Sunday, December 19, 2010

Colorado Bound

A week ago I began the drive from Charlotte to Albuquerque.  Somehow I made it through a massive southeast snow storm that brought snow to every city on my route: Asheville, Nashville, Memphis...

After a couple of wonderful days at home with Mom, I have finally made it up to Durango, CO to get back on the water.  I brought out an old boat that I am planning on leaving so that I can always have one here.  Yesterday was my first day back on moving water since the USNWC shut down for the winter.  It was fabulous!  The water was super low creating just a little bit of current, but has a great green tongue and some wonderful eddies to practice in.  Making everything that much more amazing was the fact that it was snowing.  Not east coast snow, but that big fluffy beautiful snow that only Colorado has.  In addition to getting some moving water time in, every workout is an altitude workout (even a simple 60 minute bike ride after lifting or an easy paddle).  I'm hoping to come home having made some huge gains out of the next couple of weeks.

Oh ya, Thanks Nic for letting me crash both your home and workouts!  And thanks Cathy for letting me jump in as well.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

CFA: check

Yesterday was the CFA Level 1 exam.  I took it.  Or rather it took me...for a six hour ride of page turning while searching for a question I knew the answer to.  Ok, it was not really that bad, but it was still pretty up there on my list.

The minute I took the GMAT this past September my attentions turned to the CFA Level 1 exam.  My goal  was to get it knocked out this December and move on to the second test in June - we will see how that pans out.  So for the past two months I have been attempting to cram two years of Wharton undergrad.  I will say that while the material itself is not difficult the sheer breadth of knowledge required is daunting.  I have lived in the library for full days for the past months except for the occasional brain meltdown which meant that I needed a break.  I even made kayaking a second priority to this studying, frustrating my training partners and coaches.  But it all ended yesterday at 5pm.  And I celebrated!

Once I get rid of the remnants of my celebrations it is time to train and reprioritize again.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Full Seam

I have been remiss in my blogging.  I am sorry.  Life has been a little bit crazy, but I am hoping that it will soon get even crazier.

Tuesday of this week was the last day of whitewater at the USNWC.  Earlier this season I broke my boat in several different places, but chose to put off fixing them until the end of the season when I would have more time and when the boat would not proceed to be beaten against cement and possibly broken again.  My plan did not quite work out, per usual.  One of the breaks began to get worse and needed to be fixed immediately.  In an attempt to catch the last water of the season I began vigorously working on the breaks.

The first repair involved the stern, which bottom drop had decided to claim since I refuse to get outrightly thrashed there anymore.  In order to make this happen I needed to remove all of the seam tape holding the bow and deck of the boat together.  Doing this however meant that I would be exposing a previous repair.  I decided that while I was fixing the stern I should seam the entire boat.  A wise tactical decision.  But a poor life choice.  Because I did not have much time each day to devote to this project I did it in stages.  I first ground everything down.  Then I patched the stern.  Then came the day for the grandiose seaming project.  I wanted one continuous seam up to the bow where it would meet a section of tape that was in great shape and had no reason for coming off.  Long story short, in a process of trial and error I managed to develop a system for seaming the boat that was rather ingenious, if I do say so myself.  However I was greatly aided by the fact that there was no sun and that it was roughly 60 degrees at the high that afternoon.  What then proceeded to hurt me was that with the low temperatures I could not get the resin to kick (or rather for the chemical reaction that makes the resin hard and stiff to take place).  In an attempt to not use a heat gun, which makes the resin brittle, I kept working the resin slowly.  However the resin just would not kick, which meant that I could not get the seams to stay in place.  Several people gave me ideas and tried to help - Thank you Paul Manning-Hunter, John Hastings, and Marian Davidson.  Finally, I decided to very carefully bring the boat inside and work from there.  Thank goodness I finally decided to go to bed because when I woke up I had a dry boat with brand new seams to paddle for the last two days of whitewater.

Normally I love to do boat repair.  It is a meticulous process with many different answers to a problem.  Everyone has their own way and little tricks that are extremely interesting and when all put together create an awesome knowledge of how to use power tools - or not.  Having raked peoples' brains about repairs each time I have to do one myself I believe I can safely say that I repair boats infinitely better than I paddle them.  Which might also be a result of all the practice I have been getting in repairing my boats. Regardless, I wish the process of seaming an entire boat on no one.  Moral of the story: Appreciate your seams.  Keep them in tact.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010


It is officially fall.  When I say officially I do not mean that we are long past Labor Day or that Halloween is right around the corner.  I mean that I now have to think about what layers I am going to wear paddling, when the whitewater is going to be on, and when it is going to be light and warm enough to get effective work in.  It also means the birth of creativity and technical perfectionism.  So begins the cycle again...

This fall, this video is my inspiration!
2010 World Champ Canoe Slalom Daniele Molmenti

North Carolina Fall. PC Marian Davidson

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Home Sweet Home

A few days after the US National Championships I flew home to Colorado: my home sweet home.  I came home to not only see my family, but also to reevaluate and refresh.

Both photos were captured just outside of Lake City, Colorado.  My heaven on Earth.

When I got here my Mom gave me the biggest hug ever: I LOVE you Mom!  The first thing I did after being smothered was take a big, long, deep breath of air.  Not the city, east coast, humid air.  But the good, clean, fresh western mountain air.  I was home.  Finally.  For the first time in a year.  Mom and I definitely had our bonding time: working out, reading, running errands, and seeing all of the people that I haven't seen for the past year.  It was wonderful.

I have found that it is extremely important for me to take a couple of weeks throughout the year to get out of my boat and enjoy other things.  These breaks allow me to unwind both mentally and physically.  This year was especially important.  I came home fresh off a race and having taken the GMAT.  I am also regearing to take the CFA (I will fill you in on that a little later) and head into winter training.  For now though, coming home was enough.  I loved it and can't believe I'm not staying.  Such is life, but I will come home again to stay one day.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

GMAT/US Nationals

A crazy week of paddling and life has come and gone and I have failed to fill in the gaps.  My apologies for being delinquent.

Last week was a whirlwind in my attempt at taking steps forward in life.  I have been studying for the GMAT for a very long time.  Many different things side tracked my studying and I finally laid down the law and told myself that I could not leave for GauleyFest until I had taken the test and aced it.  As it turns out, bureaucracy and red tape prevented me from even taking the test before GauleyFest, so I made the executive decision to stay home and study.  I took the GMAT on Monday!  And did miserably.  Well, miserably depends on your standards.  I received a score many would kill for, but am still not satisfied.  

Tuesday, Marian and I packed up and drove to DC - four slalom boats strapped to the roof with possibly more surface area than her little Honda.  Training at the DC Dickerson course was amazing.  The water there is unique and caught me completely off guard on Wednesday morning.  I think the course plays to many of my strengths as a paddler including demanding high speed, constant movement, and a forward lean that originates from the hips.  But to the more exciting part: the race.  I did horribly, but had a blast.  I raced both a kayak and a canoe.  Definitely a first time for everything.  Thanks to Nate and Jac for letting Marian and I crash on the floor for an entire week.

And now I am home in Colorado enjoying the mountains and some much needed time with my family.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes

Or rather hips, knees, and toes.  I have a general question to everyone for which I would love to hear opinions, thoughts, crazy ideas, you name it.

As paddlers we know that at our best we are able to separate our upper and lower bodies and allow them to work independently, yet in tandem.  Our upper body control comes from our core.  But where does our lower body control come from?  Does it come from your hips?  Knees?  Or Feet?

This thought came about when my training partner, Marian Davidson, was watching me do a set of short courses.  After the workout she noted that I exclusively use my hips to control my lower body and guide my boat.  There was no judgment passed, just an observation made.  She also told me that she uses her knees and that most people she has watched tend to use their knees as well.

I have never thought about this concept before.  I had merely separated the two parts of my body.  Now that I think about it however, when I am kayaking I do guide the boat with my hips.  But when I am in my canoe my knees are in control.  I have talked about this topic with a couple of people, but would love to hear what other people have to say.  What else is fall training for if not to experiment with new techniques and ideas?

So let me know what you think even if it is just something interesting to play with for a few weeks.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

USNWC/WK Pro-Am Hometown Throwndown for First Descents

Thanks to Chris Wing and H2O Dreams for putting together some amazing video from the Pro-Am Hometown Throwndown for First Descents.

Everyone should also check out the First Descents website - They are an awesome organization "committed to curing young adults of the emotional effects of cancer and empowering them to regain control of their lives by experiencing outdoor adventure therapy through kayaking, rock climbing and other outdoor adventure sports."

Back to Basics

And the sheer love of the sport! In the last month, I ran two of the quintessential south eastern rivers: the Ocoee and the New. And I had the most fun I have had in a boat in a very long time.

When I first learned to kayak out in Colorado all I wanted to do was run rivers. I chased the adrenaline and loved it. I pushed myself to get better as fast as possible. I pushed so hard that I went far above my skill level and paid for it. I ran Todd's Slot on the Taylor River and ended up upside down. A number of logical thoughts went through my head about what was going on and I decided to swim out immediately. I was quickly washed face first into an undercut boulder. I panicked. I had hit my legs so hard on something before getting slammed into the rock that I could not use them. As the saying goes, I pulled myself out by tooth and nail. As I pulled myself on top of this boulder I realized I was sitting in the middle of the river with no way to get out. I remember just crying. And crying. And crying. I am aware that most of us have had some type of scare at one point or another and that mine is not unique or special in the slightest. What it did however was teach me to have a great respect for the river and undercuts.

When I started racing I did not have to worry about any of these things. The consequences when training may be painful, but not life threatening. Having done nothing but race for the past two years I had put my Todd's Slot experience away. I heard friends talk about their experiences running rivers, but I was content to focus on my technical skills at the whitewater center.

Several weeks ago, Joel McCune asked if I wanted to go run the New River with the Davidson Outdoors group. I quickly jumped on the opportunity due to the fact that I trust Joel in a boat more than I trust the majority of people with two feet solidly planted on the ground. As I started driving up to the river with Joel and his girlfriend Em I began to recall my mistrust of rivers and extreme dislike of undercuts. That coupled with the knowledge that east coast rivers are riddled with undercuts did nothing for my confidence.

We all put on the river, Joel and I in slalom boats and the others in a mix of plastic play boats and a raft. I was a wreck for the first several rapids, which were really just big wave trains. By the middle of the river I was enjoying myself. I was reading and running everything in sight, playing in every eddy I could catch and enjoying the wide open space of a natural river with big water and waves. I had a blast! I even enjoyed just floating for the sheer sake of enjoying the pace of the water.

Two weeks ago I managed to get off work the day after the Hometown Throwdown and drive up to the Ocoee with another group of friends. This time I took a playboat and enjoyed bopping down the river with no fear of rocks. When we got to Hell Hole, which I had never seen, I thought it was the first wave. I did a spin on top of it and was totally disappointed. I then looked over my shoulder just before I was grabbed by the actual hole and thrown down in for a massive surf. LOVED IT!

I think these experiences count as a welcome back to the world of river running for me. Not only have I loved every second of it, but I am working on getting on more rivers just to enjoy them and, since my racer nature cannot completely be erased, use the natural features to learn new things. River running is where we all started so why not go back to it every once in a while to remember why we love what we do everyday. And for that matter, why not love what you do everyday – I do!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Hometown Throwdown

If you are not from Charlotte or a USNWC regular you may not have heard of the World Kayak Hometown Throwdowns.  They are a series of fun kayak competitions held to bring the kayaking community together and introduce people to the sport.  This past weekend was my first throwdown.

I was convinced by Chris Wing, an instructor at the USNWC, that getting off of work to compete in a freestyle competition was the thing I needed to do this past Saturday.  I was hesitant at first because a) I was supposed to be working, and b) I had never tried to playboat before.  I will say however that I love to surf!  There are few things better than sliding down the face of a glassy wave or simply carving edges back and forth on something smaller.  Needless to say I got off of work, showed up at the center early and a did slalom workout, then met up with Chris for a little coaching.

The way World Kayak has the competitions set up is awesome.  Everyone is encouraged to participate.  They keep the competition light by giving points out for everything, including front surfs, paddle waves, and window shades - my favorite.  In this particular competition each amateur was paired with a pro to create a team.  The pros were scored according to international rules while the amateurs were scored according to having fun - anything remotely like a move got points.  My team consisted of Chris Wing, Marian Davidson, and myself.  Each competitor gets three 45 second rides - or time to play on the wave and throw tricks.

While Chris was throwing huge tricks and being generally awesome and Marian was surfing and spinning away, my competition went about like this:
Fergus Cofey (the announcer): Catie it is your turn in the hole.
Fergus Cofey: Catie I think you have to get in the hole to play on it.  And there she goes.  Catie is one of our local slalom paddl.....
Gurgle Gurgle Gurgle Gurgle
Huge Cheers
Gurgle Gurgle Gurgle Gurgle
Huge Cheers
Gurgle Gurgle Gurgle Gurgle
Huge Cheers and a Sigh of relief from me
What that actually translates into is three consective power shades in which I apparently did some sort of actual trick that I will never be able to repeat followed by me finally rolling up and cursing myself for rolling up so fast that I stayed in the hole and had to immediately start surfing again.
But I must admit I had the largest grin on my face!

While I may love the speed and dynamicism I gain from my slalom boat the sheer enjoyment of playing in a hole was amazing!  Chris swore that the moment I tried I would be hooked and convert.  I'm not quite sure on the converting part, but I will say I am hooked!

While each of us may have a specialty there is something to be said for switching it up every once in a while and enjoying different things.  Not only can new things be fun, but there is a lot to be learned from them.  It can break old habits, force you to focus more, and even totally remove you from your comfort zone.  Although I may not playboat everyday from here on out, I do know that I will jump at the chance to participate in another Hometown Throwdown and playboat anytime someone wants to go out.

Thanks to Chris Wing for his patience this weekend.  While I only managed to powerflip every time he asked me to work on something, I had a great time!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

I Will Pay the First Volunteer to do My Outfitting!

I am absolutely covered in foam pieces.   Head to Toe.  The dog has taken to sneakily stealing good pieces of foam and devouring them bit by bit all over the yard.  Awesome!  Did I mention the dog decided to also dig a hole in the front yard and chase a car up the street?  Oh ya.  He did.  And the neighbors are giving me the hairy eye ball for a) being a weirdo in a boat on the lawn - not to mention one with a huge Tasmanian devil on it, and b) letting some of the foam particles blow in their yard.  Sorry.  For everyone out there laughing at me...I'm laughing right along with you.  I wish I had gotten my camera out before the whole thing started so that I could have documented it all.  It was epic!

I knew that outfitting a canoe was hard.  I knew it was tedious and very detailed.  What I did not bargain for was sitting their desperately trying to get rid of the outer skin for hours so that the glue will hold better.  And further more the mess that I would eventually have to try and clean up afterwards.  

To make a longer story short, I am using Joel McCune’s old C1 to work on a few of the things I highlighted in Europe as key weak points: balance, leaning on the paddle, and learning effective and minimalist stroke timing and placement, and a multitude of others.  My hope is that by forcing myself to relearn to paddle in a C1 that I can effectively focus on building good habits and reforming bad ones.

I will keep you updated on my progress.  At this juncture I predict a mass quantity of comedy for onlookers and interesting encounters for myself.

Monday, July 26, 2010

A Paddler's Recipe

Traveling in Europe I had the opportunity to watch many different people from all over the world paddle, live, travel, and eat.  One of the most interesting things that I have found is that a person’s paddling style is usually reflected in their cooking inspirations.  This does not mean that if a person is an amazing cook that they will be an amazing racer.  But rather that the process of cooking and eating can be strikingly similar to the training and racing process.

While everyone has their own style and personality that comes out in cooking as in paddling there are many different ways to reach the end goal of edible food and the finish line.  For some the answer is to get there as fast as possible because they are driven by the need for immediate gratification and hunger.  From personal experience, I grab the first thing in the pantry that either does not require cooking or can be quickly heated in the microwave.  I will admit that while I am no longer hungry, there was little creativity involved in the process and I probably did not eat healthy food.  In that same vein, when I am in that mode on the water getting from gate to gate on the shortest line possible is my focus, however like with food, not necessarily the best option. 

Mom and I enjoying amazing ice cream at Gerbeaud while exploring Budapest: the quintessential immediate gratification!

On the opposite end of the spectrum is cooking organically to create a fresh and unique meal.  For me this process normally involves a pile of random fresh ingredients that get combined in different ways.  I began to discover this process while in France living and cooking with Nic Borst and Caroline Queen.  On the water this style of paddling seems to manifest itself in athletes reading the water and using its natural properties to do most of the work.  This creativity has a caveat as well.  While the product is never what you originally expect, half the time it is horrible and a quarter of the time it is inedible and takes forever to create.

I spent a lot of time in France learning how to cook and worrying that my roommates wouldn’t be able to eat the food that eventually came out of the pan.  What I learned is that there is a healthy and productive medium between the two styles.  Hungry people and racers want the best results in the fastest time, but know that truly good things take time and patience.  While coaching in France I spent less time worrying about the stopwatch and focused on how the athletes were solving the gate combinations we gave them.  The fastest line was always the one that used the natural qualities of the water while keeping as close to the straight line as possible.  For me this realization means that my love of playing and learning by playing will continue for a long time to come.  But I will be looking at the water that I race on very differently.

Stop and smell the roses.  Or cook yourself a good dinner every once in a while.  I promise you will love it!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

New Found Respect

I have paddled almost every day for the past two years.  Last Thursday was the first time I got back in my boat after my two-month trip to Europe.  Holy Shnikes!  That about sums up the reaction of my nervous system and muscles.

While I was in Europe I knew that I would come home out of shape.  What I did not plan on happening, especially after spending the entire time coaching others and learning so much through watching, was to come back and be so shaky.  I felt like I was learning to paddle all over again!  I was stern happy and catching edges all over the place.  I could not control my angles for the life of me.  And my new paddle– now a long straight shaft instead of the previous short bent shaft – threw me for the biggest loop.

While relearning to paddle is a daunting task, there is a bright side.  After being out of the boat so long my paddling is purely instinctual.  It has given me a chance to go back to my personal habits and reevaluate what I need to focus on and make new habits of. 

I have also found a new respect for the other paddlers that I train with.  What we do is hard.  It is hard fitness wise.  My muscles are screaming at me.  It is hard technically.  I can’t seem to control my boat right now.  It is hard mentally.  Realizing how much I have to work on and doing it from what feels like the very beginning is daunting. 

While my new found respect is showing me how hard my goals really are to achieve and my old habits are showing their true colors I am excited to step up to the challenge.  This should be an interesting end to summer training.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Trip of a Lifetime

Sitting on the floor of the Prague Airport waiting to check in to my flight, I realize my trip is coming to a close.  In less than 17 hours I will be back in the United States; in less than 24 hours I will be back in Charlotte, NC.

Eight Weeks.  Ten Countries: Andorra, Bosnia, Croatia, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Hungary, Serbia, Spain, Turkey.  Countless cities and adventures.  Family.  Best friends and new friends.  It started out as a return to family heritage and ended as a paddling extravaganza.  When my dad planned this trip over a year ago, he referred to it as “The Trip of a Lifetime.”  He was more right than he will ever know! 
I have never been on a trip quite like this and I don’t know that I ever will again.

The thought of going home is comically surreal after two months.  Not that I wont get home, see my bed, and thank goodness that I finally made it right before collapsing for a long nap, but rather that it feels like just another temporary stop on this crazy trip.  Forgive me in advance for philosophizing, but I believe life, like this trip, is a series of momentary stops.  Staying in one place too long is not good.  And getting lost is a distinct possibility.

Thank you Dad for the Trip of a Lifetime!

2010 Junior World Championships Foix, France

Sitting in the back of Toby, the little red Skoda Fabia car that I rented about a month ago, I realize that the four-day affair that was the 2010 Junior World Championships is over.  Hailey, Jean, and I are making our last cross European drive from Foix, France back to Prague, Czech Republic to catch flights home tomorrow morning.

Every single US athlete raced their heart out and made us proud this weekend.  Hailey Thompson stood on the podium at the end of the weekend finishing in third place.  This marks the first time that a US C1 woman has ever been on the podium at a fully contested international event.  Michal Smolen, in control of his race all weekend, finished fourth in the men’s kayak division.  Peter Lutter and Simon Ranagan finished 41st and 51st places respectively in the men’s kayak as well.  In the men’s C1 class, Tyler Hinton finished 12th, Zach Lokken finished 30th, and Liam Malakoff finished 35th.  Caroline Queen finished 26th in the women’s K1.  All of our athletes defied expectations!

Watching all of the kids from around the world race this weekend was a privilege and an honor.  While we may not have won the most medals, I am proud to say that I was a part of Team USA.  That group of athletes, coaches, parents, and support was one of the best groups I have ever been a part of. 

Not only are all of our kids great athletes, but wonderful people.  For two weeks I got to watch these kids grow and learn.  All of them had been abroad before, but for many this was their first international paddling experience.  I got to watch them make friends both with each other and with kids from other countries.  They learned what it is like to paddle with 40 boats on the water each training session.  And they learned how to be independent and responsible.

It is for all of these kids, their love for kayaking, and the experiences they can have through it that we as a community support them.

Congrats Team USA on an amazing trip and successful race!

P.S. I wrote this yesterday while I was actually in the car, but couldn’t find internet to post it.  Sorry for being a day late.

Michal Smolen, Liam Malakoff, Hailey Thompson, Peter Lutter, Caroline Queen, Bug Lokken, Simon Ranagan (Not Pictured: Tyler Hinton)                    

Friday, July 9, 2010

Watching to Learn

As of approximately 4:22 this afternoon I had watched 294 slalom race runs.  Today is the second day of the Slalom Junior World Championships in Foix, France.  I watched the men’s and women’s canoes and men’s kayaks race to advance to the semi finals on Sunday morning.  Yesterday was the qualification runs for the men’s double canoes and women’s kayaks.  Coaching this weekend alone, I estimate that I will watch a grand total of 680 individual race runs.  In addition to the Saturday team runs, race runs from the first and second Slalom World Cups, and all practice time from the last four weeks of racing.  Whether you count number of runs or minutes that is a lot of watching.

Looking around at the coaches here you see a handful of successful former racers, fewer Olympians, and even fewer World Champions.  If that is the case, how can these other people (including myself), who have never been counted amongst the greats, coach and develop our next generation of amazing racers?  They watch.  Not the mesmerized watching enthralled by the magic of grace and strength, but the harsh analytical watching of a critic looking for the slightest difference.

Active watching.  The process normally begins with the basics and steadily advances to minute details.  It includes analyzing individuals, but more importantly making comparisons between two racers or even the same racer on different occasions.  The key is to notice the differences and decide which is faster.  The most important step, in my opinion, is to take what you have learned and compare it to your own performance.  This part requires completely honest self-evaluation.  Asking questions is a great way to enhance anything and everything discovered.

I am learning that active watching is one of the best, not to mention fastest ways, to improve performance.  There is no prerequisite of greatness as an athlete to be a great coach.  The only skill required is that of active watching and a willingness to learn.  While coaches are credited with an eye for analysis, athletes themselves should be regularly focused on active watching and include it as a part of their training.  It is important to realize that the learning gained through watching is an organic process that is unique for each individual.  There is no right or wrong and no defined sequence.  Everything is open to interpretation as it applies to each athlete and the skills that they lack and own.

While I cannot quantify all that I have learned on this trip from merely watching the best in the world and those up and coming racers vying to take their places, I know that it has to do with: lift, free speed, gravity, patience, hip tension, bouncing, pulling like there is no tomorrow, smoothing out edges, paddling in a box, single stroke ups, cadence, flexibility, being gymnastic, releasing edges, eyes, fall lines, noise, neuro pathways, and so many more intangibles that I am sure I will focus on many of them through fall and winter training as I experiment with them.  While I have not been able to regularly paddle since coming to Europe I am extremely excited to try my new tricks the moment I get home!


Monkey see as Monkey do: Nic and Bug playing in the rain at Camping du Lac, Foix, France 2010

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Learning to Coach

I have spent the past two years of my life focusing on learning to paddle and race a slalom boat.  I have met a great many number of paddlers and proceeded to wrack their brains about how to do moves faster, smoother, better than the next.  I have also met coaches who I have mined for information about everything from racing schedules to nutrition to training plans and beyond.  However this past week I have started to discover a new phase of my life: Coaching.

Starting this past Monday I arrived in Foix, France with the US Junior National Slalom Team for the 2010 Junior World Championships.  I came with the intent of supporting the team and learning more about improving my own paddling by watching and interacting with others.  What is actually happening is that I am being called on by both the other coaches and the athletes to serve as another coach.  The first day that this happened the athletes were doing a thirds workout down the course and each coach was given a section to watch and provide feedback.  Meaning: I got my own section!  While that may not seem like a daunting task seeing as I have devoted a fairly large portion of my time to being one of the athletes, it is.  It requires me to focus on each run and analyze to most minute detail in a split second.  In addition to my own analysis of what the athlete has just done, I must understand the water and what is happening independent of the boat on the water.  Then I must put them together and analyze the relationship between the two.

The technical aspect of coaching was only my first great fear.  The second great fear, and possibly more important, is that in terms of ability I am more of a peer to many of these junior athletes than anything else.  While I have developed relationships with them as a mentor, friend, and occasional training partner, earning the respect of a high level athlete and providing constructive criticism is completely different.  As an athlete myself I look for people that I believe have the most experience, communicate in a fashion that I relate with, and understand me as a person and an athlete.  There is a respect involved in a coach athlete relationship that is unique to anything I have ever encountered before.  Here I was asked to not only develop and gain that respect from the athletes, but to have it immediately. 

Gaining the respect of the athletes has been the easier problem to tackle thus far.  Although I feel that this always an ever evolving situation, for myself it has proven more manageable this trip.  I am coaching an awesome group of kids between sixteen and eighteen that I first met several years ago.  I know them extremely well.  This makes my transition from athlete to coach much easier.  Instead of calling athletes over and telling them to fix a stroke or a line, my tact has been to generate a thought process. I ask them what they think of a certain move.  Then I ask them to look at the water with me and analyze it.  Lastly we consider their strategy to come up with best solution to the problem.  In essence, I am having a conversation with them, almost athlete to athlete, about the best way to solve the gate sequence.  This not only takes some of the pressure off of me to solve the entire problem by myself, but forces all of us to actively think of appropriate solutions. 

Thus far I believe that my thought generation method of coaching is working well.  I do not presume to tell the athletes what to do, and they respect that.  But I do take time to look at the problem and help them break it down from a different perspective, which they again respect.  Hopefully, with a little more experience, some more knowledge, and a little confidence this can evolve into my own real coaching style.

Learning the more technical aspects of coaching is far more difficult than creating relationships with my athletes. Slalom is an experienced based sport.  When you look at top racers, you realize that they are late twenties to early thirties athletes who all started racing at the age of ten.  Many things are naturally learned through touch and feel, however there is a different side that must be learned through pure analysis.  This is the part I struggle with the most.  Having spent the last two weeks in Europe helping the US National Slalom Team compete at the first and second World Cups I have watched numerous athletes.  I have learned a lot by analyzing and comparing, but as one of my best friends Erik Amason once told me, “You do not know, what you do not know.”  He meant that at a certain point you exhaust the obvious basic knowledge and need the help of someone more experienced to share their wisdom. I reached that point earlier this week.  I realized that I was telling athletes repeatedly to push farther into eddies, drive harder, stay in the center of the gates, and all of the basic things that you learn as an early racer.  What I was craving, and still am, is a more analytical, deeper look into how to analyze the water, athlete, and then the combination of the two. 

My solution was to sit next to another one of our coaches, Nic Borst, during a free session.  We gave the athletes the afternoon to explore the water wherever they wanted.  Nic sat down and I followed him to the water side where I listened to him tell athletes different things about the water and particular moves.   As the athletes flowed down the course I began to ask him about each one.  Why does athlete A do this?  Why don’t they do this?  Why are some smooth and others bouncy?  What’s the different between being a bow or stern paddler?  Where can athlete B gain speed? And so on until I ran out of questions and just asked him to tell me everything he knew.  At which point he looked at me confused and said that wasn’t possible because there was just too much. I needed to ask a pointed question to get an appropriate answer.  I respect that.  What I have decided to do is continue in my quest for knowledge.  Ask questions whenever possible and generate conversation.  I believe that is the only way that I am going to become a better athlete and coach. 

What I have really learned from all of this however is to respect my coaches!  Their job is much harder than I ever gave them credit for.  Period.

There is a wealth of knowledge out there that is mostly untapped.  For any of us to be better racers and coaches we must learn to ask the right questions and take advantage of it.  We must also work to pass it on to the next generation if we want to see this sport, or even just the finer points of paddling, survive.  I sincerely want to be a part of that knowledge transfer.  I want to turn everything I have learned into helping me become a better racer, but also one day, maybe sooner rather than later, be the one standing on the bank with a video camera and stop watch creating endless problems for my athletes to solve.

Thursday, July 1, 2010


This blog has been a long time overdue.  I have been thinking about creating one since the first day that I started training and traveling to race kayaks back in 2008.  What actually got me in gear was coming to Europe for the summer this year and realizing how hard it is to keep in touch with everyone back home.  Hi Mom!  Hi Dad!  Hi Nishi, Ashley, Otso, Jessica, Monica, Makeda, Val and everyone else!

My goals are: for everyone to join me in my adventures, share the love of kayaking that I have found, realize what the life of a training athlete is like, and to give back - whether it be to guide those coming behind me, teach someone totally new to kayak, or just allow people to fall in love with a crazy idea and adventure.

Before I start writing on a regular basis I feel that I should catch everyone up on where I have been and what I am currently doing.  In 2006 I was dared by the infamous Erik Amason to learn to kayak.  Having grown tired of throwing me down waterfalls in a plastic boat he challenged me to learn to race slalom kayaks.  I took the challenge and fell immediately in love.  I started racing in 2008 and it has been love and war ever since.

Currently, I have been in Europe for over a month.  I started out traveling with my family on the legitimate trip of a life time.  We started in Dubrovnik, Croatia and traveled through Croatia, Bosnia, Serbia, Holy Athos (the boys - only men are allowed on the island), Budapest and Istanbul (the girls - we wanted to play while the boys were being entertained by monks).

I then flew to Prague, Czech Republic to rendezvous with the US National Slalom Team where World Cup number one was held at the Troja Slalom Course.  The Slalom World Cup is a series of races held throughout the world that qualified countries may enter their top boats in. The grand finale is called the World Championships and is held in the early fall.  This year it will be in Tacen, Slovenia.  Basically, it is the best of the best racers from around the world gathering to find out who is actually the fastest.

I then grabbed a car with Hailey and Jean Thompson and drove cross continent to La Seu d'Urgell, Spain for the second world cup at the Parc Olimpic del Segre.  This was the most beautiful drive I believe I have ever seen.  We drove across Germany and stopped at the famous Irish Roman baths in Baden Baden, Germany.  We then continued through France where we decided to drive the national non-toll roads instead of the major highways.  I have never seen such beautifully peaceful country side in my entire life.  Or wanted to vomit so much from sitting in the back seat of a tiny European car loaded down with paddling gear and suitcases on crazy windy roads through the mountains.

We even made a point of driving through Andorra and stopping to get groceries.  This grocery store was bigger and better than any Walmart or Target I have ever seen.  It was so big it had escalators for the baskets!

Hailey, Jean, Michael Thompson(who joined us in Seu), and I then drove across the Pyrennees to Foix, France where we met up with the US Junior National Slalom Team.  The bi-annual Junior World Championships will be held here next weekend and I am helping to coach our amazing athletes.  Junior World Championships, like the Senior World Championships, is the best athletes 18 and under from across the world racing to see who is the fastest.  We have a group of eight awesome kids that are at the top of their game that are ready to race it out, just like the senior team, to find out which of the juniors is the best in the world.

So there, you have it.  I am exploring Foix, France with some of the neatest teenagers I have ever met.  While I wish I was on the water myself, coaching them from the side is just as rewarding.

Oh!  And today is Canada Day!  We are going to celebrate by cooking and hanging out with the Canadian Junior National Slalom Team...should be a blast!