The International Canoe Federation (ICF) Freestyle World Championships happen every two years on either a wave or a hole feature. This year’s World Championships just finished in Sort, Spain and it was a fabulous experience.
The town of Sort is a small town in Catalonia on the edge of the Pyrenees Mountains with a population of around 2500 people. The town sits in a valley with the Noguera Pallaresa river running right through town, and the hills full of hiking trails with beautiful vistas.
The small and traditional nature of Sort made for a wonderful cultural experience for all of the competitors. Shops close from 2:00 – 5:00 pm for siesta, the mid-day meal is the main meal and restaurants don’t open for dinner until 8:00 pm. Stores are closed on Sunday’s and there is a weekly farmers market in the middle of town every Tuesday.
Sort held the Freestyle World Championships back in 2001 and the feature had a reputation for being a big burly hole even back then. At the 2018 World Cup events this experience was replicated with many athletes finding the hole challenging and flushy. Over the past 12 months Sort has invested over a million euro’s to upgrade the competition hole and surrounding area, creating an impressive facility that leaves a legacy for athletes for years to come.
After much work, even during the week just prior to the competition, the feature ended up being a burly hole peppered with shallow areas that made it challenging for athletes to consistently get big air, link tricks and execute on trophy moves. Unfortunately, the water levels fluctuated a fair bit during the team training week as the organizers worked to determine the best level for the actual competition. This, compounded by limited training hours, made for lower overall scores and an underlying stress level for athletes.
With all the issues over the water, it was pretty easy for athletes to get stressed out about what was, or wasn’t, happening out on the water. The best counsel that we heard given by many of the seasoned senior athletes was that competing at the World Championships is not about your score. This seemed a bit counter intuitive on the surface but when you sit and listen to the rest of the message it makes perfect sense.
Freestyle Kayaking is a non-traditional competitive environment on a good day. Athletes coach each other, even those that they are competing against. Even coaches from other teams will give athletes a pointer or two. Everyone celebrates the successes of others and everyone feels the disappointment when someone doesn’t paddle as well as they know they can.
Within that environment, participating at the World Championships is about so much more than your score. It is about coming together and paddling with your friends. It is about meeting new people and making new friends. It is about experiencing a new town, a new country and a new river. It is about experiencing new cultures and trying new foods. And more than anything, it is about having fun. Funnily enough, if you are having fun then you will paddle well. It’s like one big circular reference.
We watched our first squirt competition and were in awe of the amount of down-time that gold medalists Clay Wright and Rose Wall got. We marched in the opening ceremonies and felt so much pride representing our country. We hiked and explored the area. We participated in midnight paddle sessions with friends to try and get more time on the feature. We hosted a Canada Day party on July 1st and were thrilled to have so many other athletes join us. We met so many wonderful people – sitting in the eddy, sitting in the stands or just hanging out in town. We survived the 40c (110f) heatwave while staying in a wonderful old hotel that had no air conditioning. AND Hunter paddled in his first World Championships.
It was an honour for Hunter to compete for Canada at the World Championships and for Lee to support the team as Team Manager. It was a wonderful experience for our family and has left everyone looking forward to the 2021 World Championships in Nottingham, UK.
Canadian Freestyle Team Trials will take place late summer/early fall of 2020. Get involved and come join us!
The Vincent Family