HELLO FROM OTTILIE…
Hi. I am 13 and from Frinton on Sea. I had my literal first taste of white water kayaking with a lesson at Lee Valley White Water Centre last year. Swimming down the legacy course a few times suggested I maybe needed a gentler introduction!
A coaching session with Chris Chapman, at the slightly less intimidating Nene White Centre, explained the mysteries of eddies, breaking in and out and ferry gliding and I was immediately hooked and determined to return to Lee Valley one day.
Fortunately Dan McGaley introduced me freestyle and The Lee Valley Paddle Sports Club (LVPC) and with the kind loan of Jen McGaley’s brilliant Jackson Zen I was able to have time on the course and I passed my assessment for the legacy in July.
After loving the small Jackson Zen and needing a freestyle boat the obvious choice was the Jackson Shooting Star. This has to be the most perfect kids boat not only for freestyle but general fun on the river as well. Lightweight so easy to carry, comfortable, stable but playful, easy to roll and perfectly sized so long as you are under 100 lbs.
Over the summer I did a lot of flat water freestyle practice and in September entered the club championships at Nottingham which LVPC won convincingly and I won my first novice medal. The shooting star handled HPP brilliantly and I loved the competition.
Over the winter I did more training at Lee Valley and whilst I adored the Shooting Star it was becoming too small and becoming a squirt boat rather than a play boat. (See Hugh Mandelstam’s blog on this very subject) .
Luckily Dad managed to buy a 2014 Jackson Rockstar Competition from non other than 2011 world champ James Bebbington. I think it was the mention of special lightweight plastic and carbon fibre track that convinced him to make a 12 hour round trip to Warrington to collect it!
So January this year I converted to the Rockstar. It was a change and took a couple of sessions to adapt but once I was set up with the easily adjustable seat in the right place, happy feet and sweet cheeks just so, it was clear the boat was even more capable that the shooting star and the extra volume meant the loops I was just about making suddenly became easier and bigger due to the extra volume and pop. I have to thank Dan again for tirelessly dragging me up onto the pontoon to keep practising until I could make the loop. Hope your back is OK !
On the subject of Squirt Boats, Jen McGaley’s silver medal at the European Championships and Hugh Mandelstam’s impressive style inspired me to wonder about mystery moves and other weird squirt boat concepts. Jen very kindly let me borrow her squirt boat for practise and training with the intention of heading for the GB Freestyle Team trials just to get a taste of the process. Happily I achieved a place in the squad for 2015 but more about squirt boating next time as so far this year I have tried to focus on freestyle and the Younguns Youth Freestyle tour.
Younguns began with two days on the amazing upper Tryweryn in Snowdonia national park with a downriver race on day one and freestyle on day two. Jen again kindly let me borrow her Zen for the down river race which was so fast and stable and I used my now trusty 2014 Rockstar for the freestyle. The next event at The Nene I had to sadly skip as it clashed with GB Freestyle squirt boat training but in compensation we got to train with the fabulous world champ Claire O’Hara and Ben White which was brilliant but it meant the final event at Cardiff could not be missed.
Partly in preparation and as I have family in Nottingham I spent a couple of days with Jacko Jackson at HPP in the inlet gate for the first time with his very friendly Burners group which was fun and I cannot wait to go back for club championships in October.
Before Cardiff I had a final trip to Lee Valley but with a twist. On arrival the course was full of shiny Jackson demo boats for anyone to try. Even more exciting for me, Aaron and Rhona very kindly asked me if I would like a place on the Squarerock Team and I was introduced to the rest of the team who made me feel very welcome. We had fun in the demo boats and even tried hydro speeding which was equally entertaining and exhausting.
So not much more than a year after my first taste of white water I was paddling Cardiff on 10 cumecs for the Younguns finale. A year earlier I never would have thought that even possible let alone that I would be able to compete with some of the best and friendliest young paddlers on the same wave. In the under 18 girls category I came third behind Jen McGaley and Emma Witherford and also won the overall tour trophy which has pride of place at home.
In all I have had a great year on the water for which I owe so many thanks it feels like blog in its own right so forgive me for that as I say thanks to:
Dan and Jen McGaley, Aaron and Rhona and all the Squarerock Team, Claire O’Hara and Ben White, Younguns, Jacko and Burners, Lee Valley White Water Centre, Tendring, Sudbury and Lee Valley Paddle Sport Clubs, Jackson Kayaks, Sandiline kit, Smooth Finish GRP Repairs who keep my squirt boat in one piece, the late Mike Barker and family whose award for improved junior at Tendring so inspired me and my dogsbody Dad and of course Mum. Oh and I should mention Paddy the dog for disposing of all surplus sandwiches and the occasional fisherman’s fry up.