THE ROAD TO THE SURFSKI WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP
About four years ago, rumors began to circulate about the possibility of the 2023 World Championship being in Australia. This made us dream of trying to be present in the birthplace of surfski. For me, it was a distant dream that filled me with a lot of excitement.
During that time, we continued training and focusing on what was immediately ahead of us each season.
2022 arrived, bringing with it some beautiful challenges, like the European Championship in Sardinia and the World Championship in Portugal. At this one, we came with a relatively young team, and we were able to assess the international level after the hiatus caused by the pandemic, a period in which many international competitions had disappeared.
A very long season
When you face a season in September, knowing that there is a World Championship in December of the next year, but first, you have to qualify for the national team in July (because it’s the only way you understand to participate with certain sporting guarantees), you have a feeling that you are going to run a long marathon.
But as everything, it’s all about starting, so we began with a good start: powering the boat with energy in search of the best cruising speed.
October, November, and December 2002 were months of preseason with general physical conditioning and a good level of volume. Particularly in Gran Canaria, paddlers do not have much time to train. It might be the climate, the personality traits of the islanders, that we have a lot of social life or the style of our club where training is good, but there’s more to life.
January, February, and March were months of quality and starting to compete. The Eurochallenge was the first big international test and it helped us to position ourselves in a downwind of good distance and a varied participation of good level paddlers. It gave us a lot of motivation to face the second part of the season and the main objective: to qualify for the World Championship in Australia.
I think we never had the feeling that we were going to qualify, but we had the desire to be part of the national team. The moment arrived, and I don’t know if it was my perception or that of the rest of the team, but the III Spanish Cup that took place in Candás was one of the most nervous moments I have ever experienced in a competition. During those days, we tried not to talk too much about what it could mean to get any of the spots, we focused on preparing the competition strategy and we were very aware that we had to give our 110% to make the best race we could accomplish.
I remember with emotion being at the top of the Candás dock and seeing the Gran Canaria paddlers arrive in the first two positions in their category. Of the 12 spots that were at stake to be part of the national team, Gran Canaria got 8, and thus, we fulfilled the dream of making our participation in Australia with the Spanish national team a reality.
At that moment, I felt we had achieved something important. That this had not been a one season thing or the achievement of a particular athlete. I felt that it had taken many years of work and teamwork to reach this point.
How to stay motivated for three more months
I have always been one to celebrate the things that are achieved. And as this was not for less, we took a short break to face the Spanish Championship that opened the door to our last goal of the season: the trip to Australia.
We give a lot of importance to the Spanish Championship because it is practically the only competition we go to with the entire team, from Juniors to Seniors. It is the end of the season, and for those who have to continue, we like them to have a good performance, so they keep the training motivation until the last race.
After winning, once again, the National Club Championship, we were torn between two feelings: the joy of having completed a successful national season and the need to gather new energy to face the World Championship in three months. In a way, it was like starting a new season without having rested from the previous one.
But it was Australia, it was going to be a once in a lifetime experience and, as I said at the beginning, everything is a start.
The team was crucial, once again, and the twelve paddlers from Gran Canarias that were facing the preparation, gathered and made a small change to the planning and training methodology.
We focused on always training with someone, using the downwinds to add kilometers every week (whether there was wind or not), and to liven up the sessions with a little more diverse series. I think the team trained very well considering that, at that time, we had been training for more than a year and that in the entire club, there were only twelve people training at that level, the rest were in preseason.
Landing in Australia was thrilling. Experiencing the WA Week Race was incredible. Being surrounded by the best in surfskiing at the time and in the world was very enriching. And maybe a bit intimidating.
Welcome to Australia!
Life in Perth was similar, but different. It took us several days to get our bodies used to the eight-hour difference from the Canary Islands. It was dawn at 5 am and dusk at 7 pm. It was as if we had been gifted 3 more hours of sunshine a day. Suddenly, we were back to a hot summer, similar to the month of August or September in the Canary Islands.
We were mesmerized by the meticulously maintained surroundings and the immense yellow beaches with turquoise waters. In our day-to-day life, we kept similar schedules to Spain, except for lunch and dinner, which we moved a couple of hours earlier to try to go to bed early and compensate for the jet lag.
Every day we tried to train mid-morning, although it depended on the availability of the boats, since in such a distant place it takes about one or two days to have the equipment ready. Most of the team participated in ‘The Doctor’ on Saturday, to warm up for the World Cup and to check off an item on every paddler’s list by participating in this mythical race.
Looking back, it is true that it was not the best competition they had, as many of them had not yet adapted to the jet lag and did not finish with a good feeling.
After giving the athletes the time necessary to recover from this competition, we mentally faced the World Cup in SS1, which with the rescheduling to Thursday, two days earlier than planned, was promised to be a very attractive competition with fantastic wave and wind conditions.
A great result
Considering the historical result of Spain in the World Surfski Championship and taking as a reference the last World Championship in Portugal, I believe the best result Spain has achieved to date has been obtained. Even more if we consider that this has been the edition with the highest level in the history of surfski.
.At the individual level, the Spanish paddlers had great performance and fought hand to hand with experienced paddlers from other countries. I think we have to be aware that in this, as in other Olympic modalities, there is a percentage of athletes who are true professionals and have spent many years dedicated to specific training. This is not our case in particular, and nevertheless, we can say we were very competitive.
In doubles, the sum of two paddlers with good level was the perfect formula to achieve the podiums and beat the best. I do not know how it is to climb to the highest peak in the world and see the horizon, but in some way, I think we already have a complete view of world surfski. We can already say we have competed with all the world’s leading countries, we know the minutes we have ahead of us to start to take seconds and get closer to the individual podiums.
The route is clear: Specificity, sea, waves, wind, and saltpeter! We keep going into the ocean to soak in the sea and fly among the waves.
Jemma Smith, the routine of a champion
During the days that the WA Race Week was celebrated, I was able to attend one of the side events in which Jenna Smith talked about her training routine. I perceived that she had things very clear and a high level of self-knowledge, a good trait for a high level athlete.
She told us her basic training twice a day; a first session before 7am and the second one after work. She did not give many details of her training, but she hinted that it also included a significant amount of dry work. I found it interesting how she emphasized as essential the breaks she took after a competition. It is essential for her to completely rest for one or two days after an important competition.
Australia: sport as a lifestyle
When I arrived in Perth, I was amazed that there was a Lifesaving club every 5 km with the latest facilities, long hangars to store the canoes and the lifesaving boards, several motorboats and the trawlers they use for racing. As well as the changing rooms that could be considered luxurious and gyms of dreams. And this was repeated every 5km. The membership fees were very affordable, being around 60€.
I was able to see a Lifesaving competition and I saw how 6-year-old kids start with this sport through sand games related to posts. Also going in the water swimming and with nippers. On weekend mornings, competitions were organized for all ages.
Something that really caught my attention was the safety and arbitration system, apparently reliable and simple, in which everything worked by track. Each referee carried a tablet on which they could see the position of each paddler, without having to see the dorsal number. Every time a paddler crossed the finish line, their position and their time would appear. I don’t know what would have happened if the track had failed because there was no one taking times manually. I imagine they really trust the system they use.
Regarding the competition, I was surprised that all the starts were from the water and I liked how eye-catching the finishes were, with more than 30 flags in the sand following the meters of the race that, by the way, seemed a bit long for me.
I recognize I felt a bit jealous when I saw how well cared for and maintained the public spaces were. Long and green clean areas, pristine beaches, integrated and respected nature, tidy and maintained streets. Public restrooms every few km, clean and with toilet paper! Public grills for cooking in picnic areas on the beach, with tables and benches. Plenty of parking space in the street.
On the other hand, we could see they were very strict with the traffic laws, the fines were very high, and people respected the speed regulation to the millimeter. Life there was not as expensive as I expected. It might be because I come from one of the most expensive places in Spain. It is true that we had to pay even for the ice in the sodas. I really enjoyed the endless avenues to run, more than 30km long and with a lot of people doing sport.
I still have to go back to see the hidden places of the country with the wildest nature and with hardly human traces.