By James McBeath
The very first Canadian-hosted World Freestyle Championships was held on the Ottawa River in 1997 just upstream of Garb in the famed Horseshoe Hole where names like Whiting, Jackson, Addison and Benedict were launching into lefty cartwheel attacks on the hole. Judges sat on makeshift stands scribing scores on notepads and the only folks viewing were those braving hours on the rocky shoreline. The 2015 ICF World Canoe Freestyle Championships stand in great contrast to those of 1997. Oddly some of the names are the same, such as Dane Jackson and his sister Emily competing in K1. But with athletes from more than 25 countries surfing under massive stands and big screen score boards with live web streaming, electronic/iPad judging tools and announcers calling the play by play over hip hop music, other aspects of the event are very different. The scoring has changed, with new rules forcing paddlers to mix up their moves (no more lefty cartwheel counting) and new kayak designs enabling more and more dynamic moves; freestyle has become one of the most entertaining of the technical adventure sports out there.
Day 3 on the Garberator Wave brought the big boys out to play. The tone of these Men’s Worlds as hinted earlier was the battle of generations. Legendary freestylers like Clay Wright, Peter Csonka, Canadian Pat Camblin, Brian Kirk and even former World Champ, James Bebbington of the UK made up an incredible class of experienced veterans. The youth came to play with the likes of Hunter Katich of the US, Brendan Orton of the UK and Kegan Grady of Canada, Max Karlsson of Sweden leading the charge with their dynamic wave riding styles. The international rivalry in the field was also exciting as the local Canadian squad of Joel Kowalski, Kalob Grady, Devyn Scott and Nick Troutman faced off against the rest of the world lead by the always-strong Team USA’s Dane Jackson, Dave Fusilli and Clay Wright, and the high flying Frenchman, Mathieu Dumoulin as well as the Slovak powerhouse Peter Csonka. Each competitor got 4 rides, the top two combined makes the score and only the top twenty athletes moving on to the quarter finals on Friday. This is the first World Championships since the early 90s where the legendary Eric Jackson isn’t a competitor, but he’s here, red jump suit and a fishing rod in hand and coaching a handful of athletes… connecting the many generations of freestyle athletes spanning the 1997 and 2015 worlds.
There wasn’t a single big wave move not performed in this high calibre freestyle event. Airscrews were popular as were Pan Ams, the best sticking the moves in both directions and with big air bonuses. The early leader, the young Brendan Orton of the United Kingdom impressed and further established the UK rule on this wave with a high combined score of over 2290 that lasted for over 6 heats. Joel Kowalski showed his intimate familiarity with the wave, timing his drives down its face for some massive air and taking off immediately to the top 5. Seasoned freestyle veteran Peter Csonka answered any critics by right off the bat by an strong early run that kept him in the top 10 for the bulk of the preliminary rounds. His opening rides were all stacked with many of the toughest combinations in freestyle, leading to a high scoring combination into the 1100 range for combined scores. Immediately that told the field that the bubble to the quarter finals is to be over 1000 points.
In the final 2 of 8 heats we found the likes of Canadian World Champ Nick Troutman, current World Champion Dane Jackson and European Champion Mathieu Dumoulin ready to do battle on the Garb. Nick quickly placed himself in top spot over Orton and made it 4 spots of the top 5 held by Canucks! That changed yet again when pistol flipping, helixing, Pan Aming Dane Jackson dropped two rides over 1500 to take him 300+ points ahead of Troutman. Frenchman Dumoulin came to Canada to prove that he can perform as well on a wave as in a hole, and prove it he did with a combined score of 2220 bringing him into fourth place after the prelims.
The top 20 moving on showed a strong Canadian presence with 5 Canadians holding their spots in Friday’s quarter finals along with athletes from 11 other countries. The space between scores sets the tale of the tape for the next rounds as only a few hundred points separate the top athletes. At the end of the day Dane Jackson will be the one to beat as he has been for the last two Worlds. It will be interesting to watch how the Canadians react to the world performing so well on their home wave!
–Watch a FULL VIDEO REPLAY of Wednesday’s heats.