To see him sitting in his kayak you don’t realise 22-year-old Australian Harry Langley is tall – very tall!

So tall that just four years ago he was one of his country’s leading young high jumpers. Now Langley is sitting in a kayak, one of his country’s leading wildwater canoe paddlers.

It seems at first blush a strange career move, but Langley is absolutely thrilled with his choice, even more so that he gets to spend this week paddling on one of the most beautiful wildwater venues in the world – the Vezere River in Treignac.

Langley’s move to wildwater canoe began when a talent identification program in Australia recognised the giant high jumper as a potential international paddler.

It perhaps wasn’t as big a surprise as it might sound, given Langley’s father spent a lot of time competing in Western Australia’s famous Avon Descent, one of the country’s most famous and most challenging whitewater races.

“After about 15 years of competitive high jumping I decided I wanted a change,” Langley said.

“I chose wildwater because in my opinion it’s the most exciting, you get to come to beautiful places like this, paddle beautiful rivers like this. It’s a dream come true that I’m here right now.

“My dad was a paddler, he had done a lot of Avon Descents, so I’d had a little bit of experience, but nothing like this. This is a whole another level. I’m really grateful I had my dad to get me into it, he introduced me to it and helped me a lot.”

In sport, timing is everything. So imagine Langley’s torment when barely one year after switching to an exciting new sport, the world goes into lockdown. And Western Australia, where he lived, had tougher travel rules than most.

Except Langley wasn’t tormented. In fact he relished the chance to work on his skills before taking on the world.

“We got shut off from the rest of the world for a couple of years,” Langley said.

“But I found it actually as a really good way for me to better myself at home, rather than focusing on trying to make big competitions. I just got my technique down pat, tried to get as much experience as possible on wildwater, and just grow my skills.

“But I’m so happy we can now travel and come to such beautiful places as this. This is my first time in Europe, and before this I’ve never experienced anything like this.”

European countries have traditionally dominated wildwater canoeing. Langley doesn’t believe he’s likely to change that any time soon, but down the track, who knows….

“It’s hard to compete against guys like this at my level, but hey, maybe one day we’ll be there,” he said.

“But it was definitely an intimidating experience, sitting on the start line watching the clock count down, knowing you had to put the run together.

“My position here doesn’t really matter to me. I’m still pretty new to wildwater, this is my first big major event, I’m just here for experience and there’s no better place to get experience than here at Treignac.

“I’m just stoked to be here, and I had a lot of fun, and I think that’s the main thing for me.”

Harry Langley didn’t make the final of the K1 sprint, but thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to race against the best the world has to offer. And on Sunday, he’ll be back on the water doing the 5k classic, as he continues his journey from asphalt to wild rivers.

Wildwater Canoeing
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