After carrying out the last checks to ensure all paddling kit was packed, at 06.30 on 22nd August we set off on our journey to Canada. Ever since it was announced that the Ottawa river would be the site of the 2015 World Freestyle Kayak Championships, I had been getting excited for this trip, but it only started to feel real at the moment when our fully packed car left the house and the drive to Heathrow began. It was going to be my first time in Canada, my first paddle on the Ottawa and my first World Freestyle kayaking Championships in a squirtboat.

The first challenge to be encountered involved getting four people, three suitcases, a paddle bag and a lengthy squirt boat on and off a little shuttle bus and through the airport without causing injury to any other travellers. For the most part this was achieved, but the next challenge was far larger: getting my boat checked in with absolutely no mention of kayaks, canoes, surfboards, SUPs, sports equipment or any other item the airline states ‘cannot be taken’. Despite this statement however, after a few tense moments in the oversized baggage department my boat and paddles were labelled up and whisked away on the conveyor belt!

A 7 hour flight later, we arrived in Toronto. A mishap with the car rental meant we ended up with a minivan which was not in any way ‘mini’ and therefore made the perfect kayak-and-kit-carrying vehicle. After four hours of northerly driving, we were grateful to see the ‘Wilderness Tours’ sign and find our cabin.

The next day I met up with the rest of the GB squirtboat team and we headed straight for the squirt spot, ‘smoothie’, to get a feel for it before the official training slots began. Being famous for the downtime that paddlers can achieve there, I was excited to work on my mystery moves at/in/under smoothie and it certainly didn’t disappoint! With the help of GB coach, Ben White, I managed a couple of  ’head under’ mysteries that morning which left me desperate to go deeper for longer!

The week before the competition was made up of lots of training interspersed with time down at the Garberator wave watching the float boat training. Most days involved a 2 hour smoothie session during our official time slot and then an evening flatwater session on the lake. Gradually the team’s mystery moves got deeper and their duration steadily increased while becoming more and more consistent. Tips on technique from Claire O’Hara, the occasional addition of a couple of bags of rocks and some enormous ’Wilderness Tours’ breakfasts were a major help for me in achieving this!

During the week, all of the flatwater runs also started to come together, mine including many moves which I hadn’t expected to master before the competition, for example screwing around and artistic tricky woos. My fantastic Ophion spanker paddles really aided my paddle switches and spins which therefore helped me gain the ‘artistic bonus’ on lots of my moves. Towards the end of the week I also got to watch and meet squirtboaters from all over the world which was great fun, especially when their training slots were as entertaining as the USA’s! The music, crazy moves and incredible mysteries made for some awesome sessions.

Sunday 30th August was Opening Ceremony day. We managed a quick, morning smoothie session before putting on the GB tracksuits and heading to Beachburg on yellow school busses. The parades and ceremony were great; it is always exciting to see so many athletes from so many nations in one place, especially the Ugandan team after all the effort it took on their part to make it to the Championships.

Soon enough, Monday morning had arrived and it was time to compete! I was in the first heat of the day so after a quick warm up I headed to the eddie. Spectators loaded with flags and food were already beginning to fill the banks of the island having been rafted over from the mainland and the judges and scribes were in position. The thumbs up was given from the head judge and the prelims began! The level of paddling was very high from everyone and I was certainly happy with my rides. After a short break the results were posted: I’d made it to semis in 4th place! The process was then repeated with the top ten men and women trying to increase their scores to make finals. Again, the results were posted and I’d placed 4th with a score of 913.33 (a fair amount higher than the 260ish I had scored at the previous year’s European Championships)! This meant four GB paddlers (Claire, Ben, Alex and I) had made it to the finals.

The rides in the finals were just incredible… the mysteries were enormous, the flatwater routines were ultra-technical and the crowd and fellow athletes were cheering harder than ever. Claire’s runs were amazing to watch and resulted in her keeping her  title of World Champion while Steven Write won gold in the men’s. Ben White also made it onto the podium in style, winning the bronze medal, and I managed to retain my 4th place from the semis!

The rest of competition week was spent supporting the float boaters of the GB team who put up some great performances on Garb and were rewarded with many medals! We also had a few more sinking sessions at smoothie and spent lots of time playing in our new Jackson Rockstars on the Ottawa from McCoy’s Chute down to Garb and beyond which was really fun but felt strange after all of the squirtboating. All too soon the closing ceremony, consisting of lots of flags and fire, came to an end and people began dispersing back to their home countries.

Huge thanks to Squarerock for all of the support and fantastic kit, in particular for my new Ophion Spankers and my Sandiline custom squirtboat cagdecks which have really helped me improve my paddling and for the new Jackson Rockstar that I was able to pick up and paddle in Canada from Emily Jackson. Thank you also to everyone who watched and supported the GB team, whether at home via the livestream or on the riverbank. I’m already looking forward to the next one!

Here is a highlight video of the event put together for the ICF World Freestyle Kayak Championships:

By Jen McGaley