Old Dogs, New Tricks

By Kenny Stocker

We were at Holme Pierrepont in Nottingham to support the British Freestyle Championships last weekend. It is a place where both Col and myself used to visit frequently when we lived in Cambridge, that is until we caught the climbing bug. It sure felt a lot of time had passed since we had bobbed around on the turbulent waters of the Trent. In those days Richard Fox ruled ‘Superstars’, Andy Raspin was pirouetting around suspended balls in ‘Paddles Up’ and Sean Baker was dropping into ever smaller pools of water. We tried to emulate all this on the rather tamer waters of the Cam.

So here we were back at HPP, which incidentally, has just been upgraded to allow better control of the water features. It was windy and cold.. nothing new there so I was content to wrap up, sit back and watch how the sport of freestyle kayaking (rodeo to older readers) had evolved. At first I didn’t really know what was going on. The MC called out the moves as they were executed, but they appeared complex and linked together extremely quickly. But you have to give things like this a chance and it soon became clear that the small plastic boats were not just tumbling out of control in the foamy water, most of what they were doing was actually deliberate and controlled!

You see it’s all pretty manic. Each competitor has just 3 runs of 45 seconds to impress the judges sat just a few feet away. These guys were as sharp as a pencil and could distinguish the moves and award them points. The highest ranked people would pass through to the semi-finals on Sunday.

.. which was a very different day. It was sunny and warm which was just as well because back in the safety of the Alpkit HQ Col and myself had boasted how we would get back on the water. Now we couldn’t get out of it and hoped no one would notice us as we skulked around at the back of the field at the inlet gate and the mass start of the boto-x. The idea of the race was to be first down the course, our aim was to get down the course.

It went well, we made it but we were still shaky. There was about 3 hrs until the showpiece event of the weekend so we wrapped up warm and tried to psych each other up while watching the semi-final action. We needed to get our confidence up, so half an hour before the start we tackled some of the smaller waves, making some classic high crosses, ferry glides, sculling, bow rudders before our confidence was high enough to attempt some side surfing in the smaller stoppers.

The name of the event was ‘Old Dogs, New Tricks’ however the way we were feeling ‘Old Dogs, No Tricks’ would have been more appropriate. Nonetheless the time came and as we dragged our boats up the course Jim was already in the water along with the rest of the Old Gits. Game on, but safety first, we climbed into our Romer helmets and slid into the torrent.

There was only 15 minutes for us to do our stuff, barely enough time for us to get our hair wet, but I guess it gave the kids competing in the Brit Champs a little time to get their breath back ;) It is not like we had a routine made up or anything like that, it was more freestyle than that. We improvised, we jammed, we had jazz!

Some of the Old Dogs had clearly learnt new tricks and were impressing the judges, but this wasn’t ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ and team Topo were going to have none of that. Once we realised that we could actually stay upright we began laying down our own moves; paddle spins, air guitars, shudder rudders and hand surfs. Pairing up we moved in and occupied the hole, a move that was to win us the title of ‘King of the Wave’, but which in truth may have had something to do with our inability to execute an escape. Nonetheless we were matching them blow for blow.

The 15 minutes were coming to a close and bonus points were on offer for the last person on the wave. That was like waving a red flag to a bull and we all pilled in. The clarity of our playing may have gone down, but the volume and intensity was out of sight. There was nothing for it we had to give the cheering crowd what they were all waiting for.. fish. We were out of our boats and floating down the course, the crowd was happy, we were happy and with 3 of us placing in the top 5 for Alpkit we feel that the standard has been set for future sessions!

Photos: Jenny PeakUK

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