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Ken Whiting gave up everything to prepare for the 1997 World Rodeo Championships. He quit his job as a raft guide on the Ottawa River and stopped teaching whitewater kayak- ing courses on the weekends. For two years, he made ends meet by whittling wooden kayaks and canoes—the sort of kitsch that’s affixed to key chains and sold to tourists at outfitters’ shops. His life was freestyle kayaking, his workout regime consisting of “short, intense ses- sions combined with a lot of visits to the chiropractor.” Whiting’s efforts paid off when he slipped his Perception 3-D into Horseshoe hole below

McCoy’s Rapid on the Ottawa River and cartwheeled, spun, splitwheeled and blunted his way to a World Championship title. “When I won I was in the best shape of my life and as confident as I’ve ever been,” says

Whiting, who is now the founder and publisher of The Heliconia Press, a paddlesports and outdoors publisher in the Ottawa Valley. American Jay Kincaid’s trajectory to the top paralleled Whiting’s. After finishing second in the 2002 Pre-World Championships, Kincaid committed himself to spending “an absurd” amount of time on the water, his sights set on winning the next Worlds. “I paddled approximately 320 days in the year leading up to the World Championships,

and on about half of those days I trained specifically for freestyle competition,” says Kincaid, who now lives in Reno, Nevada. “This meant going playboating with a specific plan, much like you would experience at a basketball practice.” On his training days, Kincaid would write a workout on a piece of paper and carry it with him in his kayak in a Ziploc bag. Training was often a solitary pursuit in which he would “drill moves over and over again, work under the constraints of a stopwatch, work on fundamentals, practice the mental aspect of competition and use repetition to burn specific movements into muscle memory.” By the time the 2003 Worlds rolled around in Graz, Austria, Kincaid was a machine. He

remembers the feature for the competition as being “sticky and nasty,” one that sucked many competitors out of their boats and involved more swimming than any other biannual World Championship event to date. But Kincaid entered the munchy hole and deftly piloted his Dagger Kingpin through choreographed sequences of cartwheels, splitwheels, loops, blunts and tricky woos to victory. Like Whiting, he attributes the win to his obsessive training. Fast forward to 2011 and the story is repeated, this time at the International Canoe Fed-

eration (ICF) World Championships in Plattling, Germany. British kayaker Claire O’Hara topped an increasingly competitive women’s K1 category, upsetting defending champion Emily Jackson and veteran freestyle competitor Ruth Gordon Ebens. Her secret? Four years of dedicated training with a volunteer support crew that includes

two coaches, three video analysis experts, physiotherapists, a masseuse, a sports psychologist, a personal trainer and a strength and conditioning trainer. “It used to be you just had to be a boater,” said O’Hara, 29, in an interview after her gold medal performance. “Now you have to be an athlete.” But while O’Hara’s comments hint at a tide change in competitive freestyle kayaking,

Whiting’s and Kincaid’s experiences suggest that the world’s best have always been more athlete than merely talented or dedicated boater. What’s different is that there are now more


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