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approach of an Olympian to freestyle. He was among the first to capitalize on freestyle’s discrete scoring system, creating elaborate spreadsheets to hash out routines and maximize his point-scoring potential in competitions. “EJ was the first to push everyone into having a routine,” says


Whiting. “He brought an intelligence aspect to what’s essentially a reactionary sport.” Yet EJ is also willing to have fun, play and experiment—the antithesis of the serious athlete. It was these traits that enabled him to invent some of the bouncing, spinning and twisting moves that dominate today’s ICF freestyle events. “My father has really taught me that freestyle kayaking is just


about getting out on the water as often as possible,” says Emily Jackson. “[Training is] usually all of us fooling around. But we are fooling around a specific goal and we know what that goal is each time we enter the hole.” The early freestyle events were small and decidedly one-sided


affairs. Outside of the United States and Canada, freestyle tended to attract recreational paddlers turned off by the entrenched Eu- ropean tradition of competitive slalom. “Americans always took


it seriously, but there was a European contingent that wanted it to be less competitive and more of a festival,” says EJ. “That was mostly because they weren’t very competitive then, so they wanted to downplay that part.” Meanwhile, the sport progressed, largely due to advancements


in kayak design and new tricks that were invented and perfected by freestyle pioneers like Corran Addison, Steve Fisher, Whiting and Kincaid. The Internet and an increasingly global paddling community exported the top playboating moves to all corners of the world, and the sport flourished. The 2011 World Championships included 225 competitors


representing almost 30 nations. The Europeans are catching up. O’Hara’s rise to the top demonstrates the great strides freestyle


kayaking has made, and the immediate threat posed by Europe’s powerhouses of competitive paddling. O’Hara got started in 2006, when she competed in the European Championships in Nottingham, England. She followed this up with a trip to the 2007 World Championships on the Ottawa River, where she finished 11th in K1.


Win at the Worlds, continued on page 53 www.rapidmag.com 33


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