sports person?
David Beckham.

Favourite kayaking film?
The 2013 ICF World Championships TV production. It brings back so many awesome memories.

Favourite movie?
Any action movie.

What would you do with $20 million?
So much, I would by help my family be settled and happy so they didn’t have to work so much. I would give some to charity to help young people in need and to give others the opportunity to experience outdoor and adventure activities. I would invest some in helping athletes in unfunded sports so they could train and compete. Then I would invest the rest and use some of the interest so that I could continue to paddle around the world, with my coach Den and several mates and we would coach around the world and help further develop this awesome sport.

Cats or dogs?

Facebook or Twitter?

What would I find in your refrigerator right now?
Chocolate milk, hummus and carrots!

If we came to your house for dinner, what would you prepare for us?
Chicken fajitas.

What one luxury item would you take with you on a desert island?
A filter water bottle. Or maybe a plane with a pilot and loads of fuel and some mates so I could have loads of fun on the Island head home once I had explored and had some fun. I guess that’s more than one thing. Unless a full plane counts as one thing!

Biggest turn-off?

Worst injury?
I’ve been super lucky so far. The worst thing I’ve had yet is Plantar Fasciitis, a strange heel injury that I’ve been dealing with for the last 14 months. That makes running hard and gets aggravated by wearing flip-flops!

If you could be a superhero for one day, what superpower would you choose and why?
Superman, How cool would it be to fly. Teleportation. Imagine being able to go paddle wherever you want whenever you want without the hours and hours of travel. It would be awesome.

If you could be a wild animal – what would it be?
A monkey.

Fill in the blanks: I am ______?
Claire O’Hara.

Claire O’Hara

Coaching students from Leeds Met University for Carnegie Great Outdoors in the Lake District.

A big thank you to all my friends, family and sponsors.

Thanks for your time Claire:)

About thepaddlerezine (654 Articles)
Editor of The Paddler magazine and Publisher of Stand Up Paddle Mag UK.

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