Taking our sport to new frontiers - a look back at San Juan's development camp

The Three Continents programme is an exciting initiative that requires innovative solutions to unforeseen challenges. 

“When you arrive you don’t know the river, the water levels, what equipment you have, if there are any gates, the standards and needs of the paddlers; nothing,” head coach Maxime Raux said. 

“Each camp is completely different, so you have to adapt to each one.  The only thing the same is the goal of developing canoeing.”

Where possible the camps make good use of regional coaches to deliver training, in order to develop the local coaches as well as provide bespoke training.  Training can range from flat water slalom for beginners, to competing in the Freestyle World Championships like the camp in San Juan, Argentina.

The three continents program sees the International Canoe Federation running white water development camps in Algeria, in San Juan alongside the Freestyle World Championships, and a further camp planned shortly in the Philippines. 

Each camp is designed to support growth and preparation for their respective continental games; African Youth Games 2018, Asian Games 2018, and Pan Am Games 2019.  It can include continental paddlers from the Talent Identification Programme (TIP) trained to compete in world games to ‘return the favour’ by assisting with coaching. 

The Argentinian camp included the ‘Expand and Extend Woman Canoe’ camp, a programme focussed on encouraging and developing female paddlers who trained alongside developing male and female paddlers and coaches.

“The white water development camp is not the same as the Talent Identification Programme that trains for competition,” Nouria Newman, winner of the Ottawa XL and Adidas Sickline, explains. 

The focus is therefore much more about development than competition.  The programme is designed with the regional coaches and trainees to maximise the appeal and benefit of all those who attend. An essential part of the programme is education workshops, giving all trainees the skills when they leave to organise kayak sessions and competitions. 

In Argentina trainees spent one night on the roof of the hotel building gates watching an electric storm, one day organising and executing a slalom race, including registration and judging, and a session a day teaching kids from San Juan Canoe Club.

During lunchtime in the blistering heat a group of local parents look on to the eddy from the shade of a mesquite tree. 

Juan has brought his 12-year-old son, Francisco. His father says the most important thing is that he has fun and enjoys this great sport. Juan explains that the local club lacks coaches, the coach is old and there are only two sessions. 

The local coach explains that he only takes groups of three to four paddlers so his sessions are very personal.  He starts them in the large eddies and then goes further downstream where it is flat.  After that he teaches ferry gliding in the current and moves upstream where the current is stronger before taking them down the slalom course and then moves to the rapids. 

He tells me that Francisco started a year ago as a quiet, shy boy who was timid on the water.  Now he is a little bigger, he paddles harder with a stronger reach and is now very comfortable on the water, “actually fearless now”. 

I watch the regional coach Andraz, from the Talent Identification Programme (TIP) now ‘returning the favour’ by helping on the programme, run the session with help from a female paddler, Constanza Nobis from the Expand and Extend Woman Canoe programme. 

The session starts with watching then refining forward paddling with a high paddle slalom style.  It moves onto sweep strokes, all the while relating tips to white water paddling.  They refine strokes, leading with the head, practicing both sides before moving on to edging and edge control exercises. 

The group of boys and girls then move on to breaking in and out before paddling some gates on the grade two white water slalom course.  Another father says his daughter started paddling a few months ago and loves slalom.  Juan is quick to interject that Francisco prefers freestyle.

The white water development programme remains busy throughout, with one freestyle session to two slalom sessions as well as the education workshops.  Trainees also compete for their country in the Freestyle World Championships, a unique aspect to this particular camp! 

Due to heat and freestyle training sessions, timings vary and can be late or particularly early.  So, when trainees are woken up very early for ‘fitness training’ they are not overly surprised.  They are then taken to climb a mountain and watch the sunrise creating a beautiful shared memory they will take with them forever. 

The camp focuses on technique as the biggest challenge for most of these slalom hopefuls, apart from a lack of slalom courses, is the lack of slalom coaches.  Training therefore is all about technique to correct bad habits and the international coaches use video analysis at the end of each day to help them.  Fitness and speed training can be done when they return home, as long as there is a firm foundation built on good technique.  The intense programme works and at the end of the camp it is clear these trainees will all make big waves when they return home, whether coaching the next generation or training to compete in the next Pan Am Games in Peru 2019.

By Tony Hellier, ICF Freestyle Communications

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