Live from the Grand Prix, stage 5 - 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 4 - Big Wave Freestyle

Stage 6 - Giant Slalom

Stage 4, the big wave comp at Black Mass, had been the low point of the series for me. However, things started to take a turn for the better that very night. Joel came back to the hotel room pretty late and didn't snore at all. Natalie and I woke up bright and early to learn that the day was a stakeout day, which basically meant free day. There had been a lot of talk about a big green wave way upstream on the Mistissibi, which everyone kept saying would be perfect for our surf boats. We loaded up a small crew of the two of us, Tino Speicht, Graham Ball, and Erik Boomer, and headed up to check the new wave out, with the plan of trading off the medium Element between whoever could fit in it.

After thinking we were lost, losing our trailer license plate, and listening to the super scratched and skippy Django Unchained soundtrack all the way through, we finally found the wave. It was a little high for sure, and the wave looked just barely surfable, but there was a nice eddy and we had nothing else to do. Getting geared up, I immediately felt the stoke begin. It built quickly.

Once in the water, it still took me several tries to catch the wave. I almost got frustrated watching Tino catch the wave every time in the medium Element, but instead I fed that energy into my growing stoke, getting to the point where I was so stoked that I was hooting and hollering in excitement just to see other people catch the wave. After maybe 45 minutes or so, I finally got a ride on there, and was even more stoked. The wave was like a wild stallion, or at least, it's sort of how I imagine a wild stallion would be if I knew anything about horseback riding. It was very big and smooth, but it would build up and crash, then flatten out again, which led to some really interesting moments. At any given instant, it seemed as infinitely smooth as Skookumchuck, but the changing shape made it much more exciting.

After another trancelike couple tries, I caught a second ride, and managed to throw a pretty massive clean blunt. I bounced in time with a crash, so that suddenly while I was in the air, the wave dropped out from underneath me and I was flying. A ride or two later, I managed to get an airscrew that was similarly large. The day soon faded into a blur of paddling up the eddy at a medium workout pace, trying the wave (maybe catching it, but often not) and repeating. Every now and then I managed to get a trick or two, but they were very rare. However, I was still very stoked. Whenever anyone managed to catch the wave, I would cheer, and whenever a trick was thrown, I would go nuts. The only tricks I remember were a huge panam by Natalie, a blunt and an airscrew from Graham (although his skirt imploded on the airscrew), and a ton of different tricks from Tino. However, it wasn't about the tricks. I was just stoked to be on the water, not having to get in and out of my boat, sessioning a wave with a group of friends.
Frame capture from a video by Erik Boomer.

Partway through the day, another truck full of paddlers showed up, some of whom hung out on the bridge to watch, some of whom joined us in the water, mostly in creekboats. I managed to show off with one or two more tricks, but continued to just feel the stoke, watching Bryan Kirk throw some blunts and panams in his creekboat. Eventually, I noticed that I was the only one in the water, and that most of the other people were packing up to leave. Somehow I had been so blissed out that I had spent the entire day paddling, not taking a single break. I took one or two more rides all alone, thinking of a whole bunch of people. In my head, I dedicated rides to Dave Schmitt, to Will Parham, and to a few others. I finished just before sunset, and climbed out of the water exhausted. Natalie and I loaded up with huge grins on our faces and went back to have a nice dinner together. We even spotted our trailer license plate on the side of the road where it had fallen off, and stopped to grab it. It was pretty much a perfect day, although I think that during the entire session I only managed about 6 tricks total.
Jakub watches Nicole's ride at the Put-In wave.

The next morning, the Grand Prix went to the so-called Put-in Wave on the Mistissibi for a 6-trick freestyle comp. This comp was more focused on how many tricks you could do, although only your best 6 moves would count, to maintain some focus on amplitude and style. The wave was honestly not that large, but it was big enough to get inverted pretty easily. More importantly, it was a friendly and predictable wave, where most competitors could stick the majority of their moves.

On my first ride, I can't remember exactly what I did, but I barely stuck any moves. Second ride, same story. However, I maintained that easy attitude from the day before, and stayed relaxed and confident. On my third ride I managed to get 6 moves, (helix both sides, airscrew both sides, flashback and backstab). I later learned that some of my moves didn't score fully (imperfect execution), but I was still happy that even if I hadn't won the event, and hadn't had an exactly perfect ride at the top of my potential, I had at least showed what I could do. I hadn't choked.

After the event, as was becoming standard, Natalie and I sessioned the wave until we were the only ones around. Natalie made some huge progress on her clean blunt, as well as polishing up some of the details of the finishing stroke and edging on her normal blunt. She also raised a few eyebrows by showing off her helix right before and after the event. I was pretty proud there, because I don't think any of the female WWGP paddlers had a helix that was anywhere near as consistent as Natalie's. We attained back to the car through the gathering dusk feeling pretty content, only to find that someone had assumed that we wanted to do the run, and had shuttled our car to takeout for us. Luckily the lines through the rapids hadn't changed much with the higher water levels. We packed up and headed south again for the final stage of the Grand Prix.

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