By Tim Mutrie
Patrick Camblin, event director of the Whitewater Grand Prix, was this morning scrambling down an embankment in order to access a nice-looking wave on the Saguenay River, in Quebec.
“Two freestyle contests will be happening in the next few days, so we're rallying all over and trying to find what our best bet is going to be for a spot,” he says. “We're just arriving at a wave right now, actually. We've got Ben Marr, Nick Troutman and Tyler Fox with us, because we've got the crew split into three groups now checking out different stuff.”
"We're going around to all the rivers and seeing what's in right now and then choosing the best option in front of us. It's been a great trip so far,” Camblin continues, adding, "The wave looks pretty sick, actually. We'll throw it up on Twitter now.” (See above photo.)
Three stages of the six-part Whitewater Grand Prix have already gone down, with three more soon to follow. The latest was the time trial, held Sunday, and Stage 4 is on deck for tomorrow (Wed.). Camblin described the ongoing divide-and-conquer recon missions as a “stakeout,” a term that is articulated on the Whitewater Grand Prix website’s latest news feed post:
The Grand Prix continued to make its way North, leaving La Tuque after a successful two days of steep creek competition. Lac-Saint-Jean, the source of the Saguenay River, was still filled with ice and a cold wind blew off it as the team stopped for poutine, a Quebecois specialty of fries topped with gravy and cheese curds. "I have never seen the lake with this much ice," said Camblin as the lake came into view. This year Quebec got slammed with a huge snow pack and the rivers draining into the Lac-Saint-Jean are all at peak run-off.
The Grand Prix will hold two freestyle events in this area with features being determined by water levels that seem to be constantly changing. There is no shortage of options in the area. Black Mass, a wave on the Mistassibi River could potentially be in if water levels drop a bit, and 'Sirens', a wave on the immense Saguenay is also a possibility. Athletes were greeted to their new home, a comfortable two-story motel 'Chutes des Peres,' complete with balconies overlooking the Mistassibi River and a massive class V rapid, which seems to beckon, ‘Welcome all, but welcome most those that want to huck.’
But for now the Grand Prix is in a typical stakeout situation. Coined by Camblin and Marlow Long, the annual Stakeout—like detective work—refers to the excitement and challenges of springtime paddling, as water levels can rise quickly, and only those already in position get out on the best waves. Ten years ago Camblin and Long began staking out the drainages of Ottawa and Quebec, searching for waves on big rivers in flood, some of which are playing a crucial role as competition features for this years Grand Prix. "We are in a typical stakeout situation right now," said Camblin as he began writing out four different possible plans of actions, trying to predict flows. "This is what Quebec is like in spring, full of options.”
Going with the flow, it seems, is all part of the plan for the first Whitewater Grand Prix, an event that, halfway through it anyway, seems also to be a sort of first of its kind. “Rider input is part of what we're doing and while we've had planned locations, we're at an in-between level so we're all seeing what’s available,” says Camblin. “This is definitely a by-rider/for-rider event, so their feedback is part of it all.”
The Grand Prix features 20-something kayakers at the top of the sport, with athletes accruing points in each of the six stages. Currently, Rush Sturges leads the overall standings, with Ben Marr in second.
Says Camblin, “I'm sure you can tell from the Internet that there's a lot of enthusiasm for the event, and everyone agrees that something like this needed to happen. I think it's going to make it a lot harder for other events to stay competitive. And if this makes them step their game up, then I'll feel like I've done my job.”
Camblin also runs TribeRider.com (Twitter handle: TribeRiders), which is a clothing company—sort of. “But we don't sell anything, as of yet. Right now I'm trying to do everything I can to promote kayaking and make it the most relevant company in the sport,” he says. “And that's the deal until I have time to run the small business.”
"Most of the kayak companies—they're companies, and they have a priority to make money. There are some that are doing a lot to promote grassroots efforts, but I think they can do more: I think they should be more long-sighted in their approach to promote the sport. This is a community event, big time, and there's a lot of people coming together to make it happen. And the community is going to grow despite the industry, not in spite it.”
Later on, this afternoon, Camblin and crew were headed to another save to scout and test, on the Ashuapmushuan River. He passed the phone over to Ben Marr, one of the competitors who is from Ontario and in second-place overall.
"It's been amazing so far,” says Marr, “and we’re on a super stakeout right now: Tons of water and five times as many people as we usually have driving around Quebec. Where we had the time trial race, I'd never been there before, but now I want to go back and see what else there is that area, for sure, and I’ve been coming out to Quebec for the last six years…”
“It hasn't even really felt like an event,” Marr continues, “it doesn't have the normal event atmosphere. I'm not sure why. There's not that many of us, 22 for the men's class, it's just more friends and the normal for us. It's wicked too, because there's a bunch of people here—it's not that they haven't wanted to come up here before, it's just they haven't had a strong enough reason to pull them away from whatever it is they usually do when the snow melts… and now they’re here, staking it out.”
Stakeout or not, Marr admits he would like to win this thing. “While it doesn't feel competitive in the normal sense, where you'd be stressing about it or wanting to win or wishing you'd trained more, I do really want to beat Rush, and pretty much everyone else. But still, every day has been very fun and unique with the crew here.”
Stage 3: Time Trial, Teaser Vid #2
Stage 3: Time Trial, Teaser Vid #1
Meet the Riders: Ben Marr