Friday, August 31, 2012

World Cup No 1 - Rock Island, TN

Day 1 – Training Day

Its great meeting up with friends old and new from across the World 

World Cups are amazing because I get to meet up with so many friends from across the World and share some great competition experiences with them. One of the downsides of this though is that this means most of the top freestyle kayakers from across the world are all in the same place, at the same time and the eddy ques (line ups) are huge. With over 120 paddlers competing at this years Rock Island World Cup event the line ups are massive and because of super low water year in the USA we only have a 3 hour dam release on which to all practice on the wave for the event! Luckily today they have split us all into 3 groups. So I join approx 45 others in the first 1 hour for my chance to practice on the wave.

Rock Island Tennessee!!!

Rock Island is a sweet little wave hole situated under an impressive waterfall. Theres nowhere I have ever competed quite like it. The waterfall creates an atmospheric mist and background noise of cascading water that you can;t help but be enthralled by as you surf the wave. The feature itself is great, a very tricky but very fun wave. In the 1 hour slot I get 3 rides and begin to get a feel for the shape and quality of the feature.

As water time is limited we also spent the day getting a guided tour of the Jackson Kayak factory

Ideally in the lead up to a major international event I would prefer much more practice time on the water but 3 rides is what we have all had so I quickly come up with a plan and spend the next 2 hours watching the others and studying the way they use the wave. Its super impressive watching the locals, Emily, Dane, Nick and EJ as they cruise around and generate power from each pocket in the wave. By 6pm the waters gone. So we spend the evening catching up, chilling out and getting ready for the event to kick off.

Three new Murky Water Slips all ready for the competition ahead

Day 2 – Freestyle Heats

In the hot spot with Head Judge Sneaky Pete Harmer
(photo by

Its an early start. The waters turing on for 10am and I have been asked to Judge the mens so need to be down at the river and ready to go by 9.30am. I spend the money judging the mens heats and then its my turn to go. I'm excited and a little nervous as I have no idea how well this will go. My first rides good and my seconds ok. I'm not sure its enough but i'm pretty happy with my rides, all things considering.

Claire O surfing looking for a big move set up
(photo by Philip Roberts)

Results are in. Scores are super low but I made it in 3rd behind Emily and Adriane so i'll be progressing through to the semi finals :o)

Emily Jackson showing some real style as she tears up her home spot

Day 3 – Squirt Finals

Everyone gets a little practice in before the event begins

Again its another early start. This time i'm judging the mens squirt. Its a super impressive event with a mix of different styles. Thomas (POL) is in a freestyle boat throwing a super impressive and fast flat water routine. Dane (USA) and Jeremy (USA) combine a nice mix of flat water squirt boating routines with mystery moves. But its Clay Wright (USA) who steels the show with a massive 21 second mystery move followed by a routine of all the hardest squirt boating flat water moves. With a huge score of 1,500 points he comfortably takes the win.

Clays happy with his 1st place World Cup ranking after a great ride

Normally I love to challenge myself against the guys results at these events but having only ever done one 20 second ride in my life today its going to be hard. First ride up I miss my mystery but lay down a nice flat water routine, 450 points, not bad. 2nd run, first up its Motoko (JPN). She puts down a sweet routine followed by a head under mystery move, 820 points!, game on I have to improve. I drop in with a 4 second mystery to start. Then I rack out as many top end flat water moves as I can. 980 points, i'm back in the lead. Motoko throws her 3rd run but it doesn't top her second run score. 

Head Squirt Judge Stephen Wright keeps everyone updated with the scores and all the action

The other girls are battling it out for 3rd place in playboats. They have some great rides but without a mystery can't quite beat our scores. Nuria (SPN) wins the flat water freestyle squirt battle taking a well earned 3rd. With 1 ride to go and having already secured 1st place I decide to give my last ride ago with hand paddles. A skill I have been working on this year. I get a sweet mystery move and throw some whirly gigs. Hand paddles are definitely an advantage underwater. This could be something I am going to work on more.

Jordan Poffernburg throws some huge moves in the C1 heats

Jez drives back up the eddy during the OC1 heats

Upstream on the waves things have also been busy with the junior men and OC1 heats underway. Bren Ortons (GB) on fire and finishes in first in the juniors and Chris Noble (GB) puts down two great rides in OC1. Before I know it i'm back in the judging stand for the senior mens quarter finals. Its only been 3 weeks since Pringle (GB) broke his collarbone. He's paddling well but doesn't have his usual explosive power. He's made the quarters but can't make enough points to reach the next round. Hopefully he'll be back to full form in 2 weeks by the NOC.

Broady Kellogg is cheered on as he competes in his first International Competition

Nick (CAN) throws down some huge moves to take the lead with Dane (USA) and Peter Chonka (SVK) close on his heels. The day finishes and we are all exhausted. A lot of people have now finished competing so tonight is 'the loosers' party. My finals are first thing tomorrow so I skip the party. Islays super keen and has a great night line dancing and partying with all the other guys and girls. Special thanks has to go to EJ and Kristine for opening up a free beer tab for everyone behind the bar.

Day 4 – Freestyle Finals

Coutney Kerin goes huge during her ride in the finals
(photo by RiverZoo.Eu)

Its finals day. Ladies are up first and i'm excited to go. I'm in the 2nd heat so watch the first 5 go. Everyones beginning to figure out the feature much better now and there some good loops being thrown. I'm up and go out hard. Problem is hard doesn't work here and before I realise it I have flushed. I battle to get up the right eddy. Bad choice as it takes twice the time of the river left eddy I make it back up but with only 2 seconds to spare. No moves = no points! Oh well 1 more ride still to go. Todays semis, its 2 rides each but only 1 counts so I still have plenty of opportunity to do enough to get through. I've been watching the others go so I know I only need 1 big move to make it through. I really need to just take my time.

Claire O regains composure between runs
(photo by RiverZoo.Eu)

2nd ride, I drop down. Surfing around I get a great pass for a roundhouse / blunt but decide to let it go. It wouldn't be enough points to go through and is an easy move for me to flush on so could end my ride. I set up for a felix.At 100 points its the perfect move. I flip rotate and pull it round. It nice but feels like it fell a few degrees short. I try and power it to finish linking it to a spin. Then I catch an edge and flip. This time I head left. It way faster and super cool. I paddle up behind the waterfall punching out through the curtain of cascading water to reappear above the feature and then its a short ferry glide back into the hole. 5 seconds left. I set up for a big loop. I get air but land hard and slightly to the left flushing out of the hole. I'm super happy with my ride especially the paddle back up behind the water fall but i'm not sure i've done enough. The loop definitely didn't score and my felix fell that little bit too short. Results are in and i'm in 6th just missing the cut but i'm happy. I enjoyed the rides.

Adriane cools down and wakes up ready for her final runs
(photo by Philip Roberts)

Dane Jackson relaxes between his finals and watches his sister Emily Jackson win the womens event

Time quickly flys by as the finals begin. Nouria (SPN) wins the junior girls, Hunter (USA) takes 1st in the junior boys, Jordan (USA) wins the OC1, Dane (USA) wins the C1, Emily (USA) wins the ladies and Peter Chonka (SVK) wins the mens. My highlights of the event were watching Emily and Clay throw down some incredible rides watching everyone cheer as Chonka won the mens after getting some huge air moves.
Quim Fontane warms up under the waterfall before the mens finals

The event finishes with a lovely meal and celebration at the Foglight Inn. The top 3 in each category are awarded with specially designed Rock Island World Cup 2012 baseball caps and all the helpers and volunteers names are put into a raffle to win a Go Pro Hero 2. I have a great night chatting to the Japanese team, using my new learn Japanese phrasebook (thank you Motoko) and catching up once more with everyone from the event.

Souvenirs from a World Cup Event

Massive thanks has to go to everyone from Jackson Kayak and at Rock Island for hosting the event, all the officials, volunteers and judges who helped run the event and the paddlers for making it such a great week.

Rolling out and back to the Pigeon aka Dirty Bird!

Now its time to say goodbye to Rock Island and pack up and head back to Pigeon Hole, Tennessee.

Thank you to James Bebbington and Katya Katalova (RiverZoo.EU), Jackson Kayaks, Philip Roberts and Islay Crosbie for the photos

Pigeon Hole, TN

Relaxing after a long journey South!

After a 2 day and over 20 hour drive we arrived late at the Jackson RV at Pigeon Hole, Tennessee. Word is the water is on tomorrow from 1 – 6pm and then there will be no other practice sessions before the event starts next week.
Pigeon is a great freestyle feature that has been built by hand by the local raft guides

We have a steady start, a nice massive american breakfast, and then head to the river. Sat behind the rafting companies main buildings this sweet little hole has been built by hand by several of the raft guides. Dam released, warm water and super fun. As a stable slow, deep, retentive feature, its perfect for a World Cup event and almost reminds me of a more natural inlet gate. We spend the day testing it out. Luckily everyone else is already at Rock Island so we pretty much have the place to ourselves so get plenty of rides and have loads of time to figure out a run plan. I'm already really looking forward to this event. Its going to be super fun especially as this is very much my kind of feature. After several hours on the water we are all exhausted and ready to move on. We drive the 3 hours south and join everyone else in Rock Island, Tennessee.

Watch out Rock Island here we come...

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Final few days... new boat arrives at the Ottawa!

Check out the funky new boat
(Designed by Rob Crow)

The week with the Keeners quickly came to an end and it was time to head out and play again. Staying on the river bank and Tylers amazing home meant we were perfectly situated to jump straight on for a McCoys session or take the short drive to play at Garb. Tyler has been away with Lane and Max at a Canadian team trials but arrived back Saturday to join us on the water. Tyler was super stoaked as he had not only made the national team for this years World cups but also next years World Championships.

Exciting times... Xmas has come early

Incredible art work by Murky Water

The weekend consisted of some sweet Garb surfing sessions, a couple of pushbutton hole boating sessions, a great swollen members festival at Wilderness Tours, some awesome meals especially Anna's birthday crepe dinner and the arrival of my very shinny, very glittery and very small new squirt boat!

Perfect float

Loving my new toy

After a cheeky flat water float and outfit session my new slip was ready to hit the whirly suff and I finished my Canada trip with an amazing sole sinking session at smoothie with some great friends, during an amazing sunset and with a sweet double rainbow overhead.

I'm going to miss this place

Keeners Time

Keeners Programme

As the days quickly roll by Monday suddenly comes and its time for me to go and join the guys as a Guest Coach for the Keeners. The Keeners programme is a specialist sport camp for teenagers who have an interest in whitewater kayaking. Based on the banks of the Ottawa river the kids aged 13 – 19 join the programme for 3 weeks each summer and receive top coaching from some of the best paddlers in the World. They not only learn river safety and river awareness and have the opportunity to improve their whitewater and freestyle skills but they also get chance to develop their personal and social skills through the residential programme.

Fun times... Its about more than just the boating, honest!

This year I was invivted to join the programme as a guest coach for a week. It was great getting the chance to help out so many motivated and enthusiastic young paddlers. It was great seeing how the programme worked and being able to add my knowledge and experiences to that of the team. One of my highlights of the week was the final day seeing all the kids out on the water testing the skills they had been developing in a super fun and supportive mini competition on the two main waves and then just having fun blasting down the rest of the river too the end.

Great chance to meet and work with amazing young paddlers


Impressive skys over the Ottawa

We arrive at the Ottawa super late and catch up with Clay. Up early and excited to go boating on the warm, sunny Ottawa its a surprise to find its grey, cold, gloomy and raining outside. Apparently the Ottawa has been having a massive drought summer except for this week where the forecast is non stop rain! This doesn't cull our excitement though as we also know that the river was getting super low but now with this rain Garb will soon be back in! We spend a great few days tearing up Garb making the most of this incredible rivers for wave training. It takes a few days to adapt my style and feel comfortable back on real waves but soon the transition is done and I am really having fun. This year their seemed to be loads of girls on the Ottawa. Everyday I seem to come across 5 or 6 more female paddlers. Its great to see so many talented female kayakers especially when I think back to 15 years ago when I started and how relatively few girls were involved then.

Fun times on the Ottawa

At Plattling last year Polly Green made a great little video called 'The girls are killing it' showcasing how much the standard of female freestyle kayaking has improved. This year we could easily have made another film to sequel / progress this as the moves being thrown down by the girls were once again pushing the top level in the sport.

Islay tearing it up

It was great to be finally figuring out wave boating. I definitely don't have the consistency I would like yet but I am definitely making progress and enjoying it loads.

 Claire O going big on Garb

One morning we all went for breakfast and Clay mentions that he would love to paddle in an eddy at Garb full of girls all throwing airscrews. That night he's super happy as he (and Stephen) find themselves in the Garb eddy surrounded by girls and not only are we trying airscrews we are also all sessioning pan ams, helix’s and pistol flips. So much fun!

Clay and the ladies getting on for an rainbow airscrew session!

Niagara Falls here we come

Destination Canada

So with the Olympics finished, for us anyway, its time to head off on the next adventure. After another quick turn around and chance to catch up with my mum, I meet up with Islay and we jump on another plane. This time the destination is Canada. We arrive in Toronto and make our way to Murky Waters to meet Ed and Mariola and float test my new squirt boat. Its super exciting as I have no idea what the finished boat will look like. Back home I had spent several weeks working with designer and good friend Rob Crowe putting together a funky design pattern which we had sent to Ed and Mariola to apply to the boat. The outcome was awesome. A funky blue and silver boat, covered in metal flake glitter with water droplets and a big ClaireO whirlpool on the back. The new boat a Jim Snyder designed 'Slip' needs to be super small to work best. So a float test is important to make sure it's still balanced and I cans till actually fit in it. After 5 / 6 chops its looking perfect. It floats balanced and pretty low but this new design also still has loads of foot room!

Thank you Murky Water
Photos of the finished boat will follow as soon as its complete :o)

With the float chop done its time to leave the boat once more in the technical hands of Ed to seam together and finish off. I am amazingly lucky to have Murky Water joining my support team this year and I am look forward to representing Murky Water out on the water across the World. Thank you Ed and Mariola.

Islay loving the weather at Niagra

Next stop on our tour is Niagara Falls. Being only an hour away from Murky Water its inevitably worth a quick trip. Its incredible to think that this is the 2nd of the '7 Wonders of the World' that I have seen in less than 6 months.

Can you see a line?

Niagara Falls is beautiful. The colour of the water and magnitude of the falls just makes you sit and watch. The amount of midst bouncing up off the water and rocks at the bottom of the falls is incredible. It is hard to look at the falls and not try and work out the safest kayak line down it! I find one but immediately know there is no way I would personally consider running it.

Last view of Niagara Falls

Within no time all the watching water stimulates our will to go kayaking so we are on our way again. This time the destination is the Ottawa.  

Freestyle Kayaking makes its debut at the Olympics

A first... in kayaking and Olympic history

So the next 5 days went by in a bit of an action packed blur. Each day we had a set slot on the course, to perform a 6 - 15 min freestyle display, to entertain the crowds. The first two days we were on at the end of the slalom event after the heats and on the final 3 days we performed between the finals and the medal ceremonies.

Claire O and Pringle in action at the Olympic course
Unfortunately Pringle injured himself skate barding home from day 2 so couldn't join us for the final 3 days where we performed to a massive crowd of over 12,000 spectators each day. The response we got was massive everyone was amazed at what we could do. There was huge cheers each time any of us did a big loop or surfed a wave or even did a roll. Pas, was on the mic, mc'ing our routine. Introducing the crowd to our sport as the VT introduced us and the moves on the big screen. 

My mum joins the crowds to watch on the first day

It was super exciting and an incredible experience to be part of it all. The energy throughout the stadium was huge. Especially on the final day as Tim and Ettiene and David and Richard had just finished first and second winning the Gold and Silver medals (respectively) for GB in the C2 finals. An absolutely incredible day not only for team GB and GB Canoeing but also for the ICF with the guys making Olympic history.

An incredible day for Team GB Canoeing (photo by Peak UK)

By the end of the week well over 50,000 people had seen our sport live at the event with many thousands more across the World watching on live stream. Freestyle had not only made it into the minds of the olympic organisers and onto the Olympic timetable but had also been seen by a massive broader audience hopefully inspiring many future young paddlers across the world.

This is what this whole experience was about

As quickly as the event had started it all came to an end. Feeling almost like a surreal dream. Our final stage of the adventure being an invitation to the ICF celebration party where we were thanked for our involvement and presented with a gold ICF medal inscribed with the London 2012 emblem. Then it was time to to pack up and take our medals and first official Olympic freestyle bibs home.  

The London 2012 Olympic freestyle kayak display team
Courtney Kerin, Motoko Ishida, Terry Best, Dane Jackson, Claire O'Hara, Juma and James 'Pringle' Bebbington (absent from pic)

28th July – The Official Slalom Course is set.

Fresh from the excitement of the opening ceremony we are up early and back training on the course. The olympic slalom race course has now been set so we are under strict orders not too touch the poles. We have our boats and BA's officially checked. They add the official London 2012 logo's to our kit.

We are ready. We have a plan. We are all set to go.

Opening Ceremony

The Olympic Stadium
By 6pm we were on the coach and on our way. We arrive at Olympic park and its insane. The stadium is massive and looks immense especially with the large red twisting sculpture stood aside it. There's volunteers everywhere, welcoming, directing and exciting everyone. The atmosphere is electric. We head through security and find our seats. We are in a prime position, so close we can see everyones expressions and really feel part of it. The MC comes on and the Pre show begins. The whole stadium is a big countryside set with people farming, playing cricket and tennis, relaxing and chatting. Theres sheep, cows, seats, clouds, farmhouses, kids. Its immense. 

Dinner in the countryside

20.12pm and the red arrows fly over the stadium signalling the start of the show. What follows is one of the most spectacular, heartfelt, sincere, mass participation performances I have ever seen. Thousands of volunteers , musicians, dancers and actors tell the story of the history of Great Britain. From the industrial revolution to the development of the World Wide Web. They celebrate all our national treasures from the Queen, James Bond, Mr Bean and JK Rowling to the NHS. There's theatre, comedy, incredible music, film, production, tributes to the war heros and those we have lost and so much more...There's lights, fireworks, fire, rain... The whole show is so impressive, so well thought out, so well choreographed (by Danny Boyle) and so well performed. 

Incredible performances bring the stadium to life

And then of course theres the athletes. From over 200 countries, I don't even remember how many athletes.... thousands!!! All wearing their official gear, all following their countries flag, all excited and ready for the competition ahead. 

Team GB arrive to huge applause

The final country to appear is GB, dressed in Golden outfits lead by Chris Hoy, and as they enter the arena the whole stadium erupts. We are close enough to see the smiles and expression on the faces of the athletes as they all come past. The place is going wild. Its an incredible feeling being part of it. Watching from the stands. I imagine being one of the athletes on the ground! Then its time to light the torch. Brought in by David Beckham and Stephen Redgrave and lit by several young up and coming athletes. It was incredible. The 2012 Olympics games are officially opened. London 2012 begins.  

London 2012 Olympic Games are officially opened