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

The Daily Telegraph - Sport - - Final Whistle -

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

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