Live from the Grand Prix, stage 1 - Big Trick Contest

The Whitewater Grand Prix is a 6 event series combining freestyle and creekboating aspects of kayaking. In 2014 it took place mostly in Quebec. In 2012 it was a race series in Chile, and Natalie competed. Check out all of Natalie's 2012 Grand Prix writeups, and here are links to the rest of the stages in the 2014 series:
Stage 2 - Boatercross
Stage 3 - Time Trial
Stage 4 - Big Wave Freestyle
Stage 5 - Freestyle
Stage 6 - Giant Slalom

Stage 1 of the 2014 Whitewater Grand Prix was a Big Trick Contest at Gladiator. Natalie and I rallied from Colorado to the Ottawa, with a whole trailer of six boats, without invitations to the event. We got to the valley a day or two before the WWGP started, and started chumming it up with the invited athletes. We were both on the alternates list, and we had been hoping for those last-minute cancellations, but we were starting to run out of last minutes. We figured that even if we didn't get into the competition, we would have a great paddling trip surfing big waves.

Natalie having some fun the day before the event
Eventually we came to the night before the event. Steve Fisher had backed out, which advanced Juanito de Ugarte off the alternates list onto the athlete roster. I had hoped that due to the extremely late notice, he wouldn't be able to make it (I know how mean it sounds), but he managed to catch a last minute flight to Canada and was indeed planning to compete. This meant that here we were, just 12 hours away from the first event, with Natalie and I both sitting at the number one alternate spot on our respective rosters. It was a very tense time, although we tried to stay calm. Ben Marr was a little hurt due to a party-related injury, Evan Garcia had that leg thing, and Anthony Yap was apparently having some visa issues that were delaying his arrival. I was watching everyone at the Wilderness Tours dining hall, hoping against all reason for someone to suddenly change careers and give me a space in the event. I was also treading that fine line between insistence and whining, trying to convince Pat to make another women's spot so Natalie could paddle.

I distinctly remember the surprise when a jersey was flopped over my shoulder from behind. Pat had been trying to get ahold of Anthony about the visa issues, and the decision was finally officially made that he was out and I was in. I was super stoked, but at the same time crushed that Natalie couldn't compete along side me. We were going to wait until the day of the event itself to see if anything could be done to get Natalie in, but chances were slim.

On the day of the event, the rain broke and we had warm sunny weather, although the water was still frigid. Gladiator was actually much lower than when it is usually surfed, but it was still a great wave. At high water, the rapid containing the wave is a very serious affair, but at these levels, it was almost relaxing. There was still a big ledge below the wave, but the water was moving slow enough that it wasn't an immediate concern. The wave had a big shoulder that was fluctuating around, and a huge pitted section to surfer's right. It was a very solid feeling wave, giving up some big air pretty much whenever you were in control enough to try moves.

We broke into two heats (plus a third heat for the women) with me in heat two. I sat on the rocks and watched the first few rides of the first heat, but soon started feeling the nerves and anxiety, so I went to a nice calm section of water just upstream and paddled a warmup workout. Time seemed to move at a crawl, but eventually it was time to activate the machine and throw some tricks.
Awesome air support

With 15 of the world's best paddlers sessioning a single wave, each ride counts. I tried to keep my nerves under control, and got a flashback on my first ride. I actually did a bit of a blunt into the flashback, and then didn't air out the backstab part of the trick as much as I could have, but my goal was to get at least one trick on the books, and I did.

For my second ride, I missed the wave. On my third, I focused on the helix. It took a couple tries to get the edges to release, but once it went, I felt like I had some nice air. Unfortunately, I pulled my stern a little too hard, and ended up with a big flipturn instead of a full helix. Fourth ride, I got a big bounce while completely whited out from a splash to the face, and threw a big clean blunt.
My helix that was a flipturn instead.

Gladiator requires a hike, and the hike was a long one. By the fifth ride, we were almost out of time for our heat. I wanted an airscrew, and spent some time setting up my bounce, since I knew it was my last chance. However, I waited too long, and ended up surfing off the wave without doing any tricks.

Watching the women paddle was really tough. I felt like Natalie belonged out there. Honestly, I felt like she could have won, but obviously I'm a little biased. Either way, it was difficult to sit it out together. However, after the women's heat, we got all the competitors together for one last ride, and I missed the wave. Totally embarrassing, given the amount of preparation that went into that ride.

After the event, Natalie and I took a nice session alone together. Most of the WWGP athletes seem to be pretty tired all the time, and not too motivated to paddle. I suppose most of them have surfed Gladiator when it's good, which must be a lot better than the levels we had. I suppose that would change your motivation.

The voting on the best trick is the part that they don't talk too much about on the official website. First they put together a reel of all the tricks that people did, and had us watch it (on loop) and select our top 10 people. We voted on the person and the trick. I was stoked because there was a bit of a flaw in this system. Nick and Dane and a couple other people had impressive highlight sections, with a ton of big tricks. This meant that although a lot of people voted for them, the votes were spread out between their biggest few tricks, so that no individual trick did all that well. However, for me, my clean blunt was the only thing people were going to vote for. I hoped that the more concentrated votes would move me up on the list.

After counting up the votes, the organizers decided that it was too much of a mess. The votes were all over the place, in exactly the way I described. So they came back and had us each select our best trick from our reel, and put together a shorter edit with just those chosen tricks in it. Watching that edit, things changed immensely. A lot of people that I had thought were doing pretty well were suddenly not all that spectacular. We re-voted, and got the results that you see online. Some tricks of particular note were Mat Dumolin's huge roundhouse, Chris Gragtman's entry move, and EJ's mystery flip.

Sandra Hyslop gets her rap pants on.
Straight from the hood.
My votes and a couple notes for the big trick contest.
Overall, I think most people were pretty happy with this event, and were stoked on a good start to the Grand Prix. Everyone was really optimistic for the water to rise suddenly, but it had actually been dropping slowly for the couple days that we had been there, so Natalie and I had our doubts. Next up was travel to the Rouge river, for the boatercross.

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