Britain make a splash in kayaking world
Nation’s finest show dedication to an unlikely craft by knocking United States off their perch, writes Marcus Armytage
For the first time in the F niche sport of freestyle kayaking, Great Britain knocked the Americans off the top of the medals table at the World Championships in San Juan, Argentina, last week.
Claire O’hara won two golds, one in a “squirt boat” which, like a submarine, seems to spend more time under water than on it, and the other in a “float boat”, which fits a more conventional definition of what we expect from a waterborne craft.
Ottilie Robinson-shaw, 16, won gold at junior level (15-18). In her final, she nailed a “Mcnasty”, which, quite apart from being something you can get from a fast-food outlet, is a 180-degree horizontal turn followed by a forward rolling loop.
Robinson-shaw’s dedication is second to none; after a 12-hour drive from San Juan across the Andes to Santiago, the nearest international airport, and a 14-hour flight, her first port of call after arriving in London on Wednesday was a “paddle” at Lee Valley. She was finally home at 10pm and up for school yesterday at 6am.
I do not suppose the Inuits ever dreamed that when they first knocked together a “qajaq” from a whalebone frame and seal skins some 4,000 years ago, that trying to get this form of transport to do tricks most of us can perform only with a wet bar of soap would be one of the outcomes.
Though the Devizes to Westminster canoe race passes by a little too close
They get their transport to do tricks most of us can perform only with a wet bar of soap
for comfort, my only experience of kayaking is probably more in keeping with Inuit intentions.
It was on honeymoon. Before my wife and I set off in a two-man canoe down river between camps on the Zambezi, our guide, in a one-man boat (ergo, no one else to blame if he sailed too close to a hippo, crocodile or bathing elephant) announced that what we were about to undertake was, in his experience, the ultimate relationship-breaker because of the arguments a bit of wayward steering was likely to cause. We survived.
Now, I do not like to drop names but, in terms of kayaking, I happen to know Cathal Mccosker. He and Leon Harris are in the Guinness Book of Records for circumnavigating Ireland’s 1,200-mile coastline in a sea kayak in 67 days.
It was 1994 and they set off with the puritanical approach – just a tent, a dry set of clothes, a golf club and guitar but no radio, phone, tracking device or sat nav – and having asked the RNLI if they could raise funds for them. Assuming that their lifeboats would be called out to rescue them more than once, the gist of their reply was “on no account put our name anywhere near your project, you fools”.
Naturally, they had adventures aplenty including 40-foot swells, jelly fish infestation, paddling into an active Army firing range, and incredible Irish hospitality wherever they pitched up.
The nearest Mccosker, who taught Bear Grylls biology at Eton, came to disaster was, ironically, on land.
They were invited to a banquet at which Mccosker ate his first artichoke. But no one had told him it is generally a good idea to discard the “choke” and he spent most of the night gagging up bits of organic fluff. His book Man Up and Paddle remains a classic of that sometimes over-looked genre, kayaking literature.
Winner: Ottilie Robinson-shaw at the World Championships