Well I can safely say that the 2014 European Freestyle Kayak Championship in Slovakia was amazing. Not just due to the outcome of the competition (but which does obviously play a large part) but also because of the site, the Danube, the training and the paddlers who took part. We began the drive out to Slovakia on the 17th of August, over a week before the competition was set to start which allowed me and my dad a lot of days for training before hand. On the evening we arrived there was little time to do anything other than pitch the tent and have a quick wander down the two white water courses before it was dark. The squirt boating therefore started the following morning…

Day 1 of paddling was predominantly spent working on flat water moves as well as a small bit of mystery practice  at the point where the white water course flows into the Danube. There were very few freestylers about, let alone squirt boaters so all was very quiet with the exception of the squeals from occasional rafting parties. As the week progressed however, more and more competitors and supporters arrived and more and more clusters of flag-decorated tents sprung up, including those of the rest of team GB. By day 4 all of the GB squirt boaters had arrived so squirt sessions became much more fun as we tried to replicate some of Ben’s ‘artistic’ bonus moves (involving much paddle spinning, of course) but also productive as we picked up mystery tips from the others.

The following days consisted of paddling sessions and training with Den and Sam, interspersed with watching how the floatboaters were getting on in the hole. By day 7 I had my competition run sorted  and the focus was on mysteries.

On day 9 a few of us took to the water in a slightly different craft…. ZORBS!! I can certainly report that zorbing is far harder than it looks, at least if laughing uncontrollably for the entire time! That afternoon we had another training session before getting ready for the opening ceremony.

With the opening ceremony over, the competition was officially open and the heats started early the next morning . The squirt competition didn’t begin until Friday so we spent Thursday cheering on team GB and having one last training session. By the end of the day, very few GB competitors had been knocked  out and there were some impressive rides from all.
Day 11 was the day of the squirt competitions, the men at 12 and ladies at 1. There were some really solid runs from the men of all nations and soon enough it was the ladies turn. It was a two runs and two count results system meaning both had to be good… which they were!!  I placed second going into finals with Emma in fourth and after the men’s semis, both Ben and Alex were also through to finals!
Finals day….! The ladies squirt was the first competition of the day this time so after warming up and slightly altering my run plan, I hopped on the water. It was three runs, one counts which means there is less pressure, especially if all goes to plan on the first which for me it certainly did!  I couldn’t have been happier or more relieved! With our three runs over we jumped off to cheer on the men.

Soon after the competition the results were posted…. I’d managed to retain my second place to win silver!! In the men’s Alex took gold with Ben in third so overall very successful in the squirt boat department! The day continued with the float boat finals for junior men, junior women, C1, women’s and lastly the incredible men’s final. After much whooping  and cheering at the rides being carried out, the finals came to an end with Kim and Pringle both medalling. There was a short break before the awards ceremony began and I stood on the podium to receive a silver medal!

The GB selection event of October where I qualified for the 2014 squirt boat team seems like an absolute age ago now. The difference between my paddling then and now is huge; I’ve gone from scoring a right cartwheel and a bowscrew at selections to winning a silver medal with a 258.3 run at the Europeans! There was obviously a lot of training in between on the flat water at Sudbury Canoe Club but also in the pool for which I have Abbeycroft Leisure in Bury to thank. Being a member of the Lee Valley Paddlesports Club and receiving fantastic kit from Squarerock also helped no end in the lead up to the Championships. Equally great coaching from Den, Sam and of course, my Dad was crucial. Bring on selections for the 2015 team!!

By Jen McGaley