What can I say that hasn’t been said about The Hurley Classic – the biggest and best freestyle kayak competition and awesome paddle fest in the UK. 200 paddlers from around the world, plus supporters, battling for honours in freestyle, boater cross, sup racing and world record rolling over two days supported by SAS, Thames Valley Freestylers and some of the biggest names in boating including Jackson Kayaks and Squarerock.
After my first visit to Hurley last year I couldn’t wait to be back and despite the lack of rain this year I knew Jacko Jackson and his team would work miracles and ensure everyone had a great time. For me the classic really started in the dark with the team freestyle competition. Fellow Squarerock Team paddlers Hugh Mandelstam, Michael Shaw and I tried our hardest on the single gate to throw some moves and combine our tricks. We had fun, I have no idea how we did but we had a great time in our Rockstars playing king of the wave in front of a large noisy crowd!
Afterwards I was asked if I would like to paddle in the floodlit showcase final with Sophie and the senior ladies. I felt really honoured to be asked. The Showcase final consisted of two standard ICF runs each on the single running gate. Although the wave was great for surfing I think everyone found it very difficult to retain after tricks and so the overall scores proved relatively low. I didn’t really find a sweet spot on the small flushy wave and the best I could score was a spin but I was happy with joint fourth although I secretly wished for some more water for the big competition on Sunday. Congratulations to Nuria on a well deserved win in difficult conditions.
After evicting some chap called Stephen Wright and his soggy kit and sandals (in November in England!) from the Squarerock Team RV (Aaron’s van) and a quick change I was ready for the traditional Hurley Banquet and the Thames Valley Freestylers Award ceremony. After hot food I felt good but even better I was honoured to receive the TVF Junior Female Paddler of the Year award. Thanks guys and everyone who voted for me. I love the trophy and the special edition winners hoody.
Overnight the rain came and after delaying the start of the big second day Jacko got the second gate open. Suddenly Hurley was transformed and we had a feature truly worthy of the competition but great for everyone to have fun as well. On the way to the river I was watching the live feed and could see some loops flying and big wave moves being landed as all the competitors took turns in their 30 minute heats to land as many unique tricks as they could to battle for class honours, personal pride or a place in the super finals.
My heat included fellow Sweetwater Coaching ASP superstar Rob Crowe who was a pleasure to watch as always. For me the two gates looked perfect; I paddled a very similar level at the GB selections in January and I knew I had a chance to land big loops and Godzillas if all went well. I used my recently acquired carbon Jackson Rockstar (thanks Claire’O) and despite real fears of hitting concrete I decided to just try and go big in the hole gate rather than the more flushy wave gate.
Overall my heat simply flew. First run was scrappy but second try I landed a nice loop with decent air and a little spin. The loop was maybe a little crooked to score but I could hear awesome GB coach Bruce Jolliffe shouting encourage on the microphone and the crowd screaming and cheering and that was it, I was going for it, all or nothing. My third run was my favourite of the day, a tidy spin for set up followed by a McNasty straight to an air loop. Within the next few runs I battled to get set up correctly on the tricky feature but I managed to land Godzillas including one with huge air.
I don’t know which of the moves scored with strict ICF judging but you can judge for yourself from the video. However at the end of the day I was absolutely astonished to hear my runs had not only won the junior women title but also ranked me first out of all the elite women meaning not only a place in the super final but the coveted top spot going last into the final runs.
Although the advantage of top spot was a truly unexpected and massive surprise and encouragement it did ring a little alarm in my head. Last month at the hugely competitive British Championships I had managed to place second overall in the ladies heats but then crash in the finals. Would that happen again. Would I suffer a massive high and then a bigger low?
One thing from the British Champs I had learned was to preserve energy for the big event. At the champs I had been running around between freestyle and Squirtboat all day and it took its toll on my energy levels for the finals. This time I was determined not to make the same mistake and once again I retreated to Squarerock basecamp for a rest and a chat with the awesome Stephen Wright and his sandals.
As darkness fell and the floodlights came on the tension and the atmosphere intensified. Suddenly I was being told I had to change and be on the feature in 15 minutes. So in something of a rush I was back into my Sandiline kit and searching for a launch spot. Luckily being last to go meant I had time for my usual warm up on the flat and after adjusting my Jackson Happy Seat I was ready and strangely calm. I honestly didn’t care about the result, I had made the finals and that was enough right up until I hit the wave, heard the crowd and then I wanted to win!
Going last into the my first run I knew Lowri Davies was in the lead with 140 points so I knew I had to do something impressive and so I decided to just try and go big and maybe score some air bonuses. Straight off I managed a pretty big air loop and I could hear the crowd screaming. Later looking back at the live feed I heard Bruce saying it was my “massive signature loop” which has a nice ring to it! That said I’m not sure it even scored as whilst it started and landed straight it has a lot of twist in the air which the judges may not have liked. After the loop I got rather stuck on the tricky foam pile but managed to roll off without flushing and set up for a Godzilla which I landed with decent air. Finally at the 10 second buzzer I nearly manage a McNasty but didn’t land it straight enough to score.
So how did it score? 140 points. The same as Lowri and in the equal lead. Two more runs each but no one really improved and that was it. I had either won the senior Hurley Classic or at worst come second. How would they decide the final position? I had absolutely no idea but all I could do was watch the men’s finals and wait for the awards.
It was great to see the all the top guys in action and my new van friend and Jackson Kayak superstar Stephen Wright achieve a much deserved win. He is simply an inspiration for squirt boating and freestyle and a really nice guy. He gave me so much help and encouragement over the weekend I cannot thank him enough.
The awards finally began with SUP and Boater Cross results and the junior men freestyle title for another fellow Sweetwater Coaching ASP paddler Harry Price.
I was honoured to receive another lovely glass trophy for the junior women freestyle title and be able to congratulate Lowri for a well deserved senior win. It was super close and super inspiring to paddle with all the senior women. Thanks for the opportunity. I later learnt Lowri has been competing at Hurley since the year I was born so hopefully I have a few more years to claim the ultimate prize!
Thanks to those whose help and support are invaluable personally especially Aaron and Rhona from Squarerock, Denis Newton from Sweetwater Coaching and the Athlete Support Program, Sandiline for awesome kit and Jackson Kayaks for the rocking 2016 Rockstar.
Finally more thanks to Jacko Jackson and all the organisers and helpers, Thames Valley Freestylers, SAS and all the corporate sponsors. Thank You for making it happen every year.