These past few weeks, a magical thing took place on the rivers of Quebec. 35 of the world’s best kayakers descended upon the shores of some of the biggest whitewater and steepest creeks in the world. Competing over 14 days in 6 diverse events to crown the best overall Man and Women kayakers in the World. Competitors were invited, voted in or qualified to form the 28 men and 7 women who made up an epic field of great friends and fierce competition.
Event 1: Big Trick Contest
Gladiator Wave, Ottawa River, Ontario
Stage 1 of the WWGP brought huge butterflies to my stomach; months of training and mentally preparing myself were over, and 2 weeks of non-stop kayaking loomed ahead. The nerves were offset a little bit with the knowledge that the first stage was on my home river and on one my favorite waves. Any last feelings of trepidation quickly evaporated as soon I took my first strokes of the day and dropped through Coliseum Rapid to take on the mighty Gladiator Wave. As I personally have a tendency of doing, my first pass of the day gave up the goods and I launched my go-to trick; a big righty Airscrew. With a solid trick under my belt to start a day where the biggest trick mattered had me feeling relaxed and in good spirits as the afternoon progressed. Huge tricks were thrown ride after ride from all athletes and I knew I would have to push a little harder and go a little bigger to stay near the top of the group. The coolest thing about Stage 1 was how it gave the athletes the opportunity to vote for who we thought had the best trick of the day and not depend on a scoring system. When the dust settled after a crazy day of kayaking and a couple rounds of voting, it was super sweet for me to come in with a top 10 finish and have Stage 1 in the bag.
Stage 2: Big Water BoaterCross
Rouge River, Grennvile, Quebec
As we gathered our things and started out from from the Ottawa Valley, we moved north along the 417 to another awesome river with booming high-water! The Rouge River sits only a stone’s throw from the Nation’s capital and provided us with our Big Water BoaterCross and Stage 2 of the Whitewater Grand Prix. Rolling up to another familiar river continued to make me feel right at home and keep the butterflies out of my stomach. Knowing the river also allowed me to have a super chill pre-race day and not need worry about learning the course. I personally feel BoaterCross is by far the most exciting and intense event kayaking has to offer. Going head to head against friends, it’s a flurry of boats and paddles as we charged through the massive waves and chaos of the “Gauntlet”. I felt pretty stoked to be sitting in 11th after our timed ranking lap. I felt that my prelims race went smoothly through the course and into the crux; cruising into 2nd place and advancing into the semi-finals round. Semi-finals followed a similar story for me, coming out of the top strong and sitting in just behind the leader with 6 guys behind me. Coming through the crux I was thinking, “just stay smooth”, which unfortunately was not the case. Cutting too hard into the final move left me surfing and getting run over in a jumble that left me looking in from the outside, missing by one spot as we touched the banner. Missing the finals round by only a couple feet left me feeling pretty sad as the boys walked back up for the 10-man finals round. Looking back after the fact has made me realize how awesome of a day it was nonetheless!
Stage 3: Steep Creek Time Trials
Shawinigan River, Shawinigan, Quebec
As Dane Jackson and I pulled into Shawinigan, Quebec, we saw a hillside covered in flowing whitewater. Pulling over and getting stoked, we went off in search of the proposed race course for Stage 3. Starting off with a brisk walk, I quickly found myself running down the path hoping to get the first glimpse of the course. I came around the corner and had the immediate thought of “this can’t be a race course, it’s too much, way too close together.” I was staring at a low-head dam, feeding into a 15ft slide, stacked directly on top of another slide, followed by a 20ft boof, before the river turned 90 degrees and fell into another steep full-on rapid. I stared at the lines for a couple hours straight, trying to decide if I would actually do it. Really it was a debate over whether I could even run the drops, let alone race them. With some great words of encouragement and motivation from some of the veteran lads; I accepted the fact the race was going to be here and knew that being prepared would be better than not. Coming to the bottom of the course after my first run left me feeling stoked and relieved at the same time. Knowing I could get to the bottom left me spending the rest of the day dropping only the crux drop and making the quick walk up – getting in ten laps of that drop before calling it a day. Race day brought a whole new rush of emotions; running a stout rapid with the boys is much different than racing that same one. Sitting in the top ten allowed me to watch most of the guys go and had a solid calming affect. Eventually the countdown was on and adrenaline took over; with GO being yelled all my thoughts disappeared and the next stroke was the only thing on my mind. Coming through to the finish line after a run that felt smooth was satisfying, especially with the knowledge that smooth usually means fast! Walking back up was half the challenge of the race, a steep course means a steep hike, one that is almost as draining as charging the course. After a couple feel good runs, my third lap went solidly downhill; fatigue made my last run a challenge and I was appreciative of the fact that we got one lap to throw out. Coming out of this race with a 16th – by far my worst event – I was still feeling great about facing the fears, getting out there and charging hard.
Stage 4: Big Wave Challenge
Stage 4 of the Whitewater Grand Prix brought us past the halfway point and into Northern Quebec. The Lac-St-Jean region is infamous in the kayaking world, and any mention of the area instantly draws up pictures of massive waves and monstrous rapids in your head. Black Mass has been a wave described to me many different ways over the past couple seasons, but none of them prepared me for how incredible and dynamic the wave actually was! The “Big Wave Challenge” gave us, the athletes, a chance at six rides, where our best three tricks during a single ride would be scored. Judges were looking to score style and amplitude, as well as difficulty and technicality. Following my pattern of utilizing my first ride to the fullest paid off again as I came off of my first ride with three solid, feel good tricks. As the day continued, frustration grew in myself and others as the wave became increasingly harder to surf, leaving the competitors with solid early rides feeling good. Using a gracious last ride granted by the judges, Joel K., Devyn S. and Aniol S. used this extra go the the max and all pulled out huge tricks and solid rides to replace their rides of no tricks from early in the day – propelling them into the top 10. Any chance to surf these mystical waves is amazing, but doing it under pressure, with all your friends around, and stoke and motivation levels high added up to make it one of my most favorite days ever on the water!
Stage 5: Freestyle Showdown
Coming off one epic day, then Black Mass, and an equally unbelievable Stakeout day on the Mistasini River, stage 5 toned things back a little. Athletes were given a chance to vote for a second Black Mass competition, or a 6 trick-standard competition on a easier, but still amazing wave. With a majority vote, athletes chose an event where we could focus more on technicality and our tricks than on scaring ourselves and having to worry about consequences. This style gave me the chance to put a real ride together and focus on hitting the highest scoring tricks instead of survival surfing and throwing off instinct. Most of the top lads had very similar rides with minor differences so I was not envious of the judges for Stage 5. Tricks came fast and big from every competitor, with no one knowing who was going to come out on top. Despite barely creeping into Top 10, I was super fired up on the day and the chance to show off some small wave talents on top of our other big wave events.
Stage 6: Giant Slalom
The saying, “save the best for last,” could have been argued against as myself and the majority of athletes walked up and down the banks of the Basse Cache. The proposed course was full on, continuous, and flowing at a level much higher than anticipated. We all spent the afternoon fighting the fog and trying to figure out if we could actually race this section of whitewater. Personally, as I walked away from the river, thoughts running through my head consisted of, “we can’t run this, it’s suicide” and “maybe, just maybe, if the water drops.” The general concern was a river wide, natural weir hole that looked impenetrable. We heard rumors that it was good to go with less water, but no one, especially me was quick to believe that. As race day came upon us, and we migrated back to the Basse Cache, we could see the levels were dropping, but weren’t sure if it would be enough. It wasn’t until some chargers from Little White fired up the course and proved that the crux drop and the weir hole were manageable and good to go that athletes starting gaining some confidence. Others still didn’t feel the course and announced early that they were there for safety but were ducking out of the actual race. Seeing well established names take a step back brought back nerves as I geared up to get in a practice run. My personal strategy was to stay smooth and calm through the top easy section, and have enough energy to charge through the crux drop and hit the line through the weir hole that allowed me to come through the finish gates. Again, after a reasonably solid practice run, my nerves seemed to disappear and as the countdown reached GO, adrenaline took over and I was all in, focused on the next stroke, move and gate. Sticking to my strategy of staying relaxed the the top left me in good shape near the bottom to rally the back to back drops and cruise through the finish line gate. Walking to the top for my second run, I was pretty fired up to have a smooth run under my belt and was stoked to lay down another smooth run. Sitting at the starting line and watching the guys charge off the start and keep charging until they were out of view made me over think my game plan. As the adrenaline kicked in and I heard GO, my mind turned off and I started charging, thinking as fast as possible. This worked great through the top section but pulling through the upstream gate and facing the crux drop, I was out of gas. I ended up closer to floating through the drop instead of charging it. Even more fatigued for the last move put me in a rough situation which unfortunately left me survival surfing a perfect pour over ledge. Being hit with a rope 30 seconds in backfired quickly as I flipped and twisted around, leaving me vulnerable to the rope and needing to let go. After getting pulled back in for another go I was in a bad state when I finally got kicked out. Paddle broken, out of breath and delirious, floating by the finish eddy and not too sure what was happening. Huge shout out to EG and Aniol for pushing me to shore and safety. The joke quickly became I was too focused on the freestyle aspect of the event and not too worried about racing. I was just super happy to not have swam and came out of it with only a broken paddle.
“Describe the Grand Prix,” is a question I’ve gotten asked daily since being back at home. The answer is pretty simple. The Grand Prix brings together the Worlds top kayakers and great friends for two weeks of the sweetest, sickest, and biggest kayaking combined with amazing off-water shenanigans! It is the most progressive competition in the sport and is growing kayaking with its amazing coverage and Worldwide media. It’s safe to say I’m stoked for the next event in two years and can only hope that I get the opportunity to come back and test myself again up against the best boaters in the world. Moving forward and building off a 7th overall finish from this year is something I am excited for. God knows I’m gonna be ready for the 2016 Whitewater Grand Prix.