Written by Carmen Kuntz.
5:30 AM – OTTAWA RIVER, Ontario
A bright orange raft smashes through a wave, almost airborne. Six burly paddlers pound out perfectly synchronized strokes, and the raft cuts through whitewater. All eyes are focused on the river ahead and their next move.
7:45 AM – The raft scrapes up on the sand marking the end of this mornings training session. This trip down the 11km stretch of the Ottawa takes commercial raft trips an entire day to paddle but these boys crush it out in just over an hour. With GoPro footage from a raised mount attached to the back of the raft, the team later reviews videos of their workout, analyzing and correcting small movements and critiquing form.
8:00 AM – After carrying the raft up the steep hill to the rafting base of River Run Whitewater Resort, Canada’s National whitewater rafters gather around a picnic table, sipping below-average coffee, discussing dry-land training workouts, competition schedules, and race-day preparations.
The idea of racing rafts was first introduced to team member Graham Ball while on a whitewater kayak trip in Chile. He brought the idea back with him and within a few races had a team that upset the reigning Canadian national team to become the Canadian R6 Champions (six-person raft racing).
In the world of raft racing a standard International Rafting Federation (IFR) competition is comprised of four races. Points are awarded to teams based on their position in each of the following race disciplines: downriver, slalom, head-to-head, and sprint.
In 2012 the team competed in Quebec at the Pan American Championships. “It was our first time to see the top teams in the world,” Ball recalls. The team finished behind Brazil and USA, securing their spot as the top Canadian team and qualifying them for the 2013 World Rafting Championships in Rotorua, New Zealand.
After many months of training in Canada and New Zealand, the team faced off against 21 of the world’s best rafting teams. The team came out strong, earing a silver medal in the first race of the competition – the sprint. Finishing strong in tenth position, the team was pleased with their result, proving they could paddle with the best… but it also left them hungry for more.
Why are they dominating the Canadian rafting scene? “We’re more talented, better-looking, strong paddlers. And we train harder,” says Ball. Training laps are fun, but they also make time for play. After work, the team can be found in surfing the world-renowned waves of the Ottawa in kayaks, canoes, and rafts. To Ball, their routine makes sense. “It fits with my lifestyle – I’m on the water every day anyway!”
8:55 AM – In a less than an hour, the boys will be back in rafts, this time in separate boats, guiding clients into some of the biggest whitewater commercially rafted. This aquatic and terrestrial blend is their life – where the lines between work, play and training become so blurred, it’s difficult for them to distinguish between the three. With whitewater rafting making a bid to enter the 2016 Olympics in Rio, it’s likely this won’t be the last you hear of these lads.