How the future of our sport honed their skills in San Juan
As the ICF Freestyle Kayak World Championships were just getting started, slalom and freestyle paddlers on two exciting programmes took a day off from kayaking to go hiking in the mountain ranges surrounding San Juan. It may have been day one of the Freestyle World Championships for all the squirt boaters, but for those lucky enough to be on the 3 continents camp and the Expand and Extend Women Canoe camp it was a welcome break after three days of intensive paddling and coaching.
Thanks to the support and funding from the International Olympic Committee, paddlers from across Latin America were able to benefit and train alongside some of the best freestyle paddlers from the 25 countries represented this year in San Juan. The two programmes boasted paddlers from Argentina, Chile, Mexico, Peru, Paraguay and Venezuela.
The training included managerial and organisational skills workshops, setting these paddlers up to be future leaders in their respective national federations both on and off the water in slalom and freestyle. This was the first Freestyle World Championships in Latin America, building on last year's successful World Cup, and the ICF white-water development programme camps aimed to enhance those benefits for future competitors and federations across Latin America.
The International Canoe Federation has worked hard to encourage and facilitate more and more countries to participate in World Championships, and is now leading the way on addressing the gender imbalance in sport. One such initiative was supporting and funding the Expand and Extend Women Canoe (EEWC) camp in San Juan alongside the three continents camp and alongside the World Freestyle Championships.
It was a great setting to showcase some of the best female paddlers in the world, and was conducted while Great Britain's Claire O'Hara continued to be the perfect role model, scoring one thousand points in her final run in the squirt ladies final to win gold, outscoring the vast majority of male squirt boaters.
Both camps enjoyed paddling on the world class freestyle feature, with the convenient slalom course just below the second hole feature at this world championships venue. Training started with confidence building for both youth camps getting comfortable playing and rolling in the championship hole.
Day one was then rounded off by technical flat water slalom training coupled with critical identification of poor technique of their fellow paddlers, developing their coaching skills, technical understanding but also raising self-recognition of their own skills and technique.
Dane Jackson lent a hand on their second day, teaching spins in the hole and some more complex moves to the more advanced star-struck paddlers. In the afternoon all paddlers refined their control and precision by practising on a short slalom course with high repetition focusing on technical training. On day three Yoshiko Suematsu, another inspirational Japanese female paddler and a great coach, provided one-to-one feedback, bringing on all the paddlers to progress their spins and move to pulling off loops.
In the afternoon the paddlers who are already coaches in their respective national federations took the lead, designing and delivering a slalom session under the watchful eye of the internationally experienced and medallist coaches guiding the camps. This session saw paddlers undertaking a much longer slalom course, utilising bank visualisation and memory to complete the course.
By Tony Hellier, ICF Freestyle Communications