Opening Day at the ICF World Freestyle Championships

Athletes get the party started in North Carolina

Photo: James McBeath

Photo: James McBeath

By James McBeath

It’s been a continual tide of arrivals. Athletes, coaches, families, supporters and fans of paddle sports have been arriving by the clumps for the past month, peaking Monday morning as the parking lots, the paths and any extra space found itself occupied. The World has arrived. Though these world championships are hosted by one of America’s leading paddle sports destinations, it still feels like the world outside is MUCH bigger than anyone expected. This is one crowded venue!

Amidst all the logistical challenges is the registration chaos. No end to the scenarios as instantly the population at the Nantahala Outdoor Center has spiked up high enough to make it a medium sized town. NOC staff, ICF officials and more scramble to make all welcome, and though their smiles grow weary by the end of the day, it looks like they have everything well under hand. Everyone has a home and we’re ready for the show.

Phase One is the opening ceremonies. Typically one of pomp and circumstance, long speeches and formality, these were very close knit. Held on the Main Street in downtown Bryson City, North Carolina, mere minutes away from the venue, the opening parade of athletes was anything but formal. The first thing you heard arriving at the starting point of the parade was the Canadians and those “blasted cowbells” quickly followed by a constant buzz over new arrivals. Photos taken of each other, juniors grabbing their idols for a quick snap and friends seen only once every two years connecting again. Team uniforms, waving flags and face painted country brands alongside the informal style that is freestyle made the parade of athletes more of a way for the locals to immediately feel a part of all the fun and not just an audience watching the elite. There is no more approachable community than this freestyle community and it felt as if the entire town was welcomed into the freestyle family as much as they were trying to welcome the athletes to their home.

Led by a local “official ICF World Freestyle Championship’s Band,” team after team made their way to the bandstand at the end of the main street. Once there, the dignitaries stepped up to the mic. The athletes met the local mayor and some of the key local organizers. A quick welcome speech by the mayor and USA Canoe Kayak’s Joe Jacobi is introduced. Joe is quick to welcome athletes to the US, quick to state the importance of the return of the World’s to the US and quick to mention the goal of including freestyle in the Olympic Games–drawing, of course, cheers from the crowd. Lluis Rabaneda, as the head of ICF Freestyle had the honors to announce the start of the 2013 ICF World Freestyle Championships.

The evening ended with the arrival of the Cherokee tribal warriors for a show of their ceremonial dances. What started out as a seemingly out of place arrival turned into an incredible cultural experience as the leader of the group invited international athletes to join in on a handful of dances. This finale took hold of the day and garnished it into a celebration of culture, international friendship and well wishes to all as these games begin.

Preliminary heats started today with the Juniors taking center stage. It’s on!

Win a 2014 Jackson Kayak Rockstar, a Kokatat Dry Top and one of five Canoe & Kayak magazine subscriptions in celebration of the Worlds. Go to Jacksonkayak.com for more details.

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