For more than 20 seconds Clay Wright disappeared from sight. The crowd, the commentators, the TV audience scanned the river, wondering where he might pop up; when he might pop up..

It was the trick of the opening day of the 2017 ICF Freestyle Kayak World Championships, performed not by one of the bright, fearless young athletes taking the sport by storm, but by a wily veteran as cunning as a fox, as gentle as a summer breeze but a self-confessed show-off.

Clay Wright doesn’t have the ‘mongrel’ many claim you need to succeed at the very top; but he has three world titles, the very latest in the fading light of San Juan, Argentina, in the men’s squirt competition on Monday night.

And he’s 50 years old. He had his first competition before most of the athletes competing this week were even born. His passion has never waned. He just loves seeing good kayaking.

“What makes me love this sport is when competition makes you be a better kayaker, that’s what it’s for,” Wright said.

“The podium is fun, but I just want to be the best paddler I possibly can.

“I was nervous that I couldn’t find my boat here this morning, I was on paper looking at how to do my rides. My mystery move, I’ve been here for over a week, and I finally figured out how to do that yesterday.

“I like to think that I’m going to leave here a better kayaker, because I was on the US freestyle team, and because I came here for the squirt, and that’s what makes that $1000 plane fare, and this hotel bill, and all this away time from family and friends and the dog.

“That’s what makes it worth it. Anything that makes me a better kayaker, I’ll do it. I just really get a lot of fun out of this sport, I’ve got a lot of enjoyment all my life.”


Wright went into the final as the third highest qualifier, with British pair Alex Edwards and David Rogers both putting down solid semi-final runs.

Even Wright was impressed with the form of his opponents.

“If they can keep having rides like that, I’ll be stoked to see them on the podium ahead of me, that’s for sure,” he said after the semi-final.

“I’m always happy with my ride. The best case scenario would be for me to do exactly what I’m hoping to do and what I can do, I’d be super happy with that.

“But man, if those guys put down a better ride, I’d be super-stoked for them. I just like to see everybody paddle their best, and see where it shakes up.”

As it turns out, Edwards and Rogers both had a couple more good runs up their sleeve, but Wright had better.

His second last run was the clincher, but it was the mystery trick on the final run that thrilled the crowd, and left Wright ecstatic.


For more than 20 seconds Wright and his boat were underwater; nobody knew where he was, or when he was coming up. He was putting the mystery in the “mystery ride”.

It was the trick of the day, and Wright was so pumped he had to be reminded he also won the gold.

“I was really happy down there just spinning, and I thought this is going to be good,” he said.

“They’re not going to know where I’m going to come up. Then I started hitting rocks and I realised I’d reached the end of the current. I figured I better come on up.

“My highest scoring ride was good, it’s great to win for sure. But sticking that mystery move at the end, that was everything.

“I would have been happy with whatever place I had got, as long as I got that in front of this crowd. I’m stoked.”


Wright’s first world title came 20 years ago exactly, in 1997. He had to wait until 2013 to notch up his second, and picked up a silver in 2015.

He is without a doubt living the dream, picking up world championships in the process.

“I’m 50 years old, EJ (Eric Jackson) is 53, we’re still able to do a lot of this at a pretty high level,” Wright said.

“Whitewater kayaking is a lifestyle sport, freestyle kayaking is a lifestyle sport. If you start this as a kid, you’ve got 40 years ahead of you – well hopefully 50 years ahead of you, I want to do this at least 10 years more.

“I’d say that the only difference is that I’ve put myself in a place where I know I’m going to get to the water, and that feels really good.

“All those days of schools and jobs, when you’re just not sure when you are going to get to paddle, and have to try and squeeze it in on a weekend.

“For everybody out there who is doing that, there is no enough. Every day on the water feels awesome, there is no enough. I can’t wait to go tomorrow.”

So for a man who has invented his own moves, starred in dozens of extreme kayaking videos and been a trailblazer in new waterways around the world, how does he stay keen?

“I just really wanted to make squirt boating look cool,” he said.

“I like to win, but I really like to show-off and have a good ride in front of the crowd, that’s what it’s about to me.

“I like watching good kayaking, and when I do some, that’s pretty good too.”

USA <a href='/webservice/athleteprofile/47135' data-id='47135' target='_blank' class='athlete-link'>Clay Wright</a> San Juan World Championships

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