Athlete Profile: Katrina van Wijk

An extreme kayaker sponsored by Teva, Katrina van Wijk grew up paddling the Ottawa and Madawaska Rivers. At last year’s Whitewater Grand Prix in Chile and Argentina, she placed third overall in women’s events in a tough field of international paddlers.

Katrina and several fellow competitors took a month of leisure paddling before the event to familiarize themselves with the wild, glacier-fed Chilean rivers including the Gol-Gol and the Palguin. On the latter, Katrina hucked her highest waterfall drop – a 70-footer.

Katrina Van Wijk on Medio Palguin, in Pucon, Chile. Photo by Leif Anderson.

How does one prepare for a drop like that? “Keep one paddle in the water, but you’re not necessarily doing a stroke,” she advises. “If you stroke, that usually lifts your bow and you’ll boof the drop. You want to pencil in exactly vertical. But it’s different every time: you just have to feel it out and deal with what the water gives you. I keep a blade in the water and feel my boat drop down and I just look at the boil where I’m aiming, and then halfway down the waterfall I’ll tuck up and just wait for the hit.”

Photographer Leif Anderson on his shot of Katrina’s drop: “There was a lot of very solid talent on the water, and everyone who ran this drop that day also ran the highly difficult entry, known as the Stout 10. Just a few minutes after I got this shot of Katrina, we were reminded why that entry is so rarely run. One of the other paddlers missed their line, and I had to run from the base of the falls all the way back up to the lip to help with a rope rescue. Everything turned out fine (except for the empty boat that was swept over the main falls here). In the excitement I forgot all about the photos, so I was psyched to find this shot on my card at the end of the day.”

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Women of the 2012 Whitewater Grand Prix: