Training for the World Extreme Kayak Championships, sponsored by “Sickline” is getting near the end zone as the competition starts on Thursday with final registration, gear checking, and then Friday the Qualifier round happens.
We flew here last week with 5 Karmas (4 mediums and 1 large) for Joel, Nick, Hunt, Dane, and I and have been doing laps on the qualifier and finals sections. Dane is the champion of lapping the top section; easily doubling anyone else’s total number of laps/day. The feeling here is a mixed bag with the high water and resulting big hole eating people up and spitting them out (eventually- in or out of their boat). The entire race section is creating a variety of unique experiences for people. When on line, the course looks quite tame from up above, or watching GoPro footage with a head cam. When the run isn’t going quite right the steepness and difficulty and pushiness of the rapid becomes apparent. One mistake amplifies the next, and so on down to the big hole. The new thing I am seeing in training is to “abort” and go right of the big hole, which, while is fine for running the river, is basically aborting the race as there is not way to win if you go right of the hole. Going right of the hole takes the rapid down a big notch and allows the paddler to gain control again, without dealing with the prospect of an un-intentional surf. There is nothing wrong with that, of course, it is like being able to call a time out in a boxing match right as you get up against the ropes, if it is available, why not call it. If you haven’t seen it, here are Team JK showing off the what not to do in the hole…. (we have plenty of good carnage video of other people swimming, etc…. but are holding on to it for now :))
Race day is different, however. The qualifier is just that- 150 enter 48 make the cut to race the big stuff. The funny thing is that the “big hole” is part of the qualifier and unless water goes down the carnage video from the qualifier race will be one to watch! The Champion’s killer hole is right after the big hole, and then it is a boily hole, into a narrow slot (that Nick Troutman just tore his shoulder up in and most likely won’t be able to race) and it runs out into a class 2 rapid that you race for 2 minutes on. Hard moves to start, into a long grueling sprint section of little waves/holes in a creekboat.
The qualifier consists of a practice run (everyone must do one from top to bottom in order to race that morning), followed by a random order 2 run race. Every paddler does one run, with a 30 minute break, rankings come out, and then the 2nd runs happen. There are 6 or more slalom racers from fresh from the World Championships 2 weeks ago, including three of them who are world champions (Vavre, from Czech, who won this year’s worlds, Fabian Dorfer who won last time, Mike Dawson, who has placed here three years in a row, and other top slalom racers… Also- Rosalyn Lawrence, last year’s world slalom champion in C1w won this world extreme kayak event against the women (in her Villain s). The race down the class 2 sounds easy… unless you want to qualify, then it is a hard core sprint with your boat perfectly online and no messing up the waves, holes, etc.. “keep the bow dry” is the name of the game.
After everyone has made it past the big hole and champion’s killer and then hustled down to the finish line with the goal of being the fastest, the times for the two runs are added together for showing who is consistently fast enough to race in the big event on Saturday.
Saturday’s format is both interesting and exciting. It starts off with the winner of the qualifier racing the last place person to qualify (before you feel too bad for that person, there is the “lucky loser” position. If you go against somebody who has a kick ass run and lose, but your time is faster than any of the other losers, you make the cut. Actually if you were second fastest loser, you still make the cut. It cuts from 48 to 24, plus 2 lucky losers making it 26. THEN- the fastest person still left from the qualifier goes against the slowest one, and so for the last cut. It cuts from 26 to 13 and 2 lucky losers makes this cut making the “Super Finals” a 15 person finals. Lots of hard racing goes into making the Super Finals. By the time you have made Super Finals, you have done 7 runs including mandatory practice runs. The race runs are never thrown out. EVERY run counts. This means that being able to negotiate this course with a minimum of mistakes, every time, is at a premium.
Sam Sutton is the big winner here so far- winning this even the past three years in a row. Mike Dawson has never won, but has been at on the podium three years in a row. Dane Jackson has never been in the Super Finals, but looks like a shoe in for this year’s race. I have never been in the Super Finals (but plan on it..:)) Nick Troutman made the Super Finals his first year and placed 8th, but hurt himself on the course today and won’t likely get a shot at it this year.
In the women’s class, Adrienne Levkenect is here for the first time and is a very good racer, winning the Green Race handily. Nouria Newman from France is also here and a fast racer, as is Ros Lawrence who won last year. Not sure who else is here for the women yet. I have only seen 1 woman go on the top section so far (Ros), and haven’t seen more than the three mentioned here yet. I hope more come!
The weather here has been rainy, foggy, cloudy, with the Alps jutting up and the clouds far from the top, it looks dark. Today we saw some spotty sun pop through and are hoping that the break in the rain and warm weather will allow the water to drop to a normal level. The organizers were talking about cut off levels, etc.. and it seems that we are on for the race no matter what, which is a relief after the cancelled race in 2007. Water got up to 195 (it was 200 today at the lowest) in 2007 and it was cancelled. Other circumstances probably had more to do with it, however, as one of the participants died on the upper section above the race course the morning of the race. He was also a good friend of the organizer. His death has weighed on the organization since then.
Tomorrow is the final day before the competitor’s meetings, gear checking, etc. on Thursday and then the race starts first thing Friday AM. I am looking forward to my final day of training where there my time is my own and I do my runs when and how I want. We all get funneled into the system on Thursday, the run gets crowded with paddlers getting last second training in, people surfing the hole on top of each other, and last chance injuries. Friday AM, we’ll wake and plan on being at the course from practice runs at 8am, race from 10-4, and then for those who make the cut a mandatory practice run on the upper section from 5-6pm. Long day… Remember my clothes, water, food….
Here is a video from two years ago- on this day- 2 days before the comp by nick….
Then Saturday is very much a production… Live TV means that no allowances for being late, everyone shuffled into position to get the TV shots as planned, they predict the outcome so they can focus on the paddlers who they think will podium, etc. etc.. the ramp where you start the race (25 feet above the water) has a TV camera in your face while you put on your skirt and wait for the “Green Light” as well as two other people managing audio and the start. The finish line takes you straight to the interviews and there is no warm down allowed before you get out. Super Finals are well presented with the “Hot Seat” where the current leader sits in a hot tub with a hot girl in a bikini until they get, if they get, knocked off the top spot. Pretty cool.
Time for bed- need to get some rest before tomorrow’s training. Wish Nick Luck in having a miraculous recovery and being able to paddle!
here is a short piece that the organizers put up on me last time…
Here is a side by side run with Sam against German paddler Jakobus..