Saturday, January 06, 2018

Day 1 - Squirt Boating

Squirt Boating was a massive day and the perfect start for the competition. For many it was a day off, a day to enjoy the surrounding area and support friends and team mates as they took their turn to compete. For everyone involved the squirt boating class it was an absolutely huge day. Prelims, semi finals and finals back to back starting with the women at 9am and finishing for the men at 9pm. For those who made it through it would be seven full minutes of competition rides. Which although not sounding a lot was a huge amount of squirt boat freestyle paddling in one day especially in a very tiring spot. Everyone entering excited to give it their best shot and rally for the title of World Champion and that spot at the top of the podium.

I would like to say that I woke up and the weather was perfect but it really was not. It has been a long time since we have had to compete in such challenging conditions. I would possibly say the high winds at the Bus Eater World Championships in 2007 or the big storm that rolled through during the women's quarter finals at Platting was the last time the weather was quite this bad. The wind was howling. We had been given warnings it was coming and that there would potentially be gusts of over 50km hour and they were right. It was super windy. So much so the judges couldn't use the main stand to judge or the spectators stand another option discussed during the week but instead they found a great spot hidden underneath the official freestyle judges platform. It gave them a great view and was well sheltered but was a change to their original spot.

Stunning view even with the crazy wind

I woke up and was excited to go. I had a plan that I had practiced at the venue and on the lake and was super happy with. We got to the venue and the atmosphere was insane. The high winds had loads of sand blown into the air so there was a crazy orange hue about the place. Turns out this is what mini a sand storm looks like. Luckily the event was ready for this though and the music was playing and the announcing team were already in action and there were suporters on the stands. I arrived and Den was there ready waiting to help me go with a massive smile on his face. It was game time.

Anna Bruno warming up before her runs

Everyone getting ready to start the comp

Rose in the zone before her first run

To say squirt boating was a challenging day would be an under statement. For everyone involved this was a true competition a test of our skill, determination and stamina. With the high winds and a difficult spot I really struggled to get going during prelims struggling to get my big super complex tricks to work. Every time I tried a super clean or complex tricky switch wheel I would either hit the floor or get hit by the strong winds. I remember in prelims opening with my super clean splits each way and both being pushed completely flat. Then switching to my tricky switch wheels, my first one went great but my second one on my offside I got half way through and then felt like I just hit a wall and couldn't make it rotate. It doesn't really happen like this ever so I tried again and again. Three fails was really strange so I switched and went into the next trick. Normally I wouldn't try a trick three times in a row in a  competition but I just couldn't understand why it wasn't working. It had me intrigued even mid competition run. Usually I would only ever try a move a maximum of two times and then move on. That is my usual strategy, backed by sports science research and highly encourgaed by Den. The theory being that once you have failed a move twice your highly likely to continue to not complete the trick as your muscle memory will remember the bad techniques and keep repeating it. Take a break from it do some other stuff and go back to it and that is when you will have a chance of success. It didn't go back to it though. I was lucky I had a heap of other tricks I could throw out. So just kept throwing down trying to figure out a ride that would work at this spot.

Super Clean Splits in the lower eddy during one of my runs
Rose (Team USA) amazing first Worlds
Yoshiko has some great early runs
Luke and Christian from Australia both make the semi finals

The great thing about this venue was that it was big. A lot of areas were shallow and today the whole place was windy but it was a large space and as such allowed a whole variety of different styles of routines to be thrown down. No two athletes seemed to be doing the same routine. Hitomi had a really nice routine and performed it amazingly from the get go. She had the smoothest most stylish screwing around sequence I have ever seen and was really consistent with her high scores throughout the whole event. Using hand paddles she whipped the boat over vertical and performed screwing around routines (over vertical super complicated sequence of ends) seemingly effortlessly using only one hand on each end to control the movement. She was in one of the shallowest areas of the arena but it didn't matter as she had it perfect. It looked so beautiful to watch. In fact I would say for almost 40 seconds of her routine she didn't go vertical once. It was so impressive and mesmerizing to watch. Then at the end of her routine she threw a really sweet mystery move out of the feature every drop. It was amazing.

Hitomi's rides all day were incredible

Other stand out rides I saw were young Ottile Robinson Shaw competing for the first time in a World Championships, aged only 16 she already had many of the big tricks dialed and a super powerful yet controlled style. Anna Bruno as well super controlled and skillful, nailing some really nice tricky wu's and tricky switches as well as some nice mysterys and Rose in her first Worlds also paddling with hand paddles and hitting some impressive mystery drops. In the mens the aussie kids did amazing hitting their tricks in both their rides. Then the master Clay Wright former 2 times world Champion at aged 50 stepped up to show how it should be done hitting sweet mystery moves every single ride on the eddy line. Proper traditional mystery moves. Not big hole drops but highly technical and controlled mystery's on a part of the venue that looked like nothing it was very impressive to watch. As well as super complex freestyle tricks.

Bartosh flatwater freestyle rides were insanely good
Young Ottie (16) throwing hard tricks during prelims
Team Japan always strong in the squirt boat class
Anna Bruno works the top eddy

My plan had been to use this same mystery seam area too but I just couldn't get it to work and all the other girls were nailing such awesome hole mystery's I knew I had to mix it up. So having never hit a hole mystery at this spot by semi finals I now had to work it into every ride. This really was a proper competition. I was having to adapt the the conditions, to the venues and to try and match the performances of the other athletes. It was awesome. Hitomi took a clear lead in the prelims with some amazing runs and was still in the lead after the first round in the semi finals then in my last ride of the semi finals I managed to take the lead spot. 

Mixing up the flatwater
Chilling with the next generation Ottilie and super coach Bruce
The rides were massive and the scores so close

Although I was in the lead after semis it was so only just, Hitomi was very close on my heels and I knew the finals would be tough. I was still questioning if I was doing something wrong with the technique on a lot of my big tricks as they still weren't working so between semi's and finals I jumped in the car with my coach Den, threw my boat in the back (it was literally sticking out the back with the boot wide open) and we drove up to the lake for an extra last minute training session. I just couldn't understand why my tricks weren't working. On the lake I went to go to a sheltered area and Den quickly stopped me and reminded me that I needed to train in the high winds. So sure enough I went into the choppy super windy section of the lake. 

Normally, just three days earlier, I could hit all my hard tricks here effortlessly and nail them almost every attempt. Today I couldn't even hit them once. This was the feedback I needed I wasn't doing anything wrong it was just really hard in the wind and the waves and chop the winds created. So from there I had a to make a new adaptations to my plan I would still try for the big tricks as they were my favorites and the reason I love squirt boating so much. On my first ride I would still open with my (super clean heli splits) but if they didn't work I would know mid trick and go straight to use the paddle so I could score the more basic versions of the tricks and rack up the points. Then I would make sure I nailed the mystery and just keep going to the final whistle. So instead of my normal routine I worked out all the highest scoring tricks I could do in the wind and how to piece them together and then it was up to me to just go out there and nail them. 

The lake looked nothing like this during the last training session

So that's how the finals plan went. I opened up with a super technical run that was adapted to the wind which luckily now had begun to drop and got a solid run that I was happy with. It was enough to give me a sweet first ride score that I was super happy with and that put me in first place. It kept me in first pace for a while and put the pressure on the others but then Hitomi in her last ride went out and laid down a really really amazing 3rd run. I remember sitting with Den, watching and both looking at each other and going wow that was really nice. That might have just knocked me off the top. I have said for many years that I love winning but I don't mind being beaten by talented athletes throwing amazing runs and I truely mean it. Hitomi's last ride was a World Championship wining ride it was beautiful and if I didn't have 1 ride left that could have easily have been the winning run. But I had won the semi finals round which meant I was last to go in finals which meant I knew the score to beat and I had one last shot left to try and beat it. To nail a run that was good enough to keep my title.
I had won every squirt boating world championships since 2009!!! Which meant this was a big thing. This was a big year, this was a huge ride. If I won this it would be 5 consecutive World Championship wins in a row, the first time ever this would be done. If I didn't beat Hitomi's score then Hitomi would win. This would be Hitomi's first World Championships win and she would be the first person to break my winning run!!! Both results would be massive for the sport and hugely significant and exciting. 

 I remember chatting to Den on the drive home from the lake and telling him how much I really wanted this win. I hadn't fully realised it until that moment and here it was the crunch time to see if I could take it back again. Den gave me a massive high five and big smile and I pushed off the rocks and set of in the eddy to the sweet spot. I remember thinking i've just got to nail everything!!! I heard Jez and Steve O call the lead in. I looked over to the judges and Josh gave me the thumbs up. It was game time.

Throwing the boat around

Trying to get the offside Tricky to rotate
Taping into the deeper spot

I remember everything from the run. I remember going for my first super clean heli split wheel and completing messing it up. I remember going for my second one and messing it up even worse and almost laughing inside thinking well this wasn't exactly what I had planned and then I remember my focus just changing and boom. I was in the flow and in the comp. I nailed a clean tricky switch followed by a tricky wu the opposite direction. Then as I dropped towards the feature I knew I was in with a chance but I would need a really good mystery and all the time on the clock. So I made the controversial decision to catch the feature on the fly. This was the first time I had even tried this. I remember as I dropped down saying to myself 'i'm not missing it what ever happens' I knew there was no way I could miss the feature and I remember just hitting the pile and sprint paddling to stay on top and then boom!!! I dropped a sick mystery and smack smack smack I bounced across the floor as I fought to stay down and then as I came up. I just threw it straight into an exit move then end over end, screwing around. 

As I did I remember glancing at the rocks (having almost seen some one pin here earlier in the day which would have been really dodgy) I knew I was close but I was counting ends and I knew I just need to hit one more end to complete my screwing around sequence and then I would be able to switch direction and go the other way which would pull me back into the safety of the main flow. Smash I hit that last end, changed direction and just kept going and then I heard the whistle. One last trick just for fun and I was done.

The crux moment this would make or break this finals

I had done it. I didn't know if I had won but I had nailed another super fun and super competitive routine. I was stoked and I was in the flow disappearing of down the river. I quickly charged for the bank and when I got to the shore Den, Islay and Clay were already there. Buzzing. They helped me out of the boat and we listened for the results. Had we done it? Was it enough? The results came in 'We have a new leader. The 2017 World Champion is Claire O'Hara.' I couldn't contain my excitement. I had done it. I had won again. 

The moment the news came in
So happy to win with Den, Islay, Clay and Jez there

Hitomi's phenomenal ride had put her in the silver and Anna Bruno who again laid down some super impressive technical tricks and sweet mysteries had made it onto the podium and taken the bronze an amazing result in a very stacked competitive ladies competition. 

Hitomi (silver), Claire (Gold) Anna (Bronze)
Celebrating with so many incredible people who make this possible
What a day : 5 x World Champion

Clay then grabbed my boat and rallied to the top with Den who was staright into action again with the GB lads. The guys then put down another impressive display of squirt boating. Clay putting his own stamp on the competition with a spectacular display of incredible squirt boating. Nailing a sweet routine of technical flat water. Followed by a 21 second + mystery move. The crowd watched on worried as true squirt boaters watched on with admiration as he truly showcased how it should be done as he took home his 3rd World Championship win.  With Team GB coming in second and third, With David Rodgers taking home a very well earned in bronze in his first ever World Championships.

Clay nails his routines
Mens Squirt Boating Podium

What an event. Watch the whole thing online live and free here. It really was an amazing competition on a super challenging day in an amazing place.