Labor Day weekend on the Ottawa River typically means a healthy dose of freestyle kayak competition at the annual Canada Cup. This year, however, the stakes were a bit higher. First, this year’s contest served as Canadian team selection for next year’s ICF Freestyle World Championships. The contest — held on the fast and steep Garburator Wave — also served as a trial run for the 2015 world championship event returning to Canada, and to a big-wave feature, since the last time it hosted worlds in 2007 on the Ottawa’s Buseater Wave. Held every other year, the last three freestyle worlds (2009 in Switzerland, 2011 in Germany, and 2013 in the U.S.) were all held on smaller, hole-like features.

“The wave is fast with a nice green take of strip,” says local Ottawa paddler and C&K contributing photographer John Rathwell. “At the right levels the foam pile acts as a nice catcher’s mitt to hold you on the wave after big moves.”

Rathwell noted that paddlers like Stephen Wright used the foam pile to effectively stick and score hole moves, while most others treated it like a wave. “Nick Troutman showed you have to throw a trick on every pass if you want to beat him,” Rathwell said. “The Europeans will likely bring combo moves to the worlds in 2015 while we see more one-off big airs by the North Americans.”

The feature certainly favored big-wave specialists as final scores marked the return of kayakers like Devyn Scott and Patrick Camblin to the Canadian national team. Canadians Andrew Hill and Vincent Dupont took the OC-1 and C-1 divisions, respectively. Meanwhile in women’s K-1, Emily Jackson (U.S.) took the win, followed by Claire O’Hara (UK) and Alex Maggs (CA) in third. And in the largest field of men’s K-1, Dane Jackson (U.S.) took the win, followed by Troutman (CA), Scott (CA), Wright (US) and Joel Kowalski (CA). [CLICK HERE for full results.]

For Rathwell, though, it’s just about trying create a striking image in a tough location: “The trough of the wave sits deep and the river-right shoreline is steep, jagged and slippery,” the photographer said. “During a comp it’s also packed with people and dogs everywhere as it is the only side accessible without a boat. If you are willing to make a little ferry though, the shooting angles open up a bit … I still have yet to create the perfect shot on it, but I am hoping that will come together during next year’s worlds.”

— Check out more of Rathwell’s photography for C&K HERE.