Claire O’hara: The definition of freestyle; Frustrating, Challenging, Addictive, Awesome, Fun!

Claire O’hara shares her experiences of learning freestyle tricks whilst preparing for the European Championships during her recent visit to Plattling, Germany…

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Claire O’hara

Now, I have noticed over the last 16 years of freestyle kayaking that freestyle is an exceptionally hard sport. The tricks are not easy to learn. They take months if not years to learn and years if not a lifetime to master. When you paddle you train for hours after hours, spending most of that time falling on your face as you begin to just start to figure each trick out. Then as you begin to get it, the water levels change, you move to a different river , change to a new kayak or simply forget one key part and its like you a beginner again and the learning process re starts again. In essence the truth is as a freestyle kayaker you have to commit to the fact that no matter how much you train, no matter how good you get, there is always more to learn, you will never truly be at the top.

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Claire O’hara flys to win gold in 2011

6 years on from winning my first freestyle worlds i’m back in Plattling and back to square one. Or at least thats how I felt when I first arrived at Plattling 2 weeks ago. After 4 years of massively advancing my freestyle hole boating and then 2 years with a lot of focus on wave boating I was super excited for this years European Championships. A major international event back in an awesome hole that I know well and have had a lot of success at in the past. On the plane on the way over I had images in my head of flying high over the Isar river in my shiny new 2016 carbon rock star throwing clean mcnastys, lunar loops, split split tricky wus combos and more.

I arrived late with Den super excited for our Eater holidays training camp. We got up early and drove straight to the feature. The level was low and the eddy was packed. Spanish, German and Finish paddlers all over to get some early easter holiday training in. The wind blew, there was a crisp snowy bite in the air and not a single glimpse of sun. At a mere 8 degrees it was officially 30 degrees lower than my now normal training temperatures in Australia. But, that didn’t put us off. Den (injured) set up cameras and got ready to coach. I jumped on, did a quick warm up and got ready to drop down for my first run. Still super excited, I dropped in for an entry mcnasty. I hit the wave, ready to throw and ‘boom’ I power flipped on my face and flushed. As I hit the river, the ice cold water smacked me hard in the face, instantly waking me up, clearing out every sinus possible even through my nose clip and ear plugs. Shaking it off I paddled into the eddy and joined the back of the que.

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The feeling of excitement as my first big trick goes

It hard to describe how it feels when your go to moves don’t work, when your so excited to fly and instead you just wipeout. So slightly deflated I decide to change tactic and go back to the very basics looking for a nice big loop. A move I have been able to throw almost effortlessly for over 14 years. I surfed out to the shoulder to set up and surfed back in to the perfect spot. I stomped forward and went for the plug and ‘swoosh’ I found myself not in a massive air loop but in a perfect front blast. Trick after trick the trend continued I found myself either in a blast, power flip or flushed. Several rides later and I found myself contemplating if I could actually paddle and wether in fact I had dreamt every trick I have ever done in the past. Then almost 40 minutes after getting on the water, ‘boom’ I finally got my first trick. A sweet right phoenix momnkey and it felt so great. Every question of doubt disappeared as I got the rush of adrenaline and freedom as I flew through the air and land smack onto the green face.

The next 10 days I worked intensely with Den paddling 2-3 times most days. All short, focused, high powered sessions. Slowly I began to figure the intricate changes required for each move to work at this spot. The set ups, the timings, the power and tempo changes, the recovery’s and the sequences. It wasn’t easy. At times it was challenging and frustrating beyond belief. But, every time it worked every spins, cartwheel, mcnasty. phoneix monkey, tricky wu and lunar it felt so great. So good in fact that every time each moved worked it reminded me why I love this sport so much.

Every day the levels would change and throughout each day the levels would fluctuate. Every moment of every session the feature was ever so slightly different. A new challenge requiring adaptations to every trick. But with the help of the stoke and technical mastermind of Den, the motivation and drive of everyone else, here, the long distance motivation from Jez and my own personal drive and goal to be ready for the competition only 2 months out. I cracked on with the battler to re learn how to paddle well at plattling once again.

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Helping out the next generation

Not fully realising in the moment how much the standard and level i’m aiming for this year has dramatically increased since the Worlds here in 2011 and how many of the moves I am already throwing now I would have been totally stoked to have thrown 6 years ago but now don’t fully cut it yet. It is highly likely that the score that I won the last world here with might not even get me into the finals in this event. So the challenge is bigger than ever, the drive to keep pushing forwards learning the big technical moves whilst still staying consistent with the base moves to ensure a full ride with a good depth of tricks. What’s even more exciting is its not just me. Everyone is pushing the limits in every single discipline and age category. Seeing Junior girls throwing mcnastys, other senior women throwing phoneixs, lunars and tricky wu’s and the men throwing crazy combinations of tricks. It’s going to be another exciting year for freestyle kayaking and in only 6 weeks time the best of the best in Europe will be here to battle it out and put this feature to the test.

Here is my wrap up video from the week. We shot it as training video so the qualities not amazing but its great to see the moves working here once again. Enjoy…

Thanks to Den for an awesome trip and everyone who paddled out here with me over the last 2 weeks.

Thanks also to all my sponsors with special shout out to Jackson Kayak, Kellys White Water Park, Peak UK, Sweetwater Coaching, 6 Degrees Fit, Murky Water and Mitchell Blades for making this training opportunity possible and providing me with the fitness, technical expertise and an awesome boat and brilliant new kit. Also massive thanks to Rosi and Seb once again for opening up their home for us to stay very comfortably in their apartment only a matter of minutes away from the wave.

Now I head home to recover and reset and keep training ready for my next trip to Plattling in May for the big event.