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Wild Water Sprint World Championships

By Elaine Campbell

I’m back in VT after an amazing to trip to Slovenia to compete at the Wild Water Worlds.  Slovenia is a beautiful country with innumerable small villages spread throughout the Julian Alps, and lots of whitewater. It was not someplace I ever thought I would visit but thanks to kayaking, there I was!

The Wild Water World Championships was a very different experience than the Freestyle World Championships that I competed in in 2009.  For starters, compared to my fairly solid knowledge of freestyle,  I realized pretty quickly that I knew next to nothing about Wild Water. The US Wild Water Team was quite small with only 5 of us competing, no coach, no massage therapist, and no chiropractor.  The Europeans, on the other hand, had fairly large teams with multiple coaches armed with two-way radios, clip boards, stop watches, calculators and who knows what else, along with massage therapists, chiropractors, physical therapists, dentists, ob-gyns, optometrists, and more.  I had Jeff, who would repeatedly tell me to 1. paddle faster and 2. try to paddle in a straight line. Good advice, undoubtedly, but not ideas that had not occurred to me directly.

It was clear when I got there that I was way behind the other women of this particular discipline.  The Euros in particular take it to a whole other level, and the Japanese women were quite accomplished as well.  They clearly have lots of experience, proper coaching and training. I was quite jealous!  I was training on my own and thought that I was fast and that I knew how to paddle a Wild Water boat.  Clearly, I was not/did not, and now realize that I have a lot to learn about Wild Water. I’m super excited about the nearly infinite ways I can improve, I just need to find a slightly better coach to show me the way.

I was quite fortunate to be able to borrow a Wild Water boat from the locals, although that meant that I had no idea what boat I was going to use until I got there.  Luckily, it was an easy boat to paddle and fit me pretty well. A huge “thank you” to Ingrid and Jens from Germany for helping me get a boat and Andre from Slovenia for letting me borrow the boat from the Solkan Canoe Club.

The course in Solkan was easy class II water with 3-4 foot diagonal wave trains. Nothing you couldn’t float through in a plastic boat with your eyes closed, as Hugh pointed out in his post.  But in a 14 foot Wild Water boat, going as fast as you can, trying to figure out exactly where to place your paddle(there was talk of the backside of the wave being the sweet spot), being completely lactic, and operating under severe jet-lag and sleep deprivation, it was a crazy challenge. Once in a while I felt like I had clean smooth lines but then my next run I’d be zig-zagging all around.  I never really paddled a Wild Water boat in a continuous wave train like this before so I had a lot to learn right from the start. Unfortunately, knowing you have a lot to learn and actually learning it are quite separate. Controlling a Wild Water boat with a “wing” paddle(these are supposed to be faster by the pure fact that they can only be used to paddle forward) is next to impossible to begin with, and when you add in continuous diagonal wave trains you are in for a fight. I pretty much fought the boat the majority of the time., rarely coming out on top. As soon as I saw how the other women were able to paddle with much greater control and efficiency, I lowered my expectations accordingly and began to relax. I’m happy that I made the US Team and that I was able to go and represent the US at this event.  The fact is, I did my best and came in 30th, with my fastest time 79 seconds and my slowest closer to 80 seconds.  The Women’s K1 winner(Great Britain’s Hannah Brown) had times closer to 67 seconds! Incredible! Here’s a link from the US Wild Water page

Immediately after the race, I got some great tips from Lee, the Australian Coach. He told me that my paddle was much too long, the offset was off by about 60 degrees, that I was paddling “fast” but more like I was creek-boating, that my strokes were too short, and that my corrective strokes were inefficient. So I have a few things to work on right away, thanks Lee! One more thing to mention about Wild Water racing: you really stand out when you are wearing creek shoes, a skirt for a plastic boat, board shorts and (the best one) a helmet with no holes in it. You stand out even more when you’re wearing all that gear and paddling 13 seconds sower than the leader!

Thanks to the US Team members Hugh Pritchard, Emmanuel Beauchard, Chris Norbury, Marin Millar and to the Canadain Team Pierre-Luc Lemieux and Katia Bourg for the encouragement and all the laughs!  We all did an awesome job!  A big thanks to Jeff for always being there for me!

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Team ZDA

Photo by Jeff Campbell

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Cows drinking outside the hose we rented.

Photo by Jeff Campbell

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Julian Alps

Photo by Jeff Campbell

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Photo by Jeff Campbell

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Boat Control

Photo by Jeff Campbell

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They needed two people to figure out if my helmet was legal.  They were like this helmet has no holes in it how can it pass!

Photo by Jeff Campbell

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Yeah all my gear passed!

Photo by Jeff Campbell

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Photo by Chris Norbury

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Photo by Jeff Campbell

Now it’s time to train for the Freestyle World Championships and Squirting!

Till next time,

Elaine Campbell



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