I am a freestyle paddler in the slalom race, and I am also a slalom paddler when I am in a freestyle competition these days… interesting how people think…
My primary focus, passion and enjoyment in kayaking comes from freestyle paddling. With that being said, even the best freestyle days can be on par with a good run down a class 4-5 river, or a couple slalom gates that are very difficultly offset, a day on the SUP, a sunset in a recreational boat, or catching fish out of a fishing kayak.
I love every aspect of being on the water. I love swimming, I love taking baths and I love the rush of whitewater. The easiest access to fun in kayaking for me is by jumping in a freestyle boat, I have fun even in flatwater so whatever feature I am at can only be more fun. I do believe that a balance in between all types of paddling can really help to benefit the other.
Right now I am sitting at the USNWC, the U.S National Whitewater Center, in Charlotte, NC. I am here because Olympic Trials for London are commencing tomorrow. I have been here training for more than any other slalom race I have ever trained for. (About 2 ½ weeks) The gates have been the challenging, the whitewater in between tricky to be fast on, and dodging other boaters has been a feat all on its own. I never thought I would come and spend the amount of time I have been on one disciple (and not freestyle).
I am nervous, not because I am banking on anything in this race but because I want to paddle well. There is difficult competition and much more experienced paddlers on the water with me. I do feel I understand whitewater very well and I am using that to ensure I am fast on my runs.
I went home for easter weekend- with the intention of resting, I ran the Jack Daniels ½ Marathon, paddled hard everyday and ate as much dark chocolate as I could in celebration of easter. Not exactly resting but how can I say no!
While I was home I jumped in my freestyle boat and immediately felt stronger than ever. Shocked as I thought I would not paddle well from time off, I proceeded to try all the moves I struggle with normally. In slalom you develop a lot of strength in your arms, chest and abs. With these areas of my body being well conditioned, it immediately helped my freestyle and I found my blunts were bigger, my airscrews snappier and my general strokes stronger than before. As I continued to try all my moves I didn’t feel like I had missed a beat and actually paddled better than before.
I would recommend focusing on developing stronger strokes, being fast in and out of out of eddies, making sure to always lead the turns with your head and body and keeping your weight over your boat. All of these things are crucial in any type of paddling but unforgivable in the slalom boat. Paddling the slalom boat helped remind me of the importance of these basic and key paddling habits.
If you would like to try slalom paddling but don’t have access to a slalom boat, try a Zen out at your local dealer, the speed and zippy feeling you get in the Zen is very similar to the feeling of a slalom boat.
I hope that each of you have a chance to enjoy every aspect of paddle sports and I cant promise I will paddle well tomorrow, but I can promise I am going to have an absolute blast! Wish the best of luck to my Dad, Dane and I as we step out of our comfort zone but into some serious fun!
Happy Paddling to all!