By James McBeath

In the Freestyle world, there is no one place more important than the Ottawa River. For history's sake, lets look at some facts: Every single rapid on the Ottawa has at least one amazing play wave or hole. At every single water level from spring to fall, these playspots change giving us classics like Buseater, Minibus, Gladiator, Khuna and others during spring flood levels to Cornerwave, Horseshoe, Babyface, Pushbutton and the mighty Garberator in the summer and fall flows. Legendary paddlers have graced its shorelines whether working for local kayaks schools each summer to using this as their base of training. Names of residents in the area include the ultimate hometown heros, Ken Whiting, Tyler Curtis, Brendan Mark to international stars like Eric Jackson, Shane Benedict, Clay Wright, Rafa Oritiz and many others could continually be found on its playspots. In addition the waves and holes of the Ottawa have inspired kayak design with boats helping the pioneers of freestyle evolve the sport to the next generations of play moves.

Today's ICF World Freestyle Canoe Championships began with the Men's K1 Quarter Finals as this was the last field to be dropped to 10 for the semifinals. The prelims showed us that that top 10 will be no picnic to achieve and with most of the 20 paddlers competing able to break those top spots, the bottle neck begins to tighten. Four heats of ten paddlers slid into the eddy behind the legendary Moby Dick rock, stretched, shook off the cobwebs of a few days off and got ready to show the crowd all the big tricks. In the first heat it looked as if the mighty Garb, annoyed with paddlers dominating its fast face and rough break, was going to have its way as early flushes, short rides and missed moves quickly became the par for the course. Favourites Hunter Katich, just up from the junior ranks, and veteran Slovak, Peter Csonka both had lower than expected scores. The audience, paddlers and judges seemed to hunker down for an expected low scoring class… that is until Heat 2. Heat two saw Canadian Pat Camblin stick some of the tougher moves and then came the Spaniard, Ander De Meguel Aranaz, who reversed the fortunes of our men’s event by sticking one of the highest scoring combined rides of the week. Nope, Garb isn't quite done yet!

As expected, the final 2 heats were to be the tale today as these heats are in reverse order from preliminaries. Only one of the top 10 paddlers from prelims dropped from the final 10, Sebastien Devred of France was unceremoniously replaced by the high scoring Spaniard Ander. There was a reversal in standings throughout that top ten as these elite play boaters began focusing on bringing their A-game as we narrow the field. The end result was, most likely, the most incredible imagery of flying kayaks seen to date in freestyle kayaking. Ugandan Sam Ward tossed some of the largest air of the competition, Juaquim Fontaine I Maso, another Spanish paddler entertained with his consistent movement, local Joel Kowalski with a 900+ point single ride had the crowd cheering again. The final heat took all standings and dumped them five down with every opening ride over 100 points higher than the rest. Dane had dynamic rides, but was missing his earlier speed and height coming in third behind UK's Brendan Orton and Nick Troutman, our local hero. Nope, the Garb wasn't done yet.

Top ten moving on to the semi-finals later today:

Nick Troutman, Canada – 2716
Brendan Orton, UK – 2641
Dane Jackson, USA – 2576
Mathieu Dumoulin, France – 2090
Devyn Scott, Canada – 2023
Sam Ward, Uganda – 1793
Kalob Grady, Canada – 1753
Ander De Miguel Aranaz, Spain – 1710
Joel Kowalski, Canada – 1651
Joaquim Fontain I Maso, Spain – 1573

A young Canadian fan. Photo: Peter Holcombe.

A young Canadian fan. Photo: Peter Holcombe.

Right after the men’s semis, we went immediately into the junior women's semi finals, marking the start of the "down to 5" stage of these ICF World Freestyle Canoe Championships. As these young girls dropped onto the wave, we saw Garb get tough and unforgiving. The end result was a complete rewriting of the top 10 and only 3 of the second heat favourites moving on. The exception, once again, was phenom Sage Donnelly of the US holding on first with a 185 point ride, Sophie McPeak of the UK overtaking American Darby McAdams for second, Darby sitting in third. First heat rides from Kira Carreto Tejedo and Mireia Serres Segarra, both from Spain, locked up the last two spots in the finals.

JR Women’s scores:
Sage Donnelly, USA – 185
Sophie McPeak, UK – 81
Darby McAdams, USA – 71
Kira Carreto Tejedo, Spain – 35
SMireia Serres Segarra, Spain – 33

Photo: Peter Holcombe.

Photo: Peter Holcombe.

The Junior men were next with their semi finals. Again the headline of this class was the head to head competition between the Canadian Kennedy brothers and the American Voorhees brothers. First round gauntlets were tossed to the ground with high scores from Charlie Brackpool and Fabien Lanao scoring over 450 each, Brackpool with a 550. The first of the brothers to compete was Hayden Voorhees kept pace, but a bit behind with a score of 247. In the second heat, both Kennedy brothers stepped in and scored reasonably well in the three hundred range but the stories of the day were the rides of the UK Hugo's, Hugo Anthony and Hugo Scott, both reaching the top 5 with rides over 500, Anthony with a second place score of 630. With the Kennedy's dropping out of competition, Alec Voorhees stepped up to the plate and hit the home run score of 631 with a flurry of big pan ams, and a helix thrown in there for good measure.

Top 5 off to the finals tomorrow:

Alec Voorhees, USA – 631
Hugo Anthony, UK – 630
Charlie Brackpool – 550
Hugo Scott, UK – 507
Fabian Lanao, France – 491

The C1 class took to Garb in style with a major rivalry between long time competitors from all over. Canadians protecting their wave with Chris McDermott and Vincent Dupont set to do battle alongside Canadian junior Zachery Zwanenberg against the French Devred, the mighty Americans Poffenberger, Chapelle and Jackson. After the two heats went through, temporary leads by McDermott and McMillan of the US, only the final heat moved on with all the quarter final top 5 paddlers keeping their place, just not in the same order.

Dane Jackson, USA – 718
Zachery Zwanenburg, Canada – 560
Sebastien Devred, France – 488
Seth Chapelle, USA – 460
Jordan Poffenberger, USA – 436

Keeping us all busy, only two more classes left today for semifinals, the women's and men's K1. Both fields are stacked with legends and upcoming stars, both have the pressure of two rides and only one counting. This is pressure at its biggest with the noose tightening bringing the active competitor group down to only the 5 top scores. At the top of the food chain, this is your biggest stage and arguably the hardest place to be as a competitor with everything at stake.

Emily Jackson laying out a blunt. Photo: Peter Holcombe.

Emily Jackson laying out a blunt. Photo: Peter Holcombe.

The women's two-heat semis opened up with lower scores that expected, the highest being from Claire O'Hara at 266. To put things into perspective, scores in the prelims were upwards of 400++. This was beginning to look like the Garb was ready to continue to claim its status as the baddest wave on the planet. The second heat saw scores rise a bit, but only slightly with the winning ride at 292 by Emily Jackson, an awesome ride from Hitomi of Japan at 283 and a surprising miss of the top 5 by Adriene Levknecht with two flushes… the Garb claiming a frontrunner. Adriene's miss put a hush on the crowd as the level of respect for the Garb rose dramatically as a potential foreshadow to the men’s semis.

Women’s K-1 scores:

Emily Ward, United Kingdom 380
Emily Jackson, USA – 292
Hitomi Takaku, Japan – 283
Claire O'Hara, United Kingdom – 266
Ekaterina Kulkova, Russia – 243

The men wrangled control back from the Garb's snarling teeth with a flurry of air screws, to helix's, to pan ams, and a random cluster of massive areal moves that had the crowd on their feet continually. It all started with Joaquin Fontane I Maso of Spain who’s 'matador' antics both on and off the wave got him and the crowd stoked. His fist pumping, rock pacing and passion added to the already buzzing environment. Joaquin replaced Canadian Devon Scott of Canada who slipped out of the top 5. Canadian, Nick Troutman scored a first ride 1500 points to set the stage for the real showdown to come. Nick, and Jackson Kayak team mates Mathieu Dumoulin and Dane Jackson went head to head throwing everything at the mighty Garb. Ben Orton had a slightly humbling, but amazing ride with a final score of 1165, a score he has beaten before on this very wave in earlier rounds. Look for amazing showdown as the final competitors going into tomorrow's finals are:

Nick Troutman, Canada – 1510
Dane Jackson, USA – 1407
Joaquim Fontaine I Maso, Spain – 1206
Mathieu Dumoulin, France – 1193
Brendan Orton, United Kingdom – 1165