The PaddlerUK reveals the personality of the well-known freestyler of the ground breaking FUSE video…
Photos: Dave Wortley Video: James ‘Pringle’ Bebbington
Before we start – just let our readers know a little about you, your family, background, etc. I’m from a very small village called Stokenchurch in Buckinghamshire, about 40 minutes west of London, and about 15 minutes from Hurley Weir. My dad started kayaking when he was 11 and has been on the water as much as possible ever since, so naturally he encouraged me to start kayaking just as soon as I could hold a paddle. He’s a BCU Level 5 Coach and used to run a canoe/kayak shop and even made my first kayak (a Nipper).
Where and when was your first paddle?
I started out at Marlow Canoe Club, where I met some of my best friends in between squirt turning Blades, RPMs, Attacks and Prozones. I tackled my first river (the Dart Loop) at the tender age of 10 years old and picked up my first sponsorship deal with Pyranha at the age of 15 at Marsport the Canoe Shop’s open day back in 2002.
What gear are you currently using and why?
The kind people at Palm Equipment keep me dry and warm, Robert from Robson Paddles generously keeps me with a paddle in my hand, Matt from Perception keeps me afloat in my favourite Wave Sport Kayaks and James from Melon Optics keeps the sun out of my eyes.
I use what I believe to be the best kit, made to the highest standards so that I stay dry, compete at my best, train at my best and generally enjoy my time on the water because I’m a firm believer that if I don’t enjoy it I won’t put my all into it.
Where and what was your first paddle and competition?
I’ve been in and around boats all my life, I remember watching the water swirl off my dad’s canoe blade when I was only a few years old in the sunshine, on our way down a gentle river for a picnic with my parents’ friends. Not long after that messing around in a swimming pool with some fibre glass kayaks.
My first competitions were the PeakUK freestyle series, from which I have very fond memories of dancing to Burdock, and doing all sorts of stupid things, some of which we’re lucky to have walked away uninjured from !
My first international was the Pre-Europeans in Sort, Spain in 2002. Mark Birkbeck drove Jon Best and me out in his pimped out Transporter road trip style with the sub in the back pumping.
What got you hooked on freestyle kayaking?
Going to the canoe club and messing around with friends started me off, then travelling and having a great time at competitions and parties, the thrill of competing and just loving being on the water carried on my enthusiasm. A kayaking friend of mine said recently that in a lot of cases, “the friends you make through kayaking are the ones who stick around.” Proof of that is she is getting married to another of my kayaking best friends this year.
Any advice for those starting in freestyle kayaking?
Join a club to start off, make as many friends and talk to as many kayakers as you can, travel and enjoy being on the water, whatever the weather. No matter what you want to take from the sport, it’s important that you enjoy it and you’ll find that you can never put your paddle down!
Tell us about the spots you tend to paddle the most frequent – both at home and abroad. What are your favourites?
Hurley – in a word. It’s my local, it’s a place that I love to paddle whether it’s on two, three or four gates as long as it’s running I’ll be there as much as I can.
If Hurley is too high then you’ll see me busting out my tow-rope at Marsh, bouncing around at Sunbury or if it’s too low I’ll be at Lee Valley having a great time on the crystal clear water.
I have too many favourite spots abroad to list but way up at the top has to be the White Nile. The combination of rich culture, scorching sun, amazing parties, peaceful relaxation and great people mean that it should be top of any freestylers list. If you haven’t been then go! Get in touch with my good friends Sam and Emily from Kayak The Nile and they’ll make you feel very welcome.
Which young guns are coming through the ranks to challenge in freestyle?
Hugo Scott (Hugo 1) and Hugo Anthony (Hugo 2) have already started blazing through the freestyle scene and took home the first and second places at GB team trials this year.
I’ve been working closely with Hugo Anthony in particular from the start of his freestyle career and both he and Hugo Scott are even starting to challenge me at times.
They’re great young lads, and good fun to be on the water with.
What is the biggest accomplishment in your career?
I took home Gold at the 2005 World Championships as a Junior (U18), which was a real highlight, but more recently I’m really proud to have come 5th in the 2013 World Championships considering I was (I believe) the only man in at least the top ten to have a full time job.
I’ve also been on the GB Team for some 12 years now and have enjoyed every minute.
What are your goals for the next 12 months?
I’m currently coming out of winter gym training stronger than I have ever been and starting to get back on the water to build up my water based fitness. So you could say everything is on track for the Worlds this year, in which I hope to place at least in the top five. However I have been suffering from a shoulder injury and I am still searching for a decent sized wave I can train on, so we’ll see!
I’ve also been planning a trip out to Austria for Sickline, which should not only be great fun but I also hope to be at least competitive. It’s difficult to have a realistic idea of where I should aim for because I haven’t done much river racing, but since my competitive attitude runs in my blood I will be aiming to achieve my best.
What would be your ultimate achievement?
To win the Freestyle World Championships as a junior and man – that has been my goal since my first international competition and I’m not ready to give up yet. Every year I learn more and get closer to my goal.
Who are your kayaking buddies?
I’ve made lots of friends over the years, both locally and internationally, whom I love going for a paddle and having a beer with. I am however, still best friends with a few people I started out with – Piers Bucknell, Sam Conibear, Scott Simmonds and Doug Cooper.
If you had to choose one last thing you wanted to achieve within freestyle before giving it up what would that be and why?
To win the Worlds, it’s been my goal since I started international competition and I’ve not made it yet. I want to prove to myself and everyone else that I can do it and with a full time job.
Can you talk about your training? Greatest inspiration? Role models/who/what kept you motivated?
If you truly want to be the best in the world you have to know deep down what your motivation is.
It took me years to figure mine out, it is quite personal and it’s what pushed me to achieve the top five at the 2013 Worlds. The feeling of not achieving what I know I should. Whenever I need motivation, that’s the feeling I imagine and it pushes me onwards.
My dad started me off in my kayaking career all those years ago, and because of that he will always remain to be a role model and inspiration. Other role models and inspirations are the people I want to beat, they push me to try harder, adopt their styles and ultimately beat them.
If you could head anywhere in the world to freestyle where would it be and what appeals about the location?
Right now I would love to move to Canada, not just because of the huge water and incredible freestyle it offers but because of the snowboarding in the winter! It’s become a real passion over the years and if the mountains were closer I’m not sure which would win…
Tell us a bit about your coaching setup and how you help others to improve?
The only time I have ever struggled to enjoy coaching was when I got on a Hurley for four hours of coaching when the car park was three inches deep in snow!
I really enjoy seeing people improve and enjoy their kayaking and like to pass on my knowledge as much as I can.
I happily coach any level of kayaking from beginner to expert at weekends and evenings when the light and water levels permit.
I like to spot small things to change in people’s technique that naturally solves much larger problems that others have over complicated. It’s this style of simple and encouraging coaching that I most enjoy.
Apart from kayaking – what other sports do you like?
Snowboarding is top of the list, keeping fit in the gym, climbing (preferably bouldering), wakeboarding when I can and I’m always keen to try any other outdoor sport.
You’re the kayaker in the excellent FUSE video. Any other vids in the pipeline we should look out for?
There’s been a lot going on recently with my involvement in the Freestyle Committee as Publicity Officer, building my new website and moving house so I haven’t had much time to think of any new inspirations but watch this space!
FUSE was great fun and it’ll be a tough one to follow up on.
If you could paddle with anyone in the world dead or alive who would it be?
The 2003 GB Team – fantastic group of like minded people.
Pick two celebrities to be your parents…
Bear Grylls for the adventures, not sure who I’d pick as a mum.
Which famous person would you most like to see play you in a film?
Brad Pitt – legend!
Favourite iPod track?
Oh That I Had – Ruby Frost and Mt. Eden.
Kill Your Heroes – AWOLNATION.
Cats or dogs?
Facebook or Twitter?
But if I had to chose between those two I would say Facebook: www.facebook.com/AlanWardCoaching
An ideal night out for you is?
International competitions usually have the best parties.
What one luxury item would you take with you on a desert island?
A satellite phone, but I suppose that’s cheating.
What would I find in your refrigerator right now?
Not much, I tend to live day-to-day. Milk, chillies, ale, gin and general healthy food, nothing processed or fast food.
If we came to your house for dinner, what would you prepare for us?
Hot spicy wings (blow your face off hot), a big salad, home made wedges and some delicious ale.
If you could be a superhero for one day, what superpower would you choose and why?
Immortality, that way I could do absolutely anything with no consequences.
Favourite sports team?
England – Rugby.
What three words would you use to describe you?
Fun, outgoing and driven.