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2008 Blackwater Challenge: Kids, Kayaking and Freestyle Competition

25 August 2008 No Comment

On August 22nd (Last Friday) with the help of my family and friends, we loaded the CReW trailer and headed to Watertown New York. Why? Why else:, 2 days of whitewater: The 2008 Blackwater Challenge and the 2008 Can Am Junior Freestyle Championships.
2008 Blackwater Challenge Competitors
Day 1: Get there, register, set up camp and the Opening Ceremonies.
When you arrive at the site of the Blackwater Challenge, Tom O’Riley (aka Tommy Gun) and Sarah Daniels (as well as all their staff and volunteers) do an awesome job at making you feel welcome.
After a full day of work and the drive to get Watertown, this is greatly appreciated.
Once settled in everyone gathered to start the weekend with the opening ceremonies.
Thoughtful opening messages were given by Risa Shimoda from the US Freestyle Kayak Association, Joel Kowalski from Ottawa Kayak School, Councilman Smith from the City of Watertown and Tommy.
Everyone presented the same message of encouragement for development of the sport and access to the waterway available to us. Can we expect more events in Watertown: You better believe it. The city stands behind the development of their river and with the help of people like Tommy, Sarah and all the event sponsors (including Jackson Kayaks, OKS, Wilderness Tours, Hudson River Rafting, ACA, USA Freestyle Kayaking and many more) we will see continuous improvements in Watertown.

Day 2: Kayak Instruction, The Sozo Teen Center and the Junior Freestyle Prelims.
After breakfast and the always necessary coffee, I had time to head up to a flatwater section of the river to witness the future of our sport: Wilderness Tours / Ottawa Kayak School, from Beachburg, Ontario, sent up some very talented instructors to bring kayaking to the kids from the Sozo Teen Center in Watertown. Tony Gullo, the director of the center, brought 10 kids out for their first ever kayak experience. Phil Quinn and Brenna Kelly, from OKS, did a great job at introducing the teens to kayaking. When I showed up they were getting them into the boats and there were still a lot of smiles and a whole lot of attitude. And then, one at a time, Phil and Brenna slid them into the water, snug in their boats and got them wet! Uhuh, flippin’ and getting out of a boat is something we all take for granted and don’t really want to do, but think back on your first wet exit (for some of us that is a long long time ago…). The faces on shore were suddenly filled with all anxiety.
Good times☺.
By the end of the lesson, the kids were having a blast. When I met up with the kids at lunch time, they were all more than happy to tell me how much fun it was and how they couldn’t wait to get in again!
Hats of to Phil and Brenna, who did a great job keeping it fun for them.

In the afternoon it was time to get the competition underway:
The event was held at Hole Brothers. The feature is located in town just below the office of the Hudson River Rafting Company. Mike Duggan from Hudson River Rafting, explained that they were more than happy to help with the event by providing access through their put-in, showers and washroom facilities and a raft for the judges.
The turn out for the Junior Competition was amazing:
18 Junior men (ages of 12 and 18) and 7 Junior Women (ages 10 to 18) turned up to take a shot at making the cut in the first day of competition.
To see so many young people competing and so many young women in the competition is really something. The sport has been dominated by men for a long time and it is great t o see this change.
The higher than usual water levels made for a somewhat flushy feature but the kids who competed put on a great show, throwing, blunts, roundhouses, spins and even the occasional donkey flip.
By the end of the day 1 the standings were as follows:

Junior Mens Prelim Results:
48 points—Devon Scott
47 points—Kyle Allen Hull
43 points—Quinn Connell
23 points—Josh Mills
19 points—Jamie Rosenberger
19 points—Kalob Grady
11 points—Jackson Conn
11 points—Zachary Zwanenburg
10 points—Duncan Marsh
8 points—Justin Fraser

The remaining 8 did great as well: Willie Underwood, Jonathan Harris, Aidaw Conn, Kevin Kelleher, Peter Semehen, Jacob Regenstein, Graham King, and Leighton Kunz and I am certain we will see them all again at other events soon!

Junior Women Prelim Results:
3 points—Alex Shallhorn
2 points—Nicole Dube
1 point— Morgan Fuller
1 point— Emily Zwanenburg
0 points—Umeko Laird
0 points—Tamara Semehen
0 points—Jessica Droinjko

The weather was incredible and the hot sun beat down on the paddlers, judges (Moe Kelleher had a lot to say about that ☺.) and spectators alike. After 3 hours of competition every one was done and it was time for a good meal and some well deserved down time.

The event drew an interesting crowd and I was fortunate to be able to spend some time listening to and learning from Art Miller. Art is the Director of the USACK Junior Olympic Development Center. His experience as an instructor and coach is beyond definition and his enthusiasm for all whitewater sports is contagious. During the competition he watched the paddlers and their techniques. At dinner he shared with me what he saw. “The importance of the basic forward stroke is so important…… A vertical paddle makes all the difference ”. This was a message that kept coming through as he talked about the skills of the paddlers that he watched.
More importantly was “Learning to kayak has to be fun”. Throughout his teaching it has been so important for the kids (and adults) to have fun while they learn. A bit of teaching followed by fun is the key to keeping everyone interested and bringing new paddlers into our sport.
His message for instructors: “We (instructors) do not know everything……Spend time with other instructors and learn from other instructors…” .
Thanks Art for teaching so many and reminding us to keep it real.

Day 3: More Teen clinics, training, semi-finals and finals.
After another great breakfast from Tommy and Sarah and their volunteers, the morning was split into groups.
Brenna and Phil took the Teens from the Sozo Teen Center for the next step in their learning and adventure. Another successful lesson and more smiling faces!
Joel Kowalski and Moe Kelleher (from OKS) taught a small group of adults who wanted to improve their skills and the competitors gathered at Hole Brothers to hone their skills.
Overnight the water level dropped almost a foot and the results were an even more flushy wave.
Retentive moves had to made to the left. Right spins and blunts would have to be super fast to avoid flushing of the side.
In the afternoon, it was time to compete.
The conditions made it a bit more challenging and we could clearly define the line between the more experienced paddlers and the others. Each paddler had 3 rides but the wave was “not attainable” meaning that once you flush you could not get back on.

The first event consisted of the 3 junior girls who tied for 5th place the day before. Umeko, Tamara and Jessica gave it their all and in the end Jessica came out on top to move on to the finals.
Each one of them should be very proud. The feature was not easy and getting flushed off was the issue for many competitors in all the categories that day.

The Junior Men stepped up the level and we saw some excellent blunts (mostly to the left), back stabs, roundhouses, clean spins, a donkey flips and the occasional shot at a McNasty.
This is where we could see the difference in the more experienced paddlers and the newer paddlers. The top ten were cut to the top 5 and then they were sorted in the finals as follows:
Junior Men’s:
1st Place: Devon Scott
2nd Place: Kyle Allen Hull
3rd Place: Quinn Connell
4th Place: Josh Mills
5th Place: Kalob Grady.

The Junior Women’s Finals were also a lot of fun to watch. The wide range of age and paddle skill made for an entertaining event. The message from the water was Spins and Sportsmanship. Each girl cheered and encouraged the other and in the end the standings came out as follows:
Junior Women’s:
1st Place: Alex Shallhorn
2nd Place: Nicole Dube
3rd Place: Jessica Droinjko
4th Place: Tie: Morgan Fuller and Emily Zwanenburg

The last events of the day included the Women’s and Men’s Pro (Open Category).
In the Women’s Category Brenna Kelly was challenged by Alex Shalhorn, Sylvie Lebel and Cheryl McGregor. After 3 rides each and some good moves and unfortunate flushes the standings were as follows:
Women’s Pro /Open:
1st Place: Brenna Kelly
2nd Place: Cheryl McGregor
3rd Place: Sylvie Lebel
4th Place: Alex Shallhorn

For Freestyle enthusiasts, the Men’s Pro Finals is always great to watch and this was no exception.
Remember I said that the feature was tough? Well, it is. I spent some time out on the water both days and enjoyed it a lot (even through a couple blunts despite a shoulder injury.. not to bad for an older dude…) but rest assured it is not the easiest feature.
These guys (Joel Kowalski, Phil Quinn, Alex Parrette and Moe Kelleher) made it look like just another fun day at the park!
Everyone was going big. Huge blunts, air blunts, back stabs, donkey flips, and McNastys were the recipe for success. Not one of them held back. Now, we have come to expect this from Joel and Moe but my hat goes of to Alex and Phil who both put it all out there and showed us what can be done.

The final results for the Men’s Pro / Open were as follows:
1st Place: Joel Kowalski
2nd Place: Moe Kelleher
3rd Place: Alex Parrette
4th Place: Phillip Quinn

After another grueling day of competition everyone headed in for the closing ceremonies and dinner and then it was time to head home.
Tommy, Sarah Merryn, Colleen and Valarie did an awesome job at hosting this event and making sure that everyone was happy, comfortable and well fed.
Thanks guys, your efforts were definitely appreciated.

Memorable moments: Kids encouraging kids. On the water and off the water, the kayak community and it’s kids continue to make me smile. T o one degree or another, they all look out for each other. They may be competing but they are also helping out and learning. This can not get enough mention. I am truly proud to be able to watch them all and be part of it as well.

    The Driving Force:

Behind each one of these kids is a driving force (driving can often be a key word here too) and that is their parents.
In this day and age there are so many parents that, whether by choice or by circumstance, are not involved with their children and for this we are thankful for Teen Centers and Youth Programs.
But for all those parents who make long drives across the country, get in the water with their kids in spite of their own fears or make large financial sacrifices so that their young one can be part of something special this short column is for you:
On Saturday morning, after a cup or 3 of coffee I sat and watched the vehicles come and go at the event. The varied license plates caught my eye. Ontario, New York, New Hampshire and even California!
Well there must be something interesting behind all this… On Sunday morning, while watching the kids train at Hole Brothers I met the parents of our athletes.
Karen Savage and Karin Coon. 2 great ladies from Moultonboro, New Hampshire came all the way up to support their kids and bring them home. Karen’s 2 daughters were competing for the first time and she was there to cheer them on. Karin was up to cheer on her 2 sons who were also competing for the first time. These ladies are not paddlers but they are definitely involved with their kids. They can recognize the moves on the water and understand their kids passion for the sport. This is what their kids will remember in years to come.
Brenda Mills came up from Packingham, Ontario to support her son Josh. Josh is going to the 2009 Worlds and this is not a small thing. Not only is it a huge event but it is in Switzerland (that would be the other side of the pond…) and that is a serious commitment from the family. Josh’s parent can always be seen at events to cheer him on and this will help him go far in the sport and in life!
Linda and Scott Shallhorn are always around when their daughter Alexandra competes and this was no exception. Hailing from Oshawa Ontario, Alex is on her way to Switzerland next year to represent the Junior Canadian Women and her folks continued support and enthusiasm plays a big part in her success.
Zachary and Emily Zwanenburg have been paddling for a long time and have started competing recently. Although I am an avid paddler and love spending time with my kids on and off the water, the special mentions go to my wife, best friend and favorite kayak instructor Sylvie.
Sylvie Lebel (who also competed this weekend) is their teacher and is always present at their events. I am a very lucky kayaker indeed and so are my children.
And then there was Mary. Mary Hull took the long trek from Crescent City California, leaving her husband Gary to fend for himself, so that she could pick up her son, Kyle, after his stay at the Keener Program on the Ottawa River. California to Ottawa, to Watertown, and more! The drive alone is a commitment as is the stay with the Keeners. Kyle is an excellent paddler with great technique (which I suspect is in part a result of having a family that paddles too!) and I have no doubt that he appreciates the effort that his mom (and his dad) put in for him. The fact that he rode back to “keenerville” with his mom instead of his friends is a testament to that fact. Looks good on you Kyle ☺

There are an endless line-up of parents that stand behind the kids and I am honored to have met some of them this past weekend and listed to their experiences. It really is an amazing community.

Looking forward to the next event, meeting more people and who knows, maybe even competing myself….

CLick on the links below to see more action photos from the Blackwater Challenge:

thanks Colin and thank-you Mick. We appreciate the effort that you make to do this for us. :)

See you all on the river soon,

Robert Zwanenburg

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