(Ed’s note: This post is No. 2 in a series from the ongoing World Championships of Surf Kayaking on North Carolina’s Outer Banks. See dispatch No. 1 HERE ».)
By Chris Gallaway
NAGS HEAD, N.C. -- Urko Erasquin, a competitor from the Basque Country, has mostly praise for this year's World Championships. The surf has been excellent, the organization smooth, and the competition first-rate. But the first thing he has to say about the event is this: "I was a little bit upset because there was not many people." His concern is echoed by many others at the Worlds this year.
The World Championships of Surf Kayaking is an intimate affair--for a competition on the world scale. Most of the competitors are familiar with one another from year’s past, and count each other friends. The atmosphere has a family feel, with opportunities to eat together and socialize at the end of each day's competition. But in a year where the field of competition has shrunk by about 30 riders from the last event, in 2009, many are concerned about the growth and future of the sport.
Attendance is still strong among the older leaders of the sport, but in the junior's class, in particular, there is a shortage of new blood. The U.S. East Team failed to advance in team competition due to a lack of bodies. If they'd had two juniors to simply sit in boats through a heat… they would have scored enough to advance. But, as it was, they were knocked out of competition.
As in many other aspects of the sport, like whitewater boating, the concern here is how to encourage new people to come into the sport. And as Erasquin points out, the Worlds is a perfect opportunity for people at the heart of the sport to come together and share ideas about how to move forward. More immediately, the Worlds is its own best advertising--an event that has already drawn much interest on the local and national scale.
In spite of concerns about attendance, competition at the Worlds proceeds excellently. The women's semifinals in the short boat wrapped up Tuesday with impressive showings from the Basque Country, Great Britain, and the USA. The team competition looks to be Great Britain's to lose, though Basque Country will give them a run for it. The surf continues to provide great conditions, and we should see most of the semifinal heats in today's competition.
As with any family, there are momentary spats and tensions that arise (like a brief exchange of words over right-of-way on the waves during the men's short boat semis), but by the end of the day, all is forgotten. Last night, competitors gathered at the Dockside Restaurant to eat and celebrate what has been a great contest so far.
Ed’s note: In an earlier version of this story, we reported that the field of competitors at Worlds was down by almost 50 riders from the last Worlds event. In fact, the figure is about 30.