Sunday, 30 August 2015

World Championships Chapter Two - Training Days, Glitter Warfare and Unco-operative Shoulders

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! 


Monday, 24 August 2015

Freestyle Kayaking World Championships - Team 'Straya Romping Through Canadia

So in a move that Australian Canoeing may well regret one day, I seem to have been taken on the media and reporting duty on behalf of Team Australia for the 2015 World Freestyle Kayaking Championships.
The Ottawa River calm after the storm.

This year's Worlds is the big one - after six long years the competition is finally back to high volume big waves, aerial moves and spectacular beat downs that both the competitors and spectators have craved oh so deeply. As a result, paddlers around the world have dusted off the paddle and torn the garage upside down to find their kayak with the goal of representing their country at the pinnacle of their sport, on the powerful wave Garberator on the Ottawa River in Canada.

Australia has fielded the largest team I've seen since I first competed on the World stage in 2007. We have a full squad of Senior K1 Men and Women, Jez rocking C1 as usual, as well as a fully stocked team of Junior Men and Women ready to secure the future of the sport in our country.

Here's a frog just to break up the text and make it look less intimidating for the Buzzfeed reader.

The competition is due to start on the 30th of August, six days from now. While official team training is yet to begin, athletes from twenty five countries are already here in droves, while the athlete village has new tents sprouting up every day like mushrooms after a storm. With 184 paddlers expected here by the Opening Ceremony, each competitor is taking to the water each day eager to log as much time on the unique feature that is Garberator. And proceed to get completely obliterated.

While Garberator was chosen for its tendency to send paddlers airborne, it is also quite appropriately named after that thing in American sinks that whizzes blades around and grinds stuff into oblivion. The wave is formed when a hundred metre wide section of the Ottawa River crams itself into a channel about fifteen metres across, creating a torrential downstream V that leads straight into a frothy pit of chaos. This foamy mess is the thing we surf. While other waves, even much larger ones, offer a relatively relaxed surf with smooth carves and big smiles, surfing Garb takes every ounce of effort you possess and feels like you've been cable tied to the front of a Japanese bullet train. This wave eats paddles for breakfast, wreaks havoc on AC joints, and has a nasty tendency of seeking out any previous injury you may have thought was fully healed and reopening that can of worms. Popping Ibuprofen like tic tacs and exhausting the Beachburg chemists of medical tape, it seems a delicate balance between logging some practice time on the wave and not tearing yourself apart in the process. Freestyle's a peculiar sport where in the lead up to the competition rather than resting and tapering off your training, people tend to go hell for leather to spend as much time on the wave as possible to figure out its unique quirks. With the amount of limbs I've seen covered in medical tape it will be interesting to see if this is a wise plan of attack.

Joe Dunne finding the sweet spot.

As this is my first World Championships in just over 6 years, it seems I missed out on the memo that in order to be considered competitive you needed to have brought a carbon composite kayak that is often as expensive as a second hand car and as fragile as a crystal wine glass. Approximately half of the competitors seem to be paddling carbon, with the rest of us noble soldiers still representing Team Plastic. This competition is no longer simply between countries or rival companies, but between materials. Carbon boats being about half the weight of a plastic boat and not constantly flexing under the pressure of the wave, they have a tendency to make tricks snappier, bigger and just generally more impressive. But where there are Have's there are also Have Not's, and paddlers across the globe have united against these princesses in their fancy schmancy carbon boats. That is of course, until I happen to get one. I really want one. They look so wicked. But that's beside the point, Team Plastic represent. I know it's the paddler who makes the boat and not the other way around, but that seems only true to a certain degree - it will be interesting to see the final rankings and the true extent of the material divide.

Dane Jackson: Current World Champion and Carbon Enthusiast

As our Athlete Village resembles something more of a hippy commune of tents or a caravan park of travelling vagrants, it has been a considerable blow to morale that over the past week we have been hit by a series of brutal thunderstorms. In an afternoon, our idyllic camping field transformed into a mosquito ridden swamp and our meagre possessions saturated despite being safely nestled in the cheapest, finest Wallmart tents . An unfortunate German fella even had his tent crushed by a loose tree, so they took this opportunity to strengthen their camaraderie through the team bonding exercise, Rage Cage, which we were only too keen to assist in. Morale was boosted sufficiently.

My good self pistol flipping to a classic underdog comeback story (maybe).

It's great being back at  a Worlds event - it's a reunion with old friends from a previous life and a meeting place for new ones. Cheerful sledging of our national stereotypes form the basis of conversation, getting a Canadian to apologise or an Irishman gleefully asking for more potatoes is a constant source of entertainment. Even in twenty person deep eddy lines the good vibes are strong - regardless of country, helpful tips are exchanged, every paddler is cheered on and a dead fish that floated to the surface was flung around the eddy with great enthusiasm. The medals and formalities are only a fraction of the World Championships, it's the people and inter-continental banter that gives the event its life.

Designated team training slots started today and its dawned on us that kayaking may well be the only sport in the world where Australia and New Zealand can train together safely without it erupting into bloodshed.  Though that's not to say that they're not telling us to get our barbie and shrimps cranking to which we cheerfully replied that we don't want none of their ghost chups bru.

But anyhoo, that's training week one done and dusted, six days left now til the Opening Ceremony and then the competition gets underway! Let's see what this week has in stall for us.

Also here's a cheeky flick of my latest Uganda training mission - I feel this hasn't had enough views yet. Another side note: the Ugandan Team totally got their visas approved, super keen to see those rippers out here!

Thursday, 11 July 2013

The Lord of the Drinks: The Fellowship of the Ski

"I want to see mountains again, mountains Gandalf!"

That seemed like a fitting introduction for my first post about a country that knows full well that its greatest export is Lord of the Rings. And, well, skiing I guess. But having just walked around Queenstown for an hour and seeing all the tourist merchandise I think it may actually be easier to find the One Ring in this country than hire snow equipment.

So, seeing as I've finally scratched my proverbial itchy feet for the first time since my backflip misadventures in Canada, I figured I might as well mark my escape from the Island with a bit of a blog resurrection. I mean, it doesn't look like we're tearing up the town again tonight (as regrettable as that is), so I might as well be vaguely productive and detail some of the shenanigans I've gotten up to with The Fellas and Roslyn. 

By the way, her name is now The Scorpion. But that's another story.

Pictured above: Roslyn at Winnies.

When you think about it, a rocking adventures is kind of like a really delicious cake. You need a few crucial ingredients like say, chocolate... ummm.... eggs… uhh… flour? Yeah, look, I'll be honest, I haven't got that much of an idea of what goes into a cake and I can't be bothered googling it, but my point still holds true. To go into the finer details and render my convoluted simile completely pointless; an adventures needs a long ass journey, a wacky bunch of people, and of course the 3 litres of duty free alcohol we all purchased the second we got off the plane which (little known fact) is actually mandatory on entry into the country.

Crazy New Zealanders eh?

The first of what I can only assume will be many sheep jokes.

On the note of how nutty this place is, being an Aussie in New Zealand is kind of like what I imagine being an American in Canada would be like. You have this almost big brother-like air of superiority, they're eager to please and super friendly - but at the end of the day you can't get past the fact that everything we do is just .... how to put this... better than them. I mean sure, they got some things right. Their one and two dollar coins are actually appropriately sized, they have an ergonomic thumb groove for extra grip on their cartons of milk and the name Rotorua isn't that much sillier than Wooloomooloo when you really think about it. But that doesn't make it not stupid by any means. Also their pronunciation of the number six makes me giggle like a schoolboy, but hey, that might just be me.

By far the most frustrating thing about this place was experienced on the drive from Christchurch to Queenstown. See, we were all acting under the impression that driving from the central city to the main ski-fields would be like driving from Sydney to Jindabyne - fairly cruisy, just get a general idea of where you're going, follow the signs, eat when you're hungry and fill the tank up when it needs filling up. No dramas, easy going and you'll have more than enough time for a few beers and a Fergburger when you rock up in town.

This will be the greatest thing your mouth ever experiences. Yep, even better than that.

But in NZ, not so much. After the three hour delay of getting on the road because the dudes from the rental company were late after getting carried away in the local pasture (I assume), we were struck by the fact that when it comes to sign placement New Zealand is as stingy as Monty Burns. If a road was even labelled at all, there was no fore-warning, and it seems you're expected to slam on the brakes at 100km an hour on icy roads then Grand Theft Auto your way around the turn if you don't want to hang a u-turn or end up hideously lost like we almost did more than a few times.

In fairness, I suppose we could have brought a more appropriate map.

Other issues that came into play - in Australia you can drive anywhere along the coast between Brisbane and Melbourne and you'll never be more than 30 minutes away from a petrol station. So when we came across a petrol station fairly early on and thought, "eh, we'll stop at the next one" you would think that's a completely justified response. But after a few rocking singalongs and amended wrong turns we found ourselves in the place that civilisation forgot. Deep in an icy ravine, rocky cliffs either side, no signs of humanity and pursued by Smeagol and the Nazgul; Sam, Troy and I started to question why our hastily printed page of Google directions would lead our convoy 200km down the road that Tenacious D fought the Devil on. I'd keep going with the miss-matched pop-culture references, but I feel I've got my point across that this was one long ass scary road with prospective axe murderers and warg-riders hiding in every shadow. 

Not to mention this bugger.

Anyway, at this point the fuel light came on. Now we've all had our games of chicken with a fuel light in the past. But at 12:30 am in murder country it was slightly less than ideal. There's nothing quite as nasty as being on a road in the middle of nowhere, running out of fuel, at midnight in a strange country, and you don't even know for sure that you're going the right way. Needless to say, the next half hour or so was a little nerve racking to say the least, with the usually carefree Sam getting more stressed than force over area.

Nothing better than a forced engineering joke.

Anyway, after all of that ado, I ran out of motivation to keep writing. There's dinner ready to be eaten yo. Long story short, after trekking through our midnight murder desert we stumbled across an oasis in the form of a 24 hour self service petrol station where we filled up and there was much rejoicing. At about this point I received 4 messages from my mum at once asking if I was alive, if we had crashed, if the car had run out of battery and a full list of instructions on how to get to the hostel. 

Thanks mum.

Anyway, next time I shall inform all three of you reading up to this point as to the origin of our fabled snow nicknames, the vomit pixies who haunt the streets of Queenstown in the early hours of the morning to the hitch hiker competition taking the group by storm.

Monday, 30 April 2012

Reflections on a Trip Cut Short

I like ending my trips on a good note. Everyone does. When it's your last day on exchange, you throw a rockin party to say goodbye to all your new friends that you'll hopefully cross paths with in the future. When its the last day of your mission to Perisher (yes - Australia does have snow), you want that last run down the mountain to be nothing but flawless S turns into the park where you can finally stomp that trick you've been working on all week. Even when you're just out for a quick surf at Whale, you'll want your last ride in to be fist pump worthy. Y'know, something to keep you grinning ear to ear for the return length of your journey. That's what we all want.

My trip to Uganda gave me exactly that. I had two months of living on an island paradise, paddling and partying everyday with a wide variety of wild and wacky people whose antics and mischief gave me what was possibly the best Summer of my life. My last day had everything you'd want in a farewell - after a week of nerves, five of us had a killer finale by nailing the three most challenging rapids on the river in one day while the whole gang cruised down with us to cheer us on in a wicked day on the water. Then we had a night that would lead to everyone on the island waking up covered in Zappa stains and several circular red burns accross their chests like badges of honour. Great paddling, great friends, and great times. The next morning, despite a crippling hangover and having to talk my way out of bribing some Ugandan police on the way to the airport, for the forty something hours of transit back to Sydney I was sporting a grin that would make the Cheshire Cat look serious, and was armed an endless list of stories for me to tire my Aussie friends with once I got home.

What you feel like when you roll up after Hypoxia.
But, y'know, life isn't always like that.

On our last trip to Perisher, we often joked that anyone who dares utter the term "last run" is instantaneously cursed by Murphey and his laws of douchebaggery, where short of riding the chairlift back down the mountain, they are destined to injure themselves between the top of the hill and the bottom. This was later proven to be true - although whether it was a self fullfilling prophecy or part of some ancient voodoo curse is still up for debate.

 I put the blame squarely on this guy though.

Personally, I find nothing more frustrating about surfing than when the last wave you catch into shore pummels you into oblivion, and all you can do as you cough, splutter and drag your sorry ass back up the beach is look back at all that potential that just didn't turn out the way it should have.

It's hard for me to not view this Canadian mission in a similar light. In an ideal world, I would be returning some five or six months from now, after a long and prosperous second Summer working on the river every day, having a blast every night and having spent the spring paddling at the highest level of my sport that there is. In my mind I had built this up as the defining trip of my freestyle kayaking career - Stakeout is as big as playboating gets and I was finally going to get my shot at it after drooling over videos since 2006.

But instead of returning as a conquering hero with many a story to regale my Aussie friends with; after battling with uncooperative water levels and the French, I'm going to show up five months early; as some shmuck who knocked himself out being a jackass one night and subsequently ruined his trip.

Although I did take refuge in the fact that on the internet, someone has always screwed up worse than you.

And I am now faced with the challenging part of the post. As much as I want to focus on the fact that this page would be more accurately titled Shenanigans, Banter and Three Days of Kayaking; or that each surf on Buseater cost approximately one hundred bucks and two days of university that I'll have to catch up next year (in hindsight I probably shouldn't have calculated that), somehow I need to turn this mopey, depressive, down and out bullshit into some uncliched positivity.

...Sigh, let's give this a shot.

So there I was, down on my luck, unable to kayak and wallowing in what ifs. But then I realised something important. In life, you win some and you lose some. Goddammit I said no cliches. Ummm... what else we got here... Life is like a box of chocolates. Nope. Everything happens for a reason. Try again. Carpe Diem. Nup. The Lord works in mysterious ways. Hell no. I am definitely drawing the line there.

 Badum tsss! Strikeout puns, baby!

Alright, maybe there's no easy way to wrap this up in an overly upbeat way without resorting to cliches. If your last run down the mountain ends in a broken arm, or if your last wave of the day ends in a snapped board, there isnt too much to say is there?

But thinking back to all those times surfing and getting washing machined back into shore; as irritating as it can be that your last memory of the session wasn't a good one and sure, there was definitely a lot of potential out there that you missed out on, eventually your mind gets around to the good rides you had. That despite the fact that you were cold, frustrated and waiting for a wave for what seemed like forever,  you still some fun had out there. You'll know with full certainty that it was worth more to you than sitting at home staring blankly into Facebook, and that regardless of how badly it may have gone, you'll get another shot at it eventually.

Wait... did I just manage it?

Well, regardless if I did or not, that's enough retrospectiveness for one day. In five days from now I'll be back home with my two litres of duty free fun and I imagine I'll have a substantial amount to catch up on with not a whole lot to write about. So until the next time I go somewhere more interesting than Hermann's Bar, this shall be the last of my mental dribblings for a while.

Catchya later Canadia, and see ya in a few days Sydney.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Le Mission du Quebec - Bastardized French, the Cold, and a Tough Call

"Y'know what they call Kentucky Fried Chicken in French Quebec? Poulet Frit Kentucky."

I just couldn't resist. But really, Quebec? Really? PFK? You can't do that. That's not how it works. It's Kentucky Fried Chicken no matter what language you speak. Jesus Christ.

Moving on.

So approximately one day after I posted that the Mistassibi needed five times as much water as is currently flowing down it for Black Mass to start working, the Mistassibi got 4 and a half times as much water overnight. Needless to say; after Devyn, Justin, Huffy and I shat our respective pants in raw, unbridled excitement; we crammed the bare minimum of our meagre possessions into some stinky gear bags so we could head ten hours North with high hopes of surfing more waves then you could shake a stick at.
"Take that you damn French waves! Its spelt KFC!"

Now this mission started off shaky at best, with the carbon boating princesses deciding they needed to bring a plastic boat as a spare in case they broke a nail, er um, a carbon boat. This resulted in our Beachburg-Ottawa leg cramming an impossible 3 people, gear, camera stuff, tents and an inexplicably large number of kayaks into Devyn's truck. Another side effect of this was that instead of arriving in Ottawa at Huffy's place at the predetermined time of 9pm, we instead showed up at a fashionable 1am. This was fine though. Because Huffy's vegetable oil powered pedovan didn't have roof racks on yet and the back was still occupied with a fridge that smelt like it hosted a skunk orgy in the non-too-distant past.

 Our 3am packing efforts. Notice most of the crap isn't in the van yet.

Some hours later, a sheet of plywood had been drilled onto the roof racks and we had a total of eight boats loaded up and at 4am, fuelled by a combination of Red Bull and barrels of that stuff you keep in a deep fryer, we were ready to rock our way North into the land best known for combining chips, gravy and cheese curds into something absurdly delicious.

Poutine baby. It even comes on Pizza. (You have no idea how hungry this made me)
I feel like I need to spend some time on the pedovan/mission-mobile/vegie-monster. This thing is the length of a small schoolbus, the height of a small house, yet once everyone's respective possessions and a confusing amount of kayaks (eight) were loaded into the beast; the four of us had maybe one square metres worth of personal space to get comfy in. Considering over the course of the next four days we would spend more time in this van than anywhere else, some may construe this as somewhat less then ideal. However to big wave enthusiasts such as ourselves we were more than willing to put up with being a teensy bit cramped for hours on end in order to log our time on Quebec's explosive offerings that we've been drooling over for the past 6 years or so.

The Vegie-monster ladies and gentlemen. Lock up your children Quebec.

One more thing to note which aided our comfort: in order to power this vehicle we required several barrels of vegetable oil in the back of the truck. Now the roads in Quebec aren't exactly ideal. In fact, one might say that Quebexican roads are a combination of the craters you'd find on the moon, and this wierd goopy stuff the Mythbuster guys walked on that one time. You might have worked out that this does not bode well for us and our barrels of sludge. In fact, the result of this unfortunate match up is a cascade of the stuff that cooks your chicken wings schlopping its way through the van every so often to lovingly coat your feet and sleeping bag in sweet, delicious goo.

Just think about that for a second.
There was another factor that formed a crucial part of our mission that you can tell from the above picture of the pedovan. Look at it again. Maybe even load the full image. See that lake? Yea that one. The only one in the picture. Notice anything unusual for an expanse of freshwater that large? No? You sure?

It's frozen.

Two things can be deduced from this. The first, and most glaringly obvious deduction: Quebec is really fucking cold. Some people may know that in the colder temperatures Australia has to offer, I'm a little bit of a wimp. If it drops down below 20 degrees I'll start romping around in a hoody. So it came as a bit of a shock to me on our first day when we showed up to the Mistassibi our van got stuck in snow at the take out, and we had to trudge through knee deep snow just to see the infamous Hawaii/Black mass rapid. And with my poor little Aussie feet in hole ridden skate shoes, oh my did I freeze to death.

On hindsight, this may have been a silly idea.

On this trip to Quebec I brought two hoodies, one jacket, two thermal tops, one thermal bottom, trackies, jeans, three t shirts, one singlet and a toddler's sleeping bag that went up to approximately nipple height. I think it goes without saying that I wore all of these, all the time, in a method not dissimilar to this.

The second thing that can be deduced from all that frozen water up there is that when water is frozen, its probably not flowing down rivers.

Not pictured: about 600cumecs and Detonator Wave

But hey! The water's not gone, its just frozen. We've just got to stick it out for a while, paddle the Mistassibi and surf Middle Earth Wave a few times, wait till all the snow and ice melts and Bob's your uncle, Fanny's your aunt, we'll be surfing the biggest flooded river waves the world has to offer in no time at all! We've got this stakeout thing down pat!

"None of us are injured yet! Hooray!"

And so, spirits soaring far higher than the rivers' surface and temperature, our heros (that's us) returned to the Mistassibi, donned layer after layer of thermals then coaxed Pat Camblin and Ben Marr to lead us down one of the largest and seldom paddled big water runs on the planet. Incidently, it's also one of the coldest. Yes, I am going to labour that point. On getting into my boat at the side of the river and negotiating the ridiculous amount of driftwood cluttered in the eddies, I did my traditional splash of water in the face as part of my weird pump up routine. Big mistake. It felt like someone clubbed me in the face with a stalactite. Anyway, after a few minutes of giving several appendages frostbite we were on our way and cruising up to rapid number one.

Now Pat and Benny weren't the happiest with us because the day before we might have accidently forgotten to run shuttle for them, leaving them stranded at the snowy take out in wet gear very far from anyone who spoke English. We probably should have known not to mess with the guys who would show us safely down a few kilometres of very large, very freezing whitewater. In some sneaky yet justifiable revenge, when they lead us down they would float cruisily down over wave after wave, then all of a sudden start furiously paddling to the side as if there something absolutely monsterous that we were about to float into but not out of. They would then leisurely turn around to look at our terrified faces and laugh as we popped over the horizonline to find that we were actually long out of the way of the deadly holes. They did this four or five times. It worked everytime. Cheeky buggers.

Justin sussing out Hawaii

To all of the four people who have been following my adventures somewhat closely, and on the off chance that you're still reading this, sometime in the past two paragraphs you might have thought "Hmmm, didn't this guy concuss himself less then a week before having a crack at this sheer, unrelenting gnar?"

And to you I answer "Maybe I did, but I felt fine that morning!". Well, turns out I was little bit silly, and was not in fact that fine. Coming into the top of the Hawaii rapid, so called because of a fourteen foot angled barrelling wave that feeds into a mammoth hole ridden with recirculating tree trunks thicker than Gandalf's beard, I went over a wave and copped a dizzy spell. 

"Goddammit, now is not the time."

Y'know when you were a kid and you'd all spin around in circles and then race to a tree or something whilst falling over each other? No? That's ok, do it now, its still awesome. Running the Mistassibi with a concussion is kind of like an extreme version of that, in a dangerously cold, watery gravey, Davey Jones' Locker kinda way. Anyway, despite enourmity of the rapids combined with my head spinning like the totem from Inception, we all made it down safely and soundly, and I decided I'd call it a day and sat on the side of the river to watch Ben and Devyn show off for Pat's camera. See Mum, I'm not a complete idiot!

I'm willing to bet good money she rolled her eyes at that.

And that brings me to the next unfortunate occurance of the trip. Devyn's ambitions of securing a photo of himself on the Stakeout Facebook page (check it out, they have much better pics then I do) lead him to attempt a downriver front flip off a wave not really suited in the slightest to down river front flips. You kickflip it! Duh. Judging by the hilarious gopro footage, which once released online will render this entire paragraph obsolete, he bailed out halfway through the trick, and landed with a screech with his arms way above his head. After a few frantic roll attempts, he popped up with a popped out shoulder. I can't stress how stoked we all were that he rolled up. In rivers this size it could have easily taken ten minutes to get a swimmer out of the water, and when salinity is the only difference between the water in the Mistassibi and the water in the Titanic, its pretty clear that we could have been dealing with a much more treacherous scenario very easily.

Once Ben had towed him to the shore, we were faced with a new problem: we are a cruisy 2 hours away from the nearest hospital, theres an uphill, snowy hike to get back to the van, and Devyn's roaring in pain everytime his now flacid arm moves even slightly. I've always been taught through First Aid courses and Surf Life Saving that you should never attempt to reduce a shoulder injury due to the risk of pinching nerves and blood vessels which can lead to the arm losing circulation within twenty minutes, but it was fairly clear something had to be done about this. Luckily all of us were knowledgable and well practiced in the art of shoulder relocation.


Actually, of our group we had a few people who heard some stuff about it, a couple people who has seen it done, and one person who had someone explain to them how to do it. Fortunately with these combined powers and with only one failed attempt involving a rock it went back in far smoother then I thought it was going to. And twenty minutes later it hadn't lost circulation either! Winning.

High five! Oh wait...

So naturally our next step was to start the long arduous trek to the hospital, where Devyn would get his shoulder checked out and I, who had been growing steadily dizzier by the minute, might as well get my head some medical assistance as well. How hard can it be? Just roll up to the hospital, ask to see the doctor and  then - 

"Bonjour!"    /     "Fuck."

"Um... Bonjour... Je... suis.... malade... a mon.... head. Et mon amis -"
"Stuff it, I'll wait till Ontario" (Devyn exits)

Thanks to the bastardised Frenglish of Huffy and I, it was eventually concluded that I have given myself an unfortunate dose of Post Concussion Syndrome (no brain bleeding, stop worrying Mum), am unable to kayak/have fun for weeks and/or months, can probably expect dizzyness and headaches throughout that time, and if I'm really unlucky or give myself a slight head bump I can permanently alter my personality - none of which sounds all that crash hot to me. Particularly the personality thing. I kinda like me.

As for Devyn, I don't think he's got a proper opinion yet on how his shoulder's going to fare up... But shoulder injuries are probably the most feared injury amoungst kayakers, and chances are he's got a long road of rehabilitation to walk down before he can even get close to throwing air on Buseater again.

Disheartened, and one third broken, our six person posse soon discovered that snow was forecast through the next week, and an executive decision was made to get out of dodge and back to somewhere English and marginally less freezing.

~ squiggle ~

So now I'm back here in Beachburg, chilling on the banks of the Ottawa river that I cannot paddle down, pondering the question of "What now?" Breaking things down a tad, I have two options: not kayak in the awe-inspiringly exciting cultural utopia of rural Ontario,


or not kayak somewhere else. 

Guess which one wins...

I'd be game to abandon the whole paddling thing for a while and not kayak somewhere cool. But seeing as I came here with a somewhat limited budget, precisely, one that allowed me to sit in Beachburg and do nothing but kayaking and the odd trip to Quebec in a petrol free truck every so often, I'd say backpacking up and down the Americas is kind of out of the question... Which really only loves me one option...
As much of a cop out as it may seem, and by God, it definitely feels like a cop out; my best bet is to call it a day and head home. Every week is approximately a hundred bucks, and its frankly when I'm not on the water its just not worth it. Might as well save my money, and get myself a wetsuit to last me through the Aussie Winter, which will not be nearly as cold as Canadian Spring.

 Or maybe just save up for a different trip at the end of the year...

Anyway, thats enough talk on this one, I can't beleive I had the concentration to voluntarily write that much in one sitting. See ya Canada, was good breifly catching up again.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Week Deux: Buseater, a Cheeky Concussion and Praying to the River Gods

Bussy, Bussy, Bussy... how I've missed you.

Kenya'd Devyn's Carbon Boat. This thing can fly! Photo: Keegan Grady

Buseater; otherwise known as the best freaking river wave in the world; is probably the best motivator for kayakers; otherwise known as the laziest breed of athletes in the world; to brave zero degree water, howling winds and frozen gear that we foolishly left outside so that we can tow onto this beast and launch ourselves skyward. My favourite thing about this wave; what sets it apart from other waves like Nile Special; is the uncertainty that comes with every ride. The thought that with each surf you could either stomp the biggest trick of your life or catch a wierd boil and get pushed into the toilet bowl and cop a mind numbingly cold beatdown is enough to keep even the best paddlers from getting too cocky out here.

The toilet bowl in all its brain-freezingly flushing glory. There's a paddler in there somewhere.

Now a few things have changed since the last time I was last out here in 2008. The first big difference: all of a sudden I'm the only plastic boat in the eddy. Now its always good seeing developments in the sport, and having seen what these boys can do when given a 7 kilo boat with no flex in the hull I have no doubt we're gonna see some sick stuff as they get these things more and more dialled in. But in the mean time I'm probably going to wish I had an extra two and a half grand lying around the place while feeling like I showed up to the Formula 1 starting line in my 12 year old hatchback.

Devyn Scott making me jealous. Photo: Keegan Grady

The next thing to change since last time - filming freestyle has gotten high-tech all of a sudden. Gone are the days when people would just whack a handicam on a tripod and start surfing. Now it seems completely common to have three people in the eddy while four people are on shore with DSLR's filming, taking pictures and using funky slider thingies. Its like hollywood just showed up at your park n play spot. Once again, very pumped to see the results from this development.

Seriously, this was the best carbon : plastic ratio we had.

The last thing that's different to 2008 is a little more regretable. Namely, in 2008 I had some extremely good fortune of surfing Bussy for almost a month in the middle of summer. Unfortunately, in 2012, when I show up to Eastern Canada at the right time in the right season for some supposedly punctual high water, some asshole up in the clouds has shut off the taps and Quebec is dryer than a nun's... sense of humour. In fact, the river that houses Black Mass needs approximately five times as much water as is currently flowing down it. As this is obviously far less than ideal, we've been checking the levels in vain for the past week or so, but alas, I was only offered 2 days of my lovely, and chances are she's not coming back any time soon.

So that left us with but two options. Firstly, the basement dwelling couch surfers Devyn and I needed to earn our keep at Justin's place, and had to clean the place up nice (eh). Which was, somewhat accurately, about as much fun as painting a deck and pressure hosing the front porch. It's a good thing that option two was head into Ottawa for Jeremy's birthday and to mourn the loss of Bussy. 

Now it's about here that the details start getting somewhat blurry. But thanks to the wonderful Canadian tradition of not eating any food for some ungodly reason, combined with the brutal onslaught of the Whistle Game (be afraid my Aussie friends, you better believe this is coming home with me), it seems I considered it a good idea to try a backflip while romping around the dance floor. Those who know the cause of that big scar on my left ankle are probably already yelling obscenities at their computer screen, but long story short I woke up in Ottawa Hospital a few hours later very confused that I wasn't on my couch, and sporting a cheeky class III concussion after being unconscious for an impressive two minutes. After a couple days of sleep and some serious head spinning dizziness, I'm back in business and feelin fine (I felt I should mention I'm ok for the two people out there who might have been worried).

Well I guess with the water gone we should (as should you by the way) start praying to the river gods and/or whatever deity you choose so that we can go off in search of something kayak related to do, lest we get roped into cleaning something again, and on my kayaking adventure that wasn't exactly goal number one.

Catchya next time you dulishus chunk of freezing water

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Day 1: The Battle of Border Security and Kayak Smuggling 101

So in an effort to stop the brain from shrivelling up into nothing because of this glorious year of no uni; and for the 2 family members and the odd facebook friend who might feel like knowing what hilariously named rapid I'll be navigating safely and responsibly (that was for you mum, stop worrying), I thought I'd throw this up on the www to give me something to do while I sit on my ass for the next 5 hours at Vancouver Airport. Seriously I'm bored as all hell. So welcome to the Chronicles of Mischeif, which I hope will not turn into a dangerous alternative to drunk facebooking.

Now I don't know how everyone else dabbles abroad, but for me it's just not travelling unless something goes ridiculously wrong. On my way back from Uganda; hungover, sleep deprived and in a freshly tailored African pimpsuit for some reason; a quick powernap in front of the tv screen in Dubai led to me being woken up some hours later to a loudspeaker announcing that it was the final call for a James Rowlinson to board at gate 213. Luckily, I was sleeping at gate 15 so it was only a 10 minute sprint through the airport to board a flight full of business folk whilest sweating bullets, stinking of shame and dressed like this.

Just not quite as enthusiastic. There also wasn't a pirate.

So in a similar fashion, my Canadian adventure did not begin with the leisurely two hour stroll from international to domestic terminal that I had anticipated, but rather being detained for just too many hours by the good folk at Canadian Immigration beause my eyes were too close together. Well, that might not have been the reason. Actually it might have been more to do with my elaborately nutty scheme of border hopping to obtain a work visa which they didnt seem too fond of. Also I also had a kayak with me. And it was probably filled with cocaine and guns. Anyway, I repeatedly heard the phrases "take a seat", "I'm going to get my supervisor" and "final call for Air Canada to Ottawa" until finally the third phrase was not mentioned anymore. Eventually I was released with a "don't you be naughty now, eh" and I was kindly offered a seat on a flight that leaves some 8 hours later. Hooray, that leaves me with another few hours to kill in this riveting airport instead of towing onto the Buseater approximately now. Thanks border security. You guys rock.

 With love, from James.

Hmmm I still have time to kill.

Ok, while I might not be in any position to give advice on how to get yourself to your flights on time, or how to charm your way through Customs, I definitely rate myself as a kayak smuggler. Having sneaked several boats onto Air Canada, who conveniantly have a strict no kayak policy despite Canada being one of the best kayaking destinations in the world, I feel like I've got a few sneaky tips to share on this matter.

First up, flying with a kayak sucks. I cannot stress this enough. They're big, awkward and irritating. You feel like you just walked off the set of this awesome beer ad except without the delicious beverage. Y'know those little creepy fish that they use to eat dead skin off the bottom of people's feet? Flying with a kayak is about as much fun as being reincarnated as one of those poor bastards.

Welcome to Vancouver Airport!
But all of that is unavoidable. Try as you may, you'll always accidently run over a couple toddlers with your boat precariously balanced on a trolley obscuring your view. What you can avoid however, is the airline either charging you a fortune to get your boat onboard, or just telling you a straight up "no you cannot take your kayak with you on your kayaking holiday." Here's some thoughts I've gathered over the years to help you smuggle your boat onto the plane regardless of what their official policy is. Obviously some common sense and tweaking comes into play on a situation by situation basis, but essentially this is my kayak smuggling 101.

Phase One - The Preparation

Do your homework. 
Easy solution - if you can fly with a company that will take a boat for free go with them. Emirates rock. But its not especially practical going from Australia to Canada via Dubai, so this isnt always possible. When this is the case, you've got to know the company's baggage policy better then the check in chick. Work out what loophole you're going to exploit long in advance, and preferably try to have a back up one. Theres no point in saying its a surfboard if the airline doesnt take surfboards either. You'll also want a copy of the loophole you intend on using printed out and highlighted so you can point to it straight away and go "yep, put it on that plane" if they so much as think of questioning your almighty knowledge of the baggage handling world.

Disguise that bad boy
I don't have a boat bag because I'm worried about it getting damaged in flight. I've got a surf board bag that says surfing stuff all over it that is large enough to fit a kayak inside it. Want to protect your paddles? Don't get an obvious paddle shaped bag, get something ambiguous and say its full of skis. Even though you'd think Forrest Gump could tell the difference between a surfboard and a kayak, remember that to 99% of the population kayaks are 15 feet long, 40 kilos and good for nothing but fishing.

Phase Two - The Smuggling

Arrive Early and Look Presentable
I dont mean show up 5 hours before your flight and wear a 600 dollar suit. But it definitely pays to show up before the majority of passengers so they can't give you the line of "sorry its a very full flight", and as regretable as it is, very few people are going to go out of their way to help the dreadlocked hippy who smells like Bob Marley. Also, the earlier you are the less grumpy passengers the airline workes have had to pretend to be nice to. Which brings me to...

Choose Your Check in Chick Wisely
I don't mean to throw around the words "ditzy", "blonde", "inexperienced" or "naive" around. But when choosing a check in chick if they look like they may fit any of those criteria zero in on them like a uni student on a free lunch. You want to be served by someone who is most likely to be the least beaurocratic out of the lot of them, and if that means stereotyping people, then by god, you should stereotype.

Not a good choice.

Something worth remembering is that these guys are paid to act nice to people who are in general; sleep deprived, grumpy dicks. Or maybe that's just me. Regardless, anyone who's worked in retail will tell you that a friendly customer will make you want to bend over backwards to help them. So be chatty. Ask how their day was. Joke. If you're really game throw some cheeky flirts in there. All's fair in love, war and making damned sure you can get your boat on that freaking plane.

Never use the K-word

As mentioned before, everyone assumes that kayaks and canoes are enourmous clunky things that will take up half the cargo bay and are just specificly not allowed in their policy. Under no circumstances say anything that could lead them down this chain of thought. Paddle, river, surf ski are all potential danger zones. If they explicitly say "its not a kayak is it?", deny everything! Sure they may express confusion as to why you're bringing a surfboard and skis into a landlocked, flat and snowless section of their country as someone in vancouver did today. Just shrug it off with a "you never know when it might come in handy!" type comment and all will be well.

You'll probably have to compromise with an excess baggage fee

Sure, extra fees suck. But in the end if the only way you can get your boat on the plane is with a fifty dollar surfboard handling charge then thats not all that bad when compared to the alternatives.

And that's about all the entertainment I can get out of writing this. Dammit I've still got an hour and a half left to kill. Oh well, I can only hope the next post can offer, say real pictures or videos that I didn't just steal from google. In the meantime, for the 3 people who read up to this point, here's my video from uganda again.