Live from the Grand Prix, stage 4 - Big Wave Freestyle

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 1 - Big Trick Contest
Stage 2 - Boatercross
Stage 3 - Time Trial

Stage 5 - Freestyle
Stage 6 - Giant Slalom

Stage 4 was a "3 trick standard" freestyle comp on the Black Mass wave, in the Hawaii rapid on the Mistissibi river, deep in the heart of real Quebec. This was probably the low point of the series for most competitors.

The scoring was pretty simple. Each paddler had the same number of attempts at the wave. If you caught it, you had two minutes to throw whatever tricks you could. Your best three tricks were scored (with combos counting as a single trick). Sort of vaguely similar to ICF rules, there were point values for each trick, with different bonuses that the judges could add if the trick was particularly large or awesome. The goal with that scoring format was to strike a balance between pure amplitude (which we had with the big trick contest) and pure consistency (which would be rewarded with a format that scored more tricks).

We had an unusually long break before this stage, waiting for the water levels to line up. We had been kind of worried after the creek race that there wasn't any water yet in the Mistissibi river, but the ice breakup seemed to be happening just in time, so we headed north anyway. On arriving, the levels were too low, but getting close. We managed to stretch it out and wait one extra day, getting some low water Black Mass late the day before, and then on comp day, the levels were just on the low side of perfect. By the way, Natalie and I shared a hotel room with Juanito de Ugarte and Joel Kowalski, and yes, the rumors are true. Joel snores like a machine.

Black Mass is a big wave. Like many big waves, this means that it's pretty tough to surf. During the practice day, I brought my conventional plastic boat (the Dope) which was nice and easy to keep control of, but not particularly unique. I agonized over boat choice right up to the morning of the event, and eventually decided to paddle my surf kayak, the Element, for the unique wow factor and extra speed.

In practice, I took forever to get my act together, since it was a huge challenge to get in and out of the water in a composite boat. The waves hitting the shore in the eddies were like ocean waves, crashing on rocks. I managed to catch the wave on my first try, and threw a pretty big airscrew. I figured that the Element was the right boat choice.
Photo by John Rathwell.

After my one practice ride, the comp started. We cycled through the competitors pretty fast, and I was the first one to catch the wave. Feeling relatively stoked, but cautious, I decided to start conservatively, throwing a flashback, which was a little flat, then a strange clean blunt, which I didn't stick. I figured that was better than nothing, but I really wanted to hit a large trick like my practice airscrew, to maybe end up in the highlight reel. After the long hike back up, I got back in the water, watched a couple other paddlers try, then dropped in and missed the wave.
Competitors.  Not too stoked.

This is not too big a deal, I tried to tell myself. I have some tricks on the board already. However, that niggling little bit of doubt started to creep in. I hiked all the way back up again, and scouted how to catch the wave more closely. And missed it again. I started trying pretty hard to stay in the stoke zone, but it kept getting harder. I started to feel the cycle of the competition. Hike up. Drop in. Miss the wave. I kept trying to break into the stoked zone, reminding myself how awesome it was to be surfing Black Mass, which had been one of the waves I had been wanting to surf for almost a decade. I managed to avoid full frustration, but I was not fully stoked and relaxed. At one point I did manage to catch the wave, but I was a little too greedy for the big moves, and flushed off in a front surf while still waiting for a more perfect setup. Eventually it came to my last attempt. I got as centered as I could, and honestly felt pretty stoked, but still blasted right through the wave without catching it.

During the event, I had been very focused in on myself, but it turned out that many other competitors had been having a very similar experience. As soon as the event ended, there was a big crowd of paddlers waiting for revenge surfs. There was a nice long string of rides where the more relaxed competitors busted out their biggest tricks. I myself managed to catch the wave finally, and threw a pretty big clean blunt. So on the rides immediately before and after the competition I managed to perform, but not when it counted. My mojo needed some work. I relaxed for a while on the bank, and eventually it was just Natalie and I sessioning the wave. Everyone else hustled off to the hotel to hear the results. Even in the relaxed environment, with just the two of us, I couldn't seem to fully re-engage my groove. This day was basically the low point of the whole series for me.

This photo of the same trick also by John Rathwell, since we don't really have any other shots.

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