It is important and wonderful to see the World Paddle Awards grow and build. They demonstrate the true breadth of these incredible paddlesports about which we are all so passionate and help us learn about the people behind them.
“In addition to all my wonderful memories of the sport, it was fitting to see that the future of the sport would be in such capable hands”, says Lifetime Achievement Award winner, Bill Endicott.
Masia Almiral de la Font near Sitges, Spain provided the beautiful backdrop for the 2nd annual World Paddle Awards.
This week I reflect back on my own personal favourites over the last 25 years. The common link in many of them have been the personal insights athletes, retired athletes and coaches have afforded me through interviews. Like any good old fashion press release and article they contain strong titles, quotes and great photography.
Trail Blazers Martyn Hedges (Canoe Kayak UK magazine issue 16 July 2002)
Martyn Hedges was regarded as one of the top C1 paddlers in the 1980s. Sadly, after being selected for the Barcelona Olympics he was killed in a car accident months before. Ten years after this tragic event I was able to contact his competitors, training partners and coaches to write an article about the paddler we all knew as Bushy. It was printed in Canoe Kayak UK magazine as two double page spreads. It was complemented by amazing photography by Tony Tickle and Pete Astles.
Another ten years later in my Unofficial Olympic Canoe Slalom blog for the London 2012 Olympics I paid tribute again to Bushy and to share the story with a new generation. The original is not available online to my knowledge you can read my 2012 tribute here. It was the post that received the most comments and shares.
With the Rio Olympics less than 2 years away it is great to follow the progress of this young developing team. Neil Proctor and I had the pleasure of an evening with the Brazilian Canoe Slalom team after the close of the 2013 Worlds in Prague. The evening was fun in itself and having the full team of paddlers, coaches and team manager, Ettore Ivaldi, altogether enhanced the conversation. I have continued to follow the team’s exploits here and hope to do a similar article with the Japanese Canoe Slalom Team in 2015.
Not unlike the Martyn Hedges piece noted above this was a wonderful opportunity and privilege to go back to the legends in the sport; Jon Lugbill, Davey Hearn & Bill Endicott. The original article The Ultimate Run 25 years on piece was posted online through Sportscene.tv. The organisers of the Deep Creek Worlds then invited me to re-edit as a feature piece for the Deep Creek official programme. I decided to seek additional insights from Richard Fox. I was very proud of the finished version. Again, both the online and subsequent print article was enhanced through the stunning photography of Tony Tickle and Dale Briggs. The only disappointed aspect was leaving out more fabulous quotes in the interests of space.
In the previews and race reviews posted on the Sportscene.tv website over the last two years I have also sought to include historical references or analytics which the main stream media would be unlikely to find. It has helped to have been there in person and witnessed many events and had personal relationships with the people involved in some way or other. Online also enables us to measure the impact of different articles or even alternative titles. One of the most viewed and shared was my blog piece A Spectator’s Guide Knowing that lists are often the most viewed or shared this last year I wrote Top 10 Predictions for Deep Creek. Like many of the posts or articles mentioned it has been in development for many months before it went live. To me the key is knowing the right questions to ask.
I have worked with remarkable talented people along the way. In the early days contributed to Slalom Magazine and then supported Jimmy Jayes with his 1991 book Every Second Counts and then produced a report entitled To Athens 2004 and beyond that arose from an Athens Canoeing Advisory Panel. More than anything it has been fun. The only other piece I pull out is my piece of creative writing My Ultimate Run in the Canoe Slalom blog. I thought it was different and may offer insights to those who had not experienced Lee Valley from water level.
As I described in the very first of these four posts social media has enabled us greater control of the media channel and helped us widely communicate our passion for the sport with the worldwide paddling community. Live commentary on Twitter is a different skill set capturing information in the instant and communicating it well is less than 140 characters. Social media enables all of us to be engaged. You are all playing a part. Thank you.
Today, a short review of how the Olympic canoe slalom boat designs have changed through the history of the sport.
First, I have been asked about the significance of the name of last night’s post, my Ultimate Run. ‘The Ultimate Run – Canoe Slalom at the Highest Levels’ is the name of Bill Endicott’s iconic book, written back in 1983. The phrase ‘Ultimate Run’ has become adopted by paddlers worldwide seeking that performance excellence and perfect negotiation of the course. As an aside, the Ultimate Run eBook has been created by daveyhearn.com with the permission of original author William T. Endicott.
Boats for this elite Olympic level competition are made of either carbon or a mix of carbon and aramid (often recognised by the name Kevlar), mixed with an epoxy polymer resin. The vacuum construction means a higher percentage of fibres and less resin and so less weight and greater strength. These fibres have a very high tensile strength to weight ratio. Foam sandwich construction in between layers of carbon or aramid fibres is used to further increase the stiffness of the boats. Each new Olympics tends to drive the advancement of the boats to meet the nuances of the newly constructed artificial course.
The ICF rules of canoe slalom define the specification of the boats, and the length of the kayak and canoe classes has reduced. The kayak length has reduced from 4 metres to 350cm and this has caused the sport to evolve with an increase in the difficulty of the courses that can be set and accomplished. As described yesterday, the boat can be pivoted around by sinking the stern under the water even easier than in the older 4 metre length kayaks and as you will see it is possible to do an upstream red and white gate on just one stroke, which looks sensational. For the paddlers and the manufactures the shorter lengths have meant that the boats are a bit less vulnerable to damage, use slightly less material (less weight) and it is easier to put the inside seams in. With modern carbon construction it is quite feasible to manufacture the kayak less than 9kg. The boat is made up to the 9kg minimum weight by adding extra under the seat. This causes the boat to spin faster than it would do than if the weight were evenly distributed along its length. The boats will be weighed at the end of each run at the Olympic Games, to ensure that emptied of water they meet the required minimum weight. The C1s are 350cm in length, 65cm wide and minimum 10kg, while the C2 is 410cm long, 75cm wide and minimum 15kg.
There have been key individual athletes that have contributed to the advancement of boat and paddle design like Richard Fox or Michal Martikan. Michal paddles a C1 with a very high rocker design called the Martikan 07, which many other C1 paddlers find insufficiently stable, however, this suits Michal’s paddling style. A key component to defining the best boat (kayak or canoe) is the weight of the paddler. A 80kg paddler will need a different volume boat than a 55kg paddler to provide the same forward paddler speed and responsiveness in turning.
In respect of paddle design and in a similar way Michal has evolved a specific paddle design called C1 Martikan! Some kayak paddlers use a cranked or Double Torque shaft which is not straight and is believed to reduce the strain on the wrist and allow greater pull. The paddles are all made of carbon which is stiff, very light and transfers the power to pull the boat towards the blade.
This is a far cry from the boats of the Munich Olympic in 1972, when canoe slalom made a single appearance on the Eiskanal in Augsburg. Not until La Seu d’Urgell in the Spanish Pyrenees did canoe slalom reappear as part of the Barcelona Olympics in 1992. At one time boats were folding until 1963 when boats constructed of chop strand mat fibreglass or nylon, before the introduction of woven polyester fibres such as Diolen. Boats were heavy, usually over 65 pounds (30 kilos). With the advent of aramid and carbon fibres from the 1970s, the ICF reduced the width of the boats which could now pass underneath the gate poles.
Tomorrow we will preview what is to come at the spectacular Lee Valley Whitewater Centre starting on Sunday.
Today’s attention shifts to describing the basics of the canoe slalom course and the techniques used to negotiate the course, after having reviewed each of the four Olympic canoe slalom classes in turn this week.
The goal for the slalom paddler is to race as fast as possible from the start gate to finish, negotiating up to 25 slalom gates without touching them. The ‘gates’ must be negotiated in numerical order and they can be divided into downstream gates identified with green and white poles and upstream gates identified by red and white gates. I will spend a later post studying the detail of the rules and how they are judged but simply a two second penalty is incurred for touching one or both poles of a gate and 50 seconds is added to the run time for missing or incorrectly negotiating the gate.
In basic terms, the green gates are positioned in the current of the river flowing downstream and the red and white gates are positioned in slack water behind obstructions called eddies. See the sketch alongside, which shows two red and white upstream gates and four downstream gates. The water is flowing from top to bottom. In Olympic competition there should be 18-25 gates in total of which at least 6 must be upstream, identified with red and white poles. The rules have changed recently, previously the gate was always 1.2 metres wide, however now the two poles can be separated apart and so in an upstream breakout only one pole may be suspended 20cm above the water (the other is suspended over the bank). As mentioned before the C1, and C2 to a slightly lesser extent, are advantaged/ disadvantaged when the red and white upstream is on the left of right depending on whether the paddler is left or right handed. The course designer must ensure the course design is balanced to challenge all competitors equally. The course also needs to be designed so that it is feasible for all four classes of paddler to successfully complete it. Good course design offers paddlers different options on how to complete in the fastest and cleanest way. Paddlers will be challenged especially on big whitewater like Lee Valley and use a full combination of forward, backward, turning and maybe even rolling!
All four classes compete on the same sequence of gates. There are a core set of slalom gate ‘moves’, which are describe below:
The breakout is the technique used to negotiate the upstream gate positioned in an eddy. The paddler needs to manoeuvre themselves from the downstream current into the eddy, through the gate and back into the downstream current. Simple! Well not quite. Slalom paddlers will have spent thousands of hours in a kayak practicing this single manoeuvre by the time they reach the Olympics. It is possible to gain or lose significant seconds over your competitors based on how well or tightly this is performed. The ultimate is to paddle hard tight behind the gate, use one turning stroke to turn while negotiating the gate and pull yourself immediately back into the downstream current. In the newer 350cm length kayaks and C1s this has become much more achievable. It does, however, take lots of practice, balance and advanced whitewater skills. I recommend watching the paddlers helmet because the best slalom paddlers are never stationary but maintain a certain amount of boat speed and momentum.
Sometimes, two upstream gates will be positioned on opposite sides of the river in numerical order and the slalom paddler can use a technique called ferry gliding or surfing to paddle from one side of the current to the other without being washed downstream.
In canoe slalom the stroke used to negotiate the upstream gate is called a bow rudder, accompanied by powerful turning/ sweep strokes. There are defined techniques for doing an upstream in 3 strokes and 5 strokes depending on the position of the upstream red and white gate within the eddy. In essence the goal is to approach the upstream wide in and exit tight to the exit pole, trying to avoid dropping too far below the upstream gate on entering the eddy or spending too much time in the eddy above the gate after exiting as this slows down the paddlers run.
The stagger or offset is a sequence of green and white downstream gates which are spread across the width of the current. This is much tougher than on first appearance. Try it, without touching any of the gates. Tomorrow I will describe Scott Shipley’s interpretation and coaching advice. If the stagger is too tight then the paddler may have to spin their kayak (or canoe) around before paddling through the gate. The good slalom paddler will define their line through the stagger gates so they can maximise their boat speed.
In this simple world, breakouts are always in perfect static eddies and downstream gates are always in the current. Well that would be too easy so the course designers will test paddlers but placing upstream gates so that there may be some current flowing down through them. Equally downstream gates can be placed in the eddy, so this challenges the athlete to keep the kayak or canoe running downstream when it naturally wishes to turn around. Let me explain, when a kayak paddles from the current into an eddy at a 45 degree angle, the water at the front of the kayak is stationary, while the water affecting the back of the kayak is moving downstream. This causes the back of the kayak to overtake the front and therefore the kayak turns round to point upstream. Considerable time can be lost on the breakout gates.
There are some great resources now available to learn the basics of whitewater paddling and slalom techniques. These include, the BCU Canoe Slalom Technique Library www.slalomtechnique.co.uk videos, Scott Shipley’s great book ‘Every Crushing Stroke’, plus other resources such as the BCU ‘Canoeing Handbook’, ‘Slalom Canoeing’ by Gary Nevin in 1987, Bill Endicott’s legendary books ‘To Win the Worlds’ and the ‘Ultimate Run’, as well as YouTube of course. Although the sport and boat design has evolved the basics of good whitewater paddling technique and the common mistakes have changed relatively little!
Tomorrow’s post will look at the more advanced or refined slalom techniques that you would expect to see amongst the Olympic level competitors on the Lee Valley course.