For once, it was a pleasant and warm day on April 2nd for the Freestyle Kayaking National Championship at the Whitewater Stadium in Penrith. The blue skies drew in an enthusiastic and good sized crowd who were in fine voice and settled in the shade of the leafy trees up on the banking around the main feature,’ Jacks’. The crowd were thrilled to witness the impressive skills on display as the competitors dazzled the crowd with their spins, jumps, tricks and moves on the fast moving white water. Here are some of the highlights of a memorable day.
Prior to all the thrills and spills of the white water events, the crowd were treated to the precise and acrobatic moves of our squirt boating competitors down on the calmer waters of the practice lake. Being the first time squirt boating has been included in the Nationals this year, the crowd were entertained by notable performances from Josh Singleton and Lewis Wylie but it was Richard Merjan who nudged them out of the top spot with a solid performance, taking gold in the men’s line up. Next up, was the ladies event that really captured the crowd’s attention with Sue Robb mesmerising all with a series of spins, stalls, cartwheels and loops. She not only deservedly won the gold medal in the ladies contest but outranked the men, attaining the highest score of the event.
The Open Canoe event followed (OC1). These open freestyle kayaks are very hard to keep afloat in the rough and tumble of the wave, tricks and manoeuvres being particularly difficult without the usual watertight spray deck. The gold was for the taking this year without star performer and OC1 2014 World Champion Bronze medallist, Jez Blanchard unable to compete due to a shoulder injury. It was a close contest between Josh Singleton and Lewis Wylie with Lewis edging into first place earning him the gold medal on his second and final run.
Next up were our C1 competitors, once again without star competitor Jez Blanchard so the gold was up for grabs. International Richard Merjan nailed it with some captivating cartwheels, which are all the more incredible when you realise that these guys are strapped into the boat on their knees! He was followed by Lewis Wylie and Josh Singleton in second and third place respectively.
The main K1 senior event was a nail biting and close run contest this year. The day before the competition, the feature had been changed to create a level playing field between those local to the Penrith Whitewater Stadium and those who travel far and wide to attend the yearly event. As a result, the feature ‘Jacks’ was particularly challenging this year, with competitors finding it difficult to stay retained on the feature after executing their moves. The Jack’s feature is technically a ‘hole’, as the wave curls back in on itself creating a seam edge upstream of the wave curl. It’s generally a crowd pleasing feature, allowing kayakers to dazzle and delight with moves that often seem to defy the laws of gravity.
At the end of the first run in the Senior K1 Men contest, Jake Perrem was in the lead having nailed a routine of cartwheels, spins and loops followed closely by Joe Dunne, Morgan Jaymz and Tim Mann. Newcomer to the senior K1 competition, Rowan Karr also put in a solid performance leaving this front runner pack of talented kayaker’s all with a chance of taking home gold.
The tension in the crowd was palpable as the men entered the water for their second and final run. Josh Singleton dazzled the crowd with moves including a Space Godzilla and cartwheel combination. Tim Mann performed another noteworthy gravity defying full loop with air followed by some cartwheels and doubled the points of his first run. Morgan James the cartwheel King, amazed the crowd with a series of left, right cartwheels and splitwheels but it was Joe Dunn performing the very difficult yet perfectly executed and McNasty in his routine that won the day. Morgan James and Tim Mann placed a well-deserved 2nd and 3rd place respectively.
Our K 1 ladies also did not disappoint, with Sue Robb showing the persistence for which she is well known, battling for the top spot with new comer Alex Broome. Both ladies placed joint first, taking home gold medals with another newcomer Amanda Harrington earning herself a silver medal.
The last event of the day and perhaps one of the most anticipated among the parents in the crowd, was the K1 junior event. These young men and women put in some serious hours of training with their coach Jez Blanchard in preparation for the event, so were raring to go and hit the water with great enthusiasm. First up was Jack Newland, who had travelled up from Melbourne for the event. A strong paddler, and last year’s silver medallist he didn’t disappoint, with a fantastic display of cartwheels and splitwheels. Liam Dowd, brimming with confidence after his personal best performance at the 2015 ICF Freestyle World Championship, was slow to get into his first run but managed to woo the crowd with moves such as the gravity defying air loop.
He was followed by Luke Carter, with an inspiring display of cartwheels and spins and newcomer and youngest competitor Christian Hilounakas who had the crowd behind him as he attempted an impressive loop. By the end of the first run there was no clear lead. The second run held the crowd’s attention as everyone ‘whooped and awed’ with every move and shouted themselves hoarse as they got behind the Juniors Competitors. However, it was Liam Dowd with a perfectly executed entry move coming in at the top of the feature and another loop in his routine that edged him into the lead. Solid paddlers, Jack Newland and Luke Carter both received silver medals and newcomer Christian Hilounakas a well-deserved bronze.
Talented Georgia Clarke who trains with the junior men and who also competed in the ICF Freestyle World Championship in Ottawa, Canada in 2015, where she placed 8th in the Junior Women’s K1 contest, also did not disappoint with an awe inspiring series of spins and cartwheels which not only pleased the crowd but also the judges, earning her a well- deserved gold medal in the K1 Junior Women’s contest.