The road to the 2021 International Canoe Federation stand up paddling world championships has been full of challenges for all the athletes competing in Balatonfured, Hungary, this week, evident in the sense of relief at finally being able to compete at the very top again.

Some athletes, like American world champion Connor Baxter, spoke of how the enforced break from international competition had worked in his favour. By pure chance international lockdowns corresponded with him becoming a father.

It also gave him the chance to recharge the batteries after 12 years of top-level paddling, and to find the motivation to once again get out on the water and work hard.

Fellow American April Zilg, who celebrated her 35th birthday on Wednesday, said the two-year break in competition also worked in her favour, and she is back stronger and faster than ever.

“I had no expectations and no ideas how I would stack up here,” Zilg said.

“I’m a bit introverted to be honest, so I had a lot of alone time, paddling for me and no-one else, no competition. The time away enabled me to focus on healthy competition, competition with myself, and training the right way and for the right reasons.”

“I have come back stronger. I’ve improved my aerobic capacity, and I’m mentally stronger than I was before. A lot of time off and a lot of time focusing just on myself was just what I needed.”

For others though it was not so good. Hermann Husslein found himself stranded in Germany and unable to get back to Thailand to compete in Tokyo 2020 Olympic qualifiers.

So he decided to give stand up paddling a go.

“Covid brought me some new possibilities, and now I ended up here,” Husslein said.

“I think I will still stay in the canoe slalom a bit because it is still my passion, and I want to work on developing our new venue in Thailand. It’s where we had Olympic selections this year, but because I was in Europe it was difficult for me.

“But with stand up paddling it is a new challenge and we will want to grow it in Thailand. It’s pretty cool and I’m very excited.”

Peru’s Giannisa Vecco hasn’t competed since December 2019, locked down in her country and doing her best to stay fit and focussed. Fortunately she had plenty to keep her mind active.

“Two girls, two dogs, two cats,” she said.

“It’s been one year, eight months and 29 days since my last competition. I’m very happy to be back. It’s been very hard.”

The ICF has teamed up with leading international paddle board manufacturer, Starboard, to help reduce the environmental footprint from the event. Through Starboard's world-leading mangrove planting programme the goal is to make this week's world championships 10 times climate positive.

Pics by Dezso Vekassy

Peru Giannisa Vecco SUP world championship Balaton 2021

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