Training days are over, time for the big leagues!
Even with the Opening Ceremony due to kick off tomorrow, the past week of training has simultaneously lasted a moment and a lifetime, and feels like every athlete somehow hopped into a communal Groundhog Day. Traditional days of the week are no longer a thing. What we have instead is a four day cycle of "Nights" dependant on what meal was served. Chicken, Ribs, Chicken, Steak is how we monitor the passage of time.
While this highly athletic meal plan provides some indication that the clocks are still churning away, each day follows more or less the same pattern: wake up when your tent becomes too much of an oven to warrant a sleep in, meander down to WT for breakfast, stomp back to your tent cursing that you've lost your damn meal card again, realise it was in your pocket all along, eat, then go paddling at some point in the day before playing Cards Against Humanity or playing pool for a pitcher of Gatorade until bedtime. Contributing to our perpetual sense of déjà vu is the fact that there are only three songs in Canada, and even if you manage to find some sweet solace away from a radio you can bet that the back of your head will still be torturing you with tales of a Cheerleader you've found to Lean On who insists you stop talking and dance with her. We began timing the gap between repeated songs - on average "Cheerleader" plays every two hours, approximately 12 more times than it should be played per day.
Airscrews for days bra.
While the last week was able to pass with relatively few international incidents or declarations of war, it seems nothing spurs on mischief like monotony. As with last Worlds in Ottawa, the fact that BB guns are readily available in this country has proved irresistible to several athletes with the Irish Team ambushing the line for the shuttle bus with a drive by shooting while cocking their caps sideways and blaring Dr Dre. Meanwhile, the Glitter Wars have progressed from an arms race and trash talking to full blown sparkly aggression. Much like the assassination of Franz Ferdinand it only took one twinkly act of war for WT to erupt into glittery chaos. James Ibbotson, an English C1 paddler, lit the fuse on this ticking twinkle bomb and dumped a bag of glitter into my boat and, failing to learn from the past, chose to attack the particularly volatile nation of Germany. But foolish is he who casts the first stone - revenge was as swift as it was ruthless. Jonas, a German C1, proceeded to deposit glitter into Ibbo's boat, shoes, buoyancy aid, helmet, shampoo, and towel so not even a shower could stop him from looking like he wandered off the set of Priscilla: Queen of the Desert. Meanwhile, on hearing of Ibbo's particular distaste for spiders, a certain ruggedly handsome individual from a nation renowned for arachnids proceeded to harvest nine daddy long legs from the bathroom, mark them with the deliberate sparkle of war, and release them into his tent. Now a tension resides over the athlete village, anyone could be a target at any time. Once glitter spiders are involved, can you ever really feel safe again?
But aside from the shenanigans that naturally occur whenever too many kayakers are confined to the same place, it is rapidly dawning on us that the World Championships do actually begin next week. Competitors regard this with mixed feelings, some growing more relaxed as time goes on, some growing grumpier with each minute they sit in the eddy. Despite the previous paragraph, the vibe is much more serious this year. Watching the training sessions, you certainly notice that while some countries look like they're having the best time in the world, certain other countries make kayaking look as much fun as Mufasa's death scene. Each surf as much a chore as doing the laundry, and each early flush a catastrophe - the old adage, "the best surfer is the one having the most fun" sure comes to mind. Some patience and a sense of humour goes a long way in a twenty person eddy line.
It's pretty easy to crack a smile when you watch the fabled Drone Selfie in action.
For the sake of the 3 non-paddlers who have made it to this point of the article I figure I best explain how the competition works, otherwise they might think it's a race or we have to get a ball across a line or something peculiar like that. Each competitor takes four rides of forty five seconds on the wave. During that time they aim to perform as many tricks as possible, which are allocated different point values based on difficulty. A panel of judges tallies up the points and whoever has the most points wins. Pretty simple stuff really
There are a couple methods to maximise your score. The first and most common - to develop a routine, practice it to the hell and gone, then ideally replicate it in competition. For the more hopeful paddlers their routine is often a far cry from the best ride they've ever done. For the best paddlers out there, they can hit their routine with robotic precision. The second and far less common strategy - just make it up. Surf the wave and see what comes to you, depending on where you've found yourself on the feature, which direction the wave is pitching or whether a surge is rolling through. There's an almost romantic notion to this - cruising along, feeling the wave, doing what comes naturally when inspiration strikes... But it's quite high risk/high reward - historically the calculating robots tend to win. I'd say the best bet would be to have something that vaguely resembles a routine, while maintaining a certain degree of fluidity. We're paddling a river after all, it makes sense to go with the flow.
The bleachers under construction - Superbowl meets Canadian wilderness.
The last big thing murmuring through the ranks on the eve of the opening ceremony - the size of the heat. In the past, five people would be in a heat together and they would cycle through their rides in roundabout forty five minutes. This year they have upped this to ten people per heat, doubling the down time between rides for each athlete. Concerns have been raised for paddlers struggling to be warmed up for each run, but I reckon the biggest challenge will be found in the head game. Competitive freestyle is the most mentally challenging sport I've ever dabbled in - recollecting yourself after a poor run and putting frustration aside is essential. Spending an hour and twenty seven minutes with the thought that years of training have culminated into these three minutes of athleticism is a daunting task for even the most hardened of athletes. Definitely think the head game will be a great equaliser in the days to come.
On a less fortunate note, my body is seemingly falling apart. My tendonitis from Uganda hasn't quite gotten over itself, the metal in my once shattered wrist has reared its ugly head again and is trying to jiggle my arm into pieces, and to top it off - I just obtained membership to Popped Shoulder Club. With thanks to Australian Canoeing who took the mammoth hospital bills on the chin, I was able to see a doctor who cleared me of the dreaded rotator cuff tear and any new fractures, though it's still tough to say how my campaign will go from here. I haven't surfed Garb since, and have only gone paddling on some gentler rapids with varying levels of comfort. Over the course of the next couple days, I'm going to be in for a very difficult call. The road to worlds is long, winding and full of potholes - but if it was smooth highway cruising it wouldn't have half the excitement. All I can do is retain a cautious sense of optimism and hope that this obnoxious pothole is not a ditch. Besides, worst comes to worst, I can down kilograms of Ibuprofen, reinforce my flimsy limbs with medical tape and front surf for the crowd like a champion.
In hindsight, taking paddling advice from this guy did me no favours.
Anyhoo, we just had the opening ceremony. I'll tell you about it sometime. But in typical Australian fashion we donned tracksuits that John Howard would be proud to powerwalk in, and paraded down the street singing Waltzing Matilda. Worlds is officially open!