The May 2011 debut of the Whitewater Grand Prix marked a leap forward in kayaking with an innovative format that integrated competition across days, stages, and paddling disciplines. Read about how the traveling showcase invitational upended freestyle kayaking’s traditional, feature-based competitions. (Pictured: Ben Marr on the Ottawa’s Gladiator wave / Photo: Patrick Camblin)
The Whitewater Grand Prix, the kayaking world's premier multi-stage extreme race, has been canceled for next year and quite possibly forever, according to an announcement made Wednesday by event founder and director Patrick Camblin.
"I have been unable to achieve the level of financial backing required to produce a professional event in the extended WWGP format," Camblin said in his Facebook post announcing the cancellation.
After its 2011 debut, the Grand Prix traveled to Chile in winter 2012, with the last installment occurring across eastern Ontario and Quebec in 2014. Many of the racers who have participated in one of the WWGP's over the years know that a major hole now exists in the sport.
"The Grand Prix served as the pinnacle of whitewater kayaking competition," said Rush Sturges, who placed third in 2011 and second in 2014. "No other event in our sport pushed to quite the same level in so many disciplines and on such an extreme level."
Hosted in remote locations, the Whitewater Grand Prix became known for its marquee video releases that recapped events. Here’s the final edit released following the last stage of the 2014 WWGP:
The WWGP debuted in 2011 as an invitation-only competition that brought the sport's best 20 or more paddlers to compete across multiple disciplines from boatercross to freestyle, all on Canada's swollen spring rivers. Nothing was a gimme, and the course’s pushed paddlers to their limits on such Class IV/V+ rivers such as the Gauntlet Section of the Rouge for boatercross, Mistassibi for big-wave playboating and the Seven Sisters section of the Rouge for slalom.
"The competition level was insane; you had to take risks to win. Everyone was charging hard," said Geoff Calhoun, who competed in the 2012 installment, a purely race-based content in Chile. "The head-to-head race on the Futa[leufú] was wild because the pack stayed together for half an hour. You couldn’t break away; you had to be smart, economical and just battle," Calhoun reminisced.
During a time when sanctioned races and freestyle competitions were beginning to make a comeback, the WWGP was also a statement from the real world's top paddlers: "keep your sanctioned races on the small stuff. We're going big and on our terms." That meant grassroots, and in the end, battling it out over six stages for nothing more than the props of knowing you are the best of the best.
"You could have flashes of excellence, but you had to be dominant to win. The best separated themselves, but for most of us it was the most competitive event ever," Calhoun said. Unfortunately, going against the grain of such organizations as USA Freestyle Kayaking and the International Canoe Federation meant doing it alone financially, at a cost Camblin could no longer bear.
"Past versions of this event have been pulled off on a shoestring budget, with an 'if-you-build-it–they-will-come' approach. I have been unable to achieve the level of financial backing required to produce a professional event in the extended WWGP format," Camblin said in his Facebook post.
He thanked his supporters, from the athletes who competed and believed in the dream to those who committed their time and talents during the events like photographers, filmers, safety teams and event volunteers. He also thanked those who offered any financial backing they could for the canceled 2017 event, including Ottawa Kayak School, FQCKEV, Jackson Kayak, and Level Six.
Finally, Camblin tipped his hat to the competitions still happening, to the grassroots, high-stakes events that still push the world's top paddlers:
"There are many incredible whitewater events happening around the world – thank you to those working to make them continue," Camblin posted, concluding, "The river keeps flowing…"