Throughout kayaking’s history, many races have come and gone but there is one that has been around almost from the beginning of extreme kayak racing and has maintained its position as one of the top races in the world – the Adidas Sickline World Championships.
Born from humble beginnings almost ten years ago in Austria, Sickline started out as nothing more than a low-key event between friends that had the goal to hold a race on a legitimate stretch of grade 5 whitewater. Since then the popularity and prestige of the event have grown to huge proportions with almost every top whitewater kayaker/racer in the world annually attending, along with several Olympic slalom athletes and an abundance of up-and-comers.
The race is held on the Oetz river in Austria and takes place on the legendary Wellebruke rapid. Since the races conception, much harder whitewater has been descended and even raced upon but this rapid maintains its status as being a classic piece of grade 5 whitewater. It is fast, has multiple tight, technical moves and is exceptionally difficult to be consistent on.
There are many different types of people that come to this event with various reasons for entering; some want to win, some want to use it to challenge themselves and others want to get a Sickline sticker on their kayak so that they can then go home and tell people how they once competed at Sickline. For myself, my reason to enter this race was much the same as my reason to enter any other race; I like kayaking, and kayak races tend to have kayaking in them …
My goal in kayaking has always been to be the best all-round kayaker that I can be and to be able to show up to any spot in the world and shred. I am by nature not competitive but I fully understand the intrinsic link between speed, style and smoothness – “Smooth is fast, fast is smooth” and I think being able to move quickly and smoothly down a river is a pretty good test of your overall ability. Therefore, my goal for this event was to put down a really, smooth, fast and stylish lap down this challenging section of whitewater.
In order to do that, I would first have to qualify against over 130 other people on an easier section of whitewater. I honestly didn’t think that I would feel as nervous about the odds of making it in as I did but the simple fact is there are a lot of people at this race and they are all (bloody) quick. Despite some small mistakes in my qualification lap I managed to qualify in 30th place.
Delighted to be moving on into the quarterfinals and to be able to race on the actual course, I was slightly bemused when one of my friends came up to me with a facial expression that lead me to believe that he had perhaps soiled his trousers or once again been rejected by a pretty girl (or both).
“Have you seen who you’re racing against?”
“Gerd, you have to race against, Gerd (f*@king) Serrasloses”
Upon hearing this news I to had to question whether I had just made a mess in my own dry pants. Gerd Serrasolses is one of the best kayakers in the world, a previous Sickline Champion and his primary job is to go (very) fast in his kayak. There were not very many people that gave me much of a chance against Gerd. For myself, I honestly relished the chance to race against the 2015 champion. Partly because I love a challenge and there is no shame in losing to someone of his calibre but also because it meant that my race strategy was made up. There would be no thoughts of having a conservative run, I would have to go all out, guns blazing, perfect lines and with the aim to try so hard that I vomit at the finish line.
I am pleased to say that although I tried exceptionally hard and put down a run that was very close to the previous course record, I didn’t throw up a the finish line. This run was also enough to beat Gerd and advance to the next round (Sorry Gerd).
The same friend came up to congratulate me and to inform me of who I would be racing against in the semi-finals.
*Same glum, sympathetic expression*
“Dane, you have to race against Dane (Bl@@dy Jackson).
Righto, same tactic as the previous round, except I will try even harder this time.
I gave it everything I had on this run but I think unfortunately, as is true in so many instances I tried too hard and rushed moves in the wrong places, where waiting just a little bit for the kayak to settle down again would have enabled me to be quicker. I made some mistakes and had a run that was much slower than my quarterfinal lap. Dane had a blistering run and set a new course record and just like that my first Sickline race was over. I have no shame in losing to Dane, he’s one of my best friends, by far the best kayaker in the world right now and has been coming to Sickline for seven years. I only wish that he could have gone on and won the whole event, unfortunatel, he finished in fourth.
I honestly didn’t think I would like this event as much as I did. I by and large don’t like competing because I have to rest and not kayak as much as I want too in the lead up to events and then have to wait around all day to do a minuscule amount of kayaking. However, the lead up to Sickline was absolutely the best environment for progression that I have ever been in. Myself and my friends would work on laps all morning and then go and review our kayaking on video at lunch, and then go back and do more sessions and video review in the afternoon. When I think about my first lap down to my course compared to my 87th (my quarter final lap) I am really proud and happy with the progression I have made. Despite this I am far from content, due largely to one niggling thought, “I can go faster”.
The fire is lit, the motivation is there and I look forward to returning to Sickline in twelve months time after a whole year’s worth of progression. With thanks to all my friends, family and sponsors – see you on the water, Bren
Photos by Adrian Mattern and Dane Jackson