After taking a year out of freestyle largely due to a huge lack of water in Ireland as well as lack of events and I felt something was missing.
So In 2013 I went creeking and spent time in every other boat. In 2014 I picked up the Gui Gui an old 2009 Easymix XL+ and after just a couple of sessions I found out what was missing. It was the feeling of huge loops and clean releases, the sound of the hull hitting the water, it was, my love for freestyle, my appreciation of paddling a competitive comfortable boat again the stiffness and light weight of the carbon and the way it teases the water around it.
Having spent a solid spring back at my local spot I was firing again, relearning how to go left and linking splits with tricky woos I was feeling fairly happy with my hole boating ability again. So when my Kiwi friend Jason Searle called to say he was heading to the Freestyle world cup event I didn’t take too much convincing and booked flights to World Cup 1 in Millau, France as part of the Natural Games
The beginning of June I headed out to king of the alps, an event I first went to in 2013 and loved so had it planned for a long time, even sponsoring the event this year.
Unfortunately during training for the event I landed heavily through the race course section hyper extending my arm and reinjuring a niggling rotator cuff injury that I’ve tried to ignore for some time, this left me with 10 days to get fit, unfortunately I’m pretty useless at resting and ended up visiting City Physio in Lucan Village just 3 days before I flew looking for a miracle unfortunately Una had used all her miracles for that day but diagnosed and advised me superbly showing me where to tape and what the issues were.
So off I headed for Millau boat bagged and kit packed the super friendly people at Ryanair took good care of her getting her to France undamaged, I picked up my wagon for the week a lovely VW Caddy the perfect tool!
My first thoughts in reaching Millau were just WOW! As part of the Natural Games the scale and set up of the event were insane. Huge stages, bike jumps, climbing walls and Para gliders absolutely everywhere.
The freestyle spot was a tight formed hole created on the whitewater course running through the site, a small spurred channel from the river made for an impressive low volume spot, a feature other countries should really take note of, it is that easy to create a feature.
The town of Millau was tight and compact with enticing alleys leading into beautiful squares and markets, as the nations arrived the hole started to get busy. Unfortunately I got on for an early practice soon after arriving, on my third ride as I went to reach for the tricky, I was left in immense pain and a few failed roll attempts and a lucky roll on the left had me in a lot of pain. A couple of the paramedics saw this and came to assist, it took three of us to get my cag deck off to start and by then the shoulder had swollen up and they insisted to take me to hospital, The one joy of the scale of the event that athlete badge fast tracks you through the waiting rooms and they got me straight in, they thought I had dislocated the shoulder but because of the swelling they were cautious, I knew it hadn’t popped but the pain and swelling were awful so I managed to leave the hospital with a foam sling and plenty of anti inflammatorys and told paddling wouldn’t be a good idea so soon. So I discarded the sling as I couldn’t drive or boat with it and decided id take a break from paddling, at least until the swelling drops.
That evening air strikes in France left many paddlers travelling back from the Payette River Games stranded and delayed, including Jason who was stuck in Toulouse so I set about a 6 hour round trip to go get him, arriving back in Millau at 0510 and to bed.
Luckily the following day was a rest day before the event so I stayed off of the water, by the time the competition came around the swelling had gone and shoulder was well taped up so made a ride plan to hit my loops and see how they felt then if they were good start on the space godzillers before moving into cartwheels. Unfortunately as I dropped intothe feature I could feel the pull on my shoulder so just hit a loop with air bonus in each ride to get my name on the score sheet and prove I was there. A whole spring of paddling well and I couldn’t even be competitive due to injury.
The standard was high with some huge rides with Sebastian owning the hole. Along with local hero Mathieu Dumoulin back from winning the Payette with a 2100 point ride firing on plenty of cylinders unfortunately with the flight saga his boat and kit had not made the event yet so he managed to borrow some to get through prelims.
the competition was set to be a stormer.
In between the freestyle we spent time enjoying the event with other high profile competitions going in and huge crowds around it was a great atmosphere.
By day, an adventure sports festival, by night, a 3 night music concert.
We spent the first night enjoying the concert from a hot tub in our athlete VIP area, the second night we had an official opening where we ended up on stage in front of the crowds,
And the third night was a total washout, more in a sec,
The finals went off with three rides best ride counts with solid rides from all. The small technical hole really served up a treat for consistency and composure ensuring all athletes really show the judges every trick, while looking for those bonuses eventual winner Seb was really ruling the spot from prelim to final he had it dialled and was paddling so well throughout scoring consistently 1400-1700+ point rides
After the event we were just deciding about dinner when the heavens opened, we were in one of the most intense rain storms I’ve seen, wearing tshirts and shorts as the day had been hot we were now fleeing the island in a thunderstorm, a mad change of weather which meant the concert had to be cancelled and 20,000 people had to get off the island.
The Natural Games is one of the biggest events I had attended with paddlesport really taking a centre stage, it was great work by the French Ferderation and the ICF to host a World Cup event on such a great stage, il definately be back one day in the future.