Ladies freestyle has made massive progress in recent years, building on a foundation laid by those inspired
to partake in freestyle paddlesport. Freestyle kayaking is a beautiful thing; a sport that is open to all, where women new to the sport get to paddle with the world’s best, in an environment that promotes a feeling of no limits and exploring how far you can go.
In light of the recent This Girl Can campaign, the performance leaps in women’s freestyle and the International Canoe Federation announcing that World Freestyle Championship team places will now be equal for senior men and women; I ask Claire O’Hara to share her experiences of getting involved in freestyle, its rewards and her journey to becoming a world-class paddler.
Claire O’Hara shares her experiences…
Paddling at my local canoe club (which are all over the UK) and an outdoor activity centre in Wales got me into this amazing sport. I started learning the basics and then got out paddling testing my new found skills on loads of incredible white water rivers across the UK.
The group I paddled with also took their kayaks surfing in the ocean and started freestyle kayaking (surfing waves on the rivers too). I saw what they could do and thought it looked super fun and wanted to give it ago. I thought if they can do it, I must be able to do it too.
Little did I know that was the start of an incredible journey which would take me all around the world. Before I knew it I was hooked on this highly technical but super fun paddling discipline. Soon I could not only surf but also spin and turn and throw front flips in my boat. As my confidence and skills grew I started feeling drawn to competitive freestyle. It seemed a natural progression – I wanted better rides with bigger tricks, and the aim of competitive freestyle is just that.
I started competing in 2001 and made the British team in 2006. It was so much fun, especially as there was very little difference between what I wanted out of my daily paddling with friends and in the competition setting.
I just wanted to be able to have fun, be the best I could possibly be and to do all the amazing tricks I had seen others do. In our sport anyone can go for national te
am selections and my friends talked me into entering. Little did I know that 10 years later that one small decision would lead me to where I am now. Competing in freestyle kayaking all around the world.
Competition is awesome. It gives me the chance to challenge myself, to improve and to work towards a goal. Even if I don’t make team, or win the event, the rewards are worth it. I get to travel to amazing places with amazing people and do the sport that I love and really enjoy.
– Claire O’Hara
When I compete; in the moment its fun and exciting, and afterwards its nice to look back on the journey and see what I learnt throughout the process, and realise what I actually achieved.
I continue to push my skills to new levels and compete at the top of my sport, I hope you find the courage and drive to follow your own passions and live out your dreams. It’s super important to just get out there and have fun!
GB Team Athlete & 8 time World Champion
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