Last few months I’ve been spending some quality time in my motherland, moving around the country a lot. I visited my Siberian home (in Novosibirsk), my parents and Altay, came back to central region (Moscow, Saint-Petersburg) and drove North to Karelia and Finland. Then Pringle came and joined me, it turned into a new level of involvement for me. In the process of trying to show and share with him all the best of Russia I enjoyed this trip myself way more than expected. Lets start from beginning.
First on my Russian competition tour was Neitikoski Piter Rodeo Champ, which was held on a Finnish playspot in Lieksa (500 km from Saint-Petersburg) on 30th May. This was new place for me, but one of the favourite places for Saint-Petersburg and Moscow freestylers. I can definitely see why: located in the beautiful pine forest (full of berries and mushrooms in summer) near the comfortable campsite, playspot itself is very consistent, retentive, friendly and soft, works throughout whole season and has a lake as an eddy. This is really a dream place for summer freestyle camps, so we planned one for August.
The competitions was very enjoyable, no stress, many friends and nice level. I was glad to get some solid rides and got second after Paula Varonen – my Finnish friend from all the international events, she knows this playspot very well and threw some solid rides. But this competition was really not about results; main priority was fun, sense of community and enjoying friendly wave together. I also was glad to see many new female paddlers participating in competitions. Freestyle and SUP race went in the same day and in the same evening prize giving drifted into the celebration, which continued until six in the morning. It is easy to loose track of time in white nights, northern sun does not really set in that time of the year, you can paddle twenty-four hours.
After beautiful drive through flowering spring countryside I came back to Saint-Petersburg and shortly went to get Pringle from the airport.
Second stop was Okulovka – the only whitewater course in Russia. The competition here was organised by IPPO – Orthodoxal Christian organization. On the way to event we stopped to have a dip in a holy spring nearby. The water was very cold, but it worked amazingly well, we felt completely refreshed and renewed, even five minutes ago we were sleepy and tired after whole night driving. On the opening ceremony we had a priest and choir, little service, prayer and singing, which did look a bit surreal, as religion and kayaking seem to had not too many links in our minds before. Not any more though, IPPO very successfully organised this whitewater festival for the second year now and even throw some money as a prizes in each category in all five different disciplines. Freestyle kayakers, slalom athletes and river runners coming together, mixing and competing with each other in friendly atmosphere on not too serious terms, but good prizes make it interesting and exciting.
The playspot here is a bit tricky and took a couple of sessions to get used too, mainly because it's very flushy, but still suitable for most freestyle moves. As an element of surprise we had an eliminating final – this definitely added some excitement to the show, as it became even more challenging to us. I managed to have very consistent rides every time and won girl's and Pringle really showed what to do in this hole and won men's. We both got some money, medals and some very heavy history books as prizes. In the evening it was a talent competition, for all amateur singers, guitar players and whatever other talents you'd like to show, many kayakers participated and I wish I'd known about it before, I'd love to prepare something too for next time.
The third event was Russian Championships in Karelia region in a village called Tivdia. This spring the water in this region was unusually low, but thankfully it did come up in June just enough to hold the competitions, but still was on a low and flushy side. Tivdia for me is not only about paddling, I was looking forward to show Pringle all sorts of Russian experiences here: staying in a country house with many animals living nearby, banya (Russian sauna), fresh village produce, white nights, clean, beautiful and vast russian nature. This time so many meadow flowers was in full bloom, that air had a sweet taste.
This year Russian championships went bigger than usual: we had seats built for spectators, free food and drinks for sportsmens, two cars of ambulance making sure it's all safe (a bit overprotective given the nature of the playspot, but ministry of sports insisted), very wide geography of participants – twelve regions, over ten hits, and for first time – invited star, which was Pringle. There also was free masterclasses every practice day from most experienced riders, we also held one on Thursday. I was glad to see quite a few juniors finally training and competing.
Competitions started Friday from men's, it took half day to get through the K1M heats, as there were more participants than ever. Organisers decided make entry fee free and all beginners were encouraged to have a go. The men threw all sorts of moves, wave and hole ones and Pringle did not disappoint the crowd, they saw such a high scoring rides for first time on this wave. For the girls it was a bit more difficult, because wave required some power if you want to go in the air, but in prelims I managed to get a good loop and won first round. In men's semis things started to heat up, as they had only two rides for this very flushy wave, but Pringle was still unbeatable. In women's final I wasn't as lucky this time and my loops didn't work, I knew it was a bit of a gamble, luck however favoured the other girl (Masha), who managed to stick a felix on such a flushy feature. Pringle in his final made a very good show with pan-ams, back pan-ams, huge loops, clean blunts, McNastys and entry moves. The other boys fought hard for the Russian title, I was glad to see back pan-ams and some solid rides from Russian paddlers. Juniors did scored some points for the first time and C1 showed some air. Tivdia village came to watch and very eagerly supported each athlete.
Next day was a big air event – unofficial competition on different wave next to the dam, which being opened specifically for that. The wave looked big, but even bigger looked the hole, where you go if you land move a bit to the right. Organisers wanted to make something in the 'Canadian style'. Only strongest and bravest riders went to try wave out and more than half of them swam, which made a very good show for spectators, but after that we failed to get any girls to paddle :) Pringles however managed to get some real rides and even traverse the hole without a swim.
And of course there was a party, in remote pine forest on a lake, with so many party games, that people didn't even have the opportunity to get drunk, as you would expect from Russians. From myself I would say it was the best Russian championship so far, it was exciting, busy, spectacular and very inspiring, I got the feeling that there is some good development and progress in the Russian freestyle at the moment. Competitions are very fun to come and technical level going up, juniors coming, enthusiasm going into real work and in short term plans to build a playspot next to Moscow. I hope I can do my part in growing our sport in Russia, and looking forward to our training camp for Russian junior and adult paddlers in August. But in the meanwhile I'm training with Russian the team in Millau for the World Cup, so stay tuned, news will come!
Photos by Pringle, Nadezhda Moiseeva, Grigory Ergin and Kaytya Kulkova