In June 2010 Irish Freestyle sent a team of 14 to the European Freestyle Championships in Lienz, Austria. The team had been training hard for what was to be their biggest event of the year.
Freestyle is a discipline of white water kayaking or canoeing where the paddler performs various technical moves in one place by using a feature to move their boat over 3 different axis to score points for different tricks. The boats are designed to pop and bounce out of the water usually under 6feet in length the boats rotate quickly around themselves to score maximum points.
The Competition this year took place on the River Drau, a large river, running through Lienz, a quiet town in Austria. The feature was a river wide hole which was deep, fast and steep making it a composite boats dream feature.
Being that the Irish summers are known for their wet and overcast weather the team fled the emerald Isle in search of sun and crystal blue water of mainland Europe. With people travelling from all around Team Ireland met up on Sunday 12th June this was the first time we had managed to get the whole team together and was a special moment for everyone.
Team training was due to start on the Monday with free practice time beforehand and the competition set to kick off on Wednesday.
The team Comprised of
Team Manager/ Coach/ Physio/ Masseuse/Anything else
K1 senior Men
Thomas Dunphy, Barry Loughnane, Brian Cahill, Rónán O’ Braonáin, Paul Lydon
K1 Senior Women
Jackie Ferguson, Dee Ni Dhroighneain, Siobhan Mcgriskin
K1 Junior Men
Neil Slevin, Daniel O Broin, Eoin Keyes
C1 / OC1
John o Rourke, Kevin Mccabe
Overall we had taken the 3rd largest team behind only GB and Spain quite an accomplishment for an Island less than half their size
On the Sunday we took the opportunity to flood the feature with the Irish team getting every paddler we have on the water, this worked as a successful tactic with only a couple of stray paddlers from other countries staying on the water. This gave us the opportunity to evaluate and reflect on where people’s levels were, as since selections there had been no real coaching sessions so it was a great opportunity to see everyone together.
We would video every training session this would give a point of reference to the athletes initially it would be used to work on individual moves and techniques and see where each person is going wrong and how they can improve, then during the team training sessions on Monday and Tuesday the athletes would look at building rides from their individual moves knowing what will score to include and what wouldn’t score to scratch then by practicing these rides as a whole would give the athlete the confidence to perform them in a competition.
During the prelims the athlete only has 2 rides and the combined total of the two rides gives them their score with the top 20 moving onto the quarter finals or the top 10 move to the semi finals.
Tuesday night saw the opening ceremony an official affair with organisers and leaders of organisations in attendance. This was to be the largest European championships with over 170 Athletes from 19 Nations across Europe.
The Wednesday morning, The first day of competition and up first Irelands own Kevin McCabe to be the first ride of the 2010 championships with John o Rourke in the 2nd heat of OC1.
OC1 is a cross between a bath tub and a canoe the idea is to move your craft through various axis with a single blade to score points before you fill up.
Both lads went out with fierce competition and unfortunately neither got onto the score sheet but there were no swims, breakages or loss of dignity making the first event a true success!
Next up were the Senior women this is a category where Ireland are very strong with some of the world’s best ladies paddling in Ireland. This year was no exception with Jackie a veteran of both Freestyle and Surf world events , Siobhan competing at European and world championships and a new face on the team this year Dee who is a girl with motivation she trains hard but had a rather close encounter with a few rocks earlier in the week bounced back with a big smile.
The girls were up with unfortunate flushes and harsh but fair judging leaving the ladies way down the order with Siobhan managing to get a solid ride to boost her up to 13th none of the ladies made the semi final cut.
Junior men were set to go with Eoin Keyes and Neil Slevin fresh from completing their level 5 proficiency awards in Italy and Daniel o Broin showing off his brand new Pyranha Molan.
Daniel put down his best ride of the competition really using the feature moving around nicely but just not quite scoring leaving him on zero points following this Neil made some silly mistakes and flushing also not getting on the score sheet. But hope was not lost Eoin stepped up to the plate working hard all week on his loops sticking them sweetly in the competition this along with a few cartwheels and spins left him up in 8th place making the cut for the Semi Final.
Last event of Wednesday was the C1 Competition this is another event where the competitor kneels in a kayak with a single blade. The moves these guys pull are unreal with more leverage and higher centre of gravity always leads to large scores. With the absence of the current European and world champion this was an open event with everything to play for.
Orky was up, landing his spectacular loop we’ve been watching him practice all week. But unfortunately he may have spent too long practicing a single trick, leaving him below the cut off.
Kevin McCabe at his first big event had a couple of disappointing flushes leaving him without a score.
Thursday was the day of reckoning when the testosterone of Europe lay down their rides, man to man. With 60 senior men the cut would be top 20.
Up first was Adrian Durrant as a last minute reserve for Thomas Dunphy who had been training hard all week had to head back to Ireland the day before for family reasons this was a massive loss to the team as Tom had been putting in some massive practice rides really working hard leaving it to the Team manager who’s training had been limited to step up. Adrian worked the hole scoring loops and cartwheels with unfortunate flushes on his second ride leaving him with 100 points a very noble effort.
Next were Paul Lydon and Rónán O’ Braonáin being drawn in the same heat giving them an added motivation to perform well. Paul kicked things off but couldn't make things stick until the last 15 second when he laid down a flurry of ends and loops to get the points on the board. As Ronnie dropped in the pressure was on. The usually cool and relaxed man from Maynooth was a bag of nerves and it showed his first ride was pretty poor by his standards as the heat moved along both lads relaxed and began to enjoy the occasion putting down solid second rides of loops and cartwheels to leave them in the points.
Brian is a veteran of past events and it showed, as he dropped in looking composed he stuck an awesome air loop, the first we'd seen from him all week. Brian paddled as he'd practiced linking ends with clean bonuses and splits to rack up the points.
Last up was Barry, this is a lad for the future he has a fantastic style and loves to go big..... But has issues with stopwatches he hates paddling with limitations. Barry laid a solid ride out but just couldn't bring the boat around for the mcnasty leaving him with a good score.
As the scores came in the whole of Europe held their breath. The competition was tough with none of team Ireland making the cut for the quarter finals.
Brian 210 points, Paul 150 points Barry 136 points, Ronan 111 Points, Adrian 100 points
This left team Ireland with only two competitors left Eoin in the junior k1 men’s semi and Adrian in the squirt event.
In the Semi Finals Eoin paddled superb again really getting his ride together consistently but with the standard improving , leaving him in 10th Position overall a great result for team Ireland!
With the last day of competition upon us first up was the squirt event
Squirt boating is a form of free ride the athlete must use the river and its features in a specified area to score points through a smooth series of vertical rotations followed by using the feature to submerge the boat and sink, by submerging the boat and paddler the athlete gains a multiplier of up to 2x their score.
The event started bright and early with three runs for each competitor. The water was cold and the skies overcast the event was hotly contested with the reigning European and world champion in attendance there were sweet linking cartwheels and washouts followed by smooth mysteries. Adrian paddled well coming in 4th place just off the podium.
As a fun event Teva sponsored a cardboard boat race this involved building a craft out of cardboard boxes and parcel tape to get a crew down the river and through the feature. Team Ireland took this event seriously building a huge craft with four crew successfully making it down the river in full view of the gathered crowds. This was an excellent performance from the Irish team paddlers.
The European championships was a successful event for team Ireland with many gaining competition experience while others used the event as a warm up to upcoming events.
Next year the world Championships are being hosted in Plattling, Germany to which Team Ireland hope to be able to send a full squad to compete at the biggest event in Freestyle kayaking.