So you want to win?

Well there’s a lot of things you need to learn to be a good competitor and make the most of the skills you’ve been sculpting, because after all if you’re training for a competition you could be the best on the water in training but the time it matters is when you cross that boil line for the big fourty-five.

I’ve always been told that I paddle at my best when I’m competing and more so when the pressure is on. This is down to a lot of contributing reasons, which I hope to dig into a bit to help you make the most of those precious fourty-five seconds.

Be clever

Know the rules, understand the feature you’re competing on, analyse your fellow competitors and be intelligent in the way that you approach the competition.

You could be the best kayaker in the world but if you go for the wrong move in the wrong place, your run could be over before you’ve done your second trick.


Give yourself enough time to dry your kit, check it and keep it safe.

Years ago David Bainbridge was leaving everyone far behind on his way to crushing a World Championship C1 win and while kayaking is one of the friendliest sports you will come across, competition and nerves do strange things to people. When he was getting ready for the next stage he found that a jealous peer had cut his leg straps in a hope of sabotaging his performance.


The night before – keep it simple, try to avoid cheeses, fried and excessively fatty foods and don’t have a big night on the beers or both you and your results will suffer in the morning.

Rest up

If you’ve got bags under your eyes and your body hasn’t had time to recover, how can you hope to compete to your full potential?

Everyone’s different, but you know how long you need so get your head down.

Wake up

It’s the big day and you need to be awake, alert and firing on all cylinders.

My morning routine would include a shower, big breakfast (no fried foods!) and a tasty cup of coffee.

Stick to your routine

This is a big one, it will work in the same way as your warm up routine and will allow you to control (as much as possible) how much stimulus you are subjecting yourself to.

Keep your morning routine the same through training, so that when the competition rolls around you know exactly what to expect.

A good example of this was when I made it to the final of the World Championships in 2013 and my dad asked me what I wanted to do the morning before competing – I just asked him to treat it like any other day, like any other stage in the competition. That way I could keep calm and control the level of stimulus affecting my nerves and adrenaline so I was in the correct competitive state that suited me.


Put together a playlist of songs that get you pumped up and listen to them every time you go kayaking, but try to keep them for your journey to the wave so that you associate them with an energetic performance in your boat. I know most top athletes will use this trick, including Dane Jackson when he warmed up before winning his last two senior men’s world titles.

Some favourites from my current playlist:

Bleeding Out – Imagine Dragons

Hands in the Air – Sire Castro

Art House Audio – Bliss N Eso

Fuel To Fire – Rationale

Let It Be (Torn Remix) – Labrinth

Warm-up routines

Always run through the same warm-up, whether you’re getting on at your home spot or about to lay down the run of your life in a final at the World Championships, because consistency is the key when you’re managing your mood.

Find your mental focus

Everyone has one; you just need to figure out what it is. For me it’s having fun and showing off, if you see me dropping in with a smile on my face, it’s because I love competing and if I approach it too systematically it won’t flow or feel natural.

Hissy fits!

I’ve seen boats thrown, paddles thrown, tears and I even once saw someone hit their paddle on the cockpit of their boat so hard it snapped, they then fell over and swam!

The hardest part of competing is when it doesn’t go right for you, but letting everyone know how upset you are just tarnishes your reputation and even your sponsors, so if you have to do it, do it when no one’s around. Then use it as motivation for next time.

There’s a lot more to the complex game of competitive freestyle kayaking but these basics should get you started towards the big win, and remember to enjoy it!