Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Area 47 Freestyle Ramp

Claire O prepares at the top of the 45 foot ramp
As part of our Europe tour we were invited to test out the new kayak ramp at Area 47, an ultimate adventure and extreme sports centre in the heart of Austria. Area 47 has been a base for people to come and take part in many extreme and adventure sports for the last few years and now hosts a 45 foot high, custom built, kayak ramp amidst its impressive water park.

Den goes huge
When we were first asked to test out the ramp I was a little bit dubious about how sensible it was to launch of a high ramp into a glassy green lake midway through the main competition season. But I needn't have worried, we arrived to find a custom built kayak ramp running alongside the traditional freestyle ramp. Running out level onto the water, instead of launching you of an 8 foot + high kicker ramp we could fly off the kayak ramp and create our own bounce, as on a wave. Transferring the energy from the ramp, all 35mph+ of it, into a bounce to launch the boat into the air without the worry of landing (every time) hard onto a pool of green water.

Claire O flys
We spent 3 days playing on the ramp trying to master the bounce and figure out its potential to get big moves. Den dialled it in quickly getting some massive air screws and pan ams from day one. I took a little longer to get used to the timing and technique getting some massive wipe outs and big air bounces, distracted by the excitement of just flying down the ramp at such speeds. By the end of the last session I finally had it dialled and it was amazing being able to throw air moves left and right, front and back without having to have the perfect levels on the perfect wave. The ramp was exhausting with a 45 foot vertical climb back to the top for every ride, but so much fun.

Here is a video and slideshow of photos from our action filled Area 47 days...   

Thanks to Arnd and Area 47 for giving us this great opportunity I am looking forward to going back.

Monday, July 09, 2012

Finals Day

It only feels like yesterday that the competition started and now its almost over. Its super strange sitting out and watching the finals from the side. I wish all the competitors well and for the first time in a long time watch the final show.
Its a strange feeling sitting out of the finals
Up first its the squirt men. Its a tight fight between Bartosh (POL) and Thomas (POL) in their play boats and Ben in his squirt boat. They battle hard but Ben puts his skills to the test nailing a sweet mystery move and sequence of tricky wu's and one armed bandits to take the win. His first International medal, he is the new European Champion. Helmut from Germany also makes the final, his first final, in a squirt boat and puts down some impressive runs just missing his mystery finishing in 5th place.

New European Squirt Mens Champion Ben Aldred
The junior women's is next. Nuria Fontane steels the show with a commanding 200 point run. Jen and Kim in their first European Championships throw some impressive runs but just miss out on the medals. They are definitely paddlers to watch out for in the future.

Kim lines up for her 45 sec run
In the junior mens the GB boys dominate. Bren Orton, a force to watch out, once again throws massive, consistent, technical runs taking his first ever Gold, with James Benns not far behind in 2nd and Sam Stephenson going huge to win the Bronze.

Den celebrates with the Junior Mens finalists
In C1 its defending European Champion Lukas Cerbinka (CZE) that takes the win and in the ladies Marlenne Denzines (FRA) continues her outstanding performance with another set of huge space godzillas and loops to take the win. Closely followed by Nina (SVK) and Maria (SWE).

The judges watch over the athletes as they perform
The event finishes with the mens finals and its an impressive battle and showcase of different styles. Defending champion Peter Chonka is badly injured so can't really contend as his normally would finishing in 5th place. This year instead its Spain’s young paddler Quim Fontane who sets the bar and steels the show with the biggest run of the entire event a massive 1,170 point run. Seb and Pring can't quite match it, on the day, finishing 2nd and 3rd respectively, still with some massive runs and James Weight is his first international finals throws big to take 4th place.

James Weight goes huge during his final runs
The event finishes with a great Scnitzel dinner, prize giving celebration and party in the town. All in all a great event and another fantastic set of performances and results for Team GB.

Claire O and Marlene celebrate their wins
Massive thanks has to go to Thomas and the team of judges. organisers and officials who helped put on and run the event. The town of Lienz and everyone at Camping Falken for hosting us. All the supporters, family and friends or coming along and supporting us. But mostly the GB support team who give up their time to help us perform and reach our best at these big events.

2012 GB European Medallists
Team Manager          Dave Newport
Ass Team Manager   Tim Ward
Head Judge                Pete Harper
Judge                         Paul Shepard
Coaches                    Dennis Newton and Sam Ward
Physio                       CatherineWarren
ICF Representative   Terry Best

and the BCU Freestyle Committee and everyone else who helps with the team trainings and events in the UK

Celebrating with my mum
Also a massive special thanks to Den and of course my Mum.

Semi Finals Day – Mixed results!!!

Todays the semi finals and I'm excited. Semi finals are loads more fun than the heats as its only 1 ride that counts out of 2 so theres a margin for error which helps keep me relaxed. I warm up and get ready for my runs. I know exactly what I need to do, one loop and one felix and i'm through anything else will be a bonus but is not required at this stage in the comp. I have two rides and only have to make sure I do both my base moves in one. Everything’s set i'm feeling ready. Its my go . My first ride goes ok. I get a big air loop to start and go for my felix. I then try a mcnasty and phoneix but just miss them both. I drop off and Den's super happy with the run. I'm not sure the felix completed so don't think i've done enough yet to get through. 

Claire O setting up for the loop
2nd run, I have a plan, I'm calm and composed. I drop in, nail a perfect air loop and then flush. I can;t remember much of the next 35 seconds except that I spent most of it paddling back up the eddy and I threw no more moves!!! As soon as the buzzer goes I know its over, i'm out!!! I've missed the cut for finals for the first time in years and in the event that I really wanted to get through in. I'm gutted. 

The pictures say it all... too much time in the eddy!
Everyones thinking i'll be ok but I already know its over... No moves = No points! Results are in and i'm in 7th my freestyle kayaking European championships journey has ended.  

Caught on camera I am asked to explain what went wrong!
7th seems to be the GB teams preferred place of the day! Adam, Brandon and Alan all join me in 7th place, all missing out on our respective finals, gutting! Luckily though most of the others make it through.
Brandon going big but just missing out on the final cut
I don't have long to dwell on my shocking freestyle result as straight up next is my squirt finals. Den helps me regain focus and then once again its time to go. My first run goes perfectly 960 points, i've already won. With two runs left Den sets me the challenge of breaking 1,000 points. I step it up in the 2nd ride 970 points and again in the 3rd ride, 1,070 points. I win the gold but more importantly I throw down some impressive and inspiring squirt boating routines and score my first 1,000 point+ ride :o)

Loving my new squirt boating routine 
Next up its the OC1 final to finish the day. Paul King throws some awesome rides showing a whole mix of moves winning his first ever International medal, a well deserved Bronze. World Champion Phillip Hitzigarth (GER) takes the Gold. However it Josh that steels the show with an awesome loop to swim, to self rescue, to run up the eddy to jump back in, to loop to swim in his final ride. He finishes in 5th but with the most memorable run of the day.

Paul King tears it up in OC1

Heats Day 2

Next up its time for the K1 Men, Junior Women and Squirt Women. Kim and Jen start the day with some great rides making it through to the finals. Jen throws a sweet loop placing her in 3rd place not far behind Junior Superstar Nuria from Spain who is well in the lead in first after some very impressive paddling. In the mens its no surprise as the boys fly. With a cut from 45 to 20 its a big cut but Pringle, James Weight, Alan and Andrew Brinkley all cruise through. Gav's injured but still manages to compete and put together a very respectable run.

Pring shows everyone how its done
Before I know its my time to paddle again. I've put together a run in my head but haven't practised it yet so i'm super keen to go. I'm also keen to see how many girls are in squirt boats, i'm hoping quite a few. The event stars and theres 3 of us in squirt boats out of the 10 starters :o( Everyone else is doing a combination of flat water and normal freestyle... oh well!!! This means only one thing... I have to challenge my score against the guys :o)

Claire O checks the depth in the eddy at the start of her run
I drop down and test out the little eddy at the start of the squirt arena. Its got a couple of small mystery squeezes and is almost deep enough to go vertical, so off I go. Its an interesting ride, very different to my normal routines... Pt, Mystery, Exit, Hw, Lw, Felix, OAB, punch through the freestyle hole, OAB, Screwing around!! Both rides go really well as I begin to figure out the arena. Results are in and i'm in first :o) over double the score of the highest mens result so far and 1,260 points clear of the 2nd place girl... sweet! Unfortunately the other two girls in squirt boats didn't quite make it through so its going to be a mostly plastic squirt final!!!

European Championships 2012 – Heats

Claire O setting up for a Mcnasty

Its another hot day in Lienz. My heats are at 3pm so I chill and swim and try to stay relaxed and cool. 3Pm quickly comes and its time to go. Dens there with me as I put together 2 ok runs.

Den helps me stay focused for each run

I get off the water feeling confident (ish) I hope i've done enough to get through to the next round. Its 2 rides both count and the top 10 out of 25 go through to the semi finals. Theres no room for error at this stage as every second counts. The results are in and i've made it through in 2nd place behind current European Champion Marlene Devinze from France. I'm super relieved and happy with this result. Unfortunately my GB team mate Emily Wall wasn't so lucky after struggling with a shoulder injury all week she just misses out of the semi finals as does another top contender Katya Kulkonova from Russia.

Marlene flys high in her heats

Next up its the squirt mens heats. I help the lads plan their runs and watch how they use the venue to gain their points, planning my competition run in my head as they go. I haven't mentioned much about squirt boating yet as up until today I wasn’t sure if there would be an official event and wether I would go. But today I found out not only is there going to be an official mens event there is also enough paddlers to have an official ladies class so I am defiantly in. The competition is going to take place on a 100m stretch, so we can try utilise a number of small eddies for mystery’s as well as the freestyle feature and flow. Everywhere is going to be pretty rocky and shallow so the competition is going to be tough especially for those of us in squirt boats as a lot of paddlers have entered in freestyle boats this year so its going to be quite tough but also a good show. 

Claire O helping Ben with his rides
Todays other events include the Jnr Mens where the GB lads finished in the top 4 places, C1 where Adam takes the top spot and Jack Gunter made it through, OC1 where Paul and Josh finish top 2 and Squirt Mens where all the lads are through with Ben Aldred in first place.

Brandon drops in to compete in his first major international event

All in all a great start to the event for Team GB.

Adam gets huge bonus on all his moves and progress into the semi finals in 1st place

European Championships 2012 – Opening Ceremony

2012 GB Freestyle Kayaking Team
Training has been going really well. Despite the extremely fluctuating water levels I've managed to settle into a good routine of short, effective sessions intermixed with active rest. Lienz is an amazing venue for an event, ok the feature isn't great but the facilities around the feature are brilliant. Across the road from the river is an amazing outdoor swimming pool with slides, diving boards, massage jets, volleyball and football courts. There's perfectly level bike paths along the river and a lovely town with the best ice cream shop ever, all surrounded by one of the most impressive mountain ranges i've seen. So each day between sessions I would join Den and the rest of the European athletes playing football, mountain biking and cooling down in the pool. 

Active rest Lienz style
As the competition drew nearer I was feeling pretty happy in the hole. I was beginning to be able to throw all my main moves and some of my newer ones but I did have one major concern... the feature at Lienz is super feisty and had constantly been changing during training so my consistency rate on hitting my moves was really low. During training this wasn't a real problem but as we drew closer to the event it became more of a concern. I knew my base moves were solid (ish) my loop and my felix but the rest would just come and go for no particular reason! I wasn't the only paddler with this concern, it was the nature of the hole. But leading into a major international event not being 100% happy / confident the you can hit your run is definitely not ideal.

Claire O setting up for another big move
The event kicked off on Monday with our first official training slot. Every year at these major events the days directly before the event starts are set aside for official team training. Each team is designated a period of time exclusively for them to train. This year we (Team GB) have a 92 minute slot, 3 ½ mins per paddler! Luckily we have an afternoon slot so levels are good and the weathers nice too. I'm first in, in the first group with the Junior Men, Women and OC1's. Training goes really well and everyones paddling great.
Team Training Begins

Monday evening comes and we all head to the Lienz castle for the opening ceremony. It is one of the most beautiful opening ceremony venues I have ever seen. This quaint, traditional castle hosts several big music festivals and events through the year. 

Opening Ceremony at the Castle

Tonight the 2012 European Freestyle Kayaking Championships is officially opened here. There are loads of speeches and free beer. I am invited up on stage to say a few words of thanks on behalf of all the athletes. Then the entertainment begins. The entertainment is brilliant, 4 local musicians play a set by drumming on two old kayaks. Its awesome and a perfect launch for the event. Its also great having my mum and her friend Carol here supporting me.

Who would have though it ... freestyle kayak drums
GB Girls
Me and Mum at the castle
The next day its team training again this time in the midday heat. Then we have a lovely team meal in town. Hippy Dave (GB Team Manger) gives us a motivational speech and then its an early night as tomorrow we compete.

Loving Lienz