Blog | White water ride: meet freestyle kayaking’s rising star

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Scouting can be a gateway for young people to find the hobbies that they’re really interested in. Harry Stiff, an Explorer from 3rd Sudbury Scout Group, was introduced to kayaking as a Cub. He’s now got his sights set on getting selected for Team GB. We spoke to him just after a win at a major UK competition.

Hi Harry! So, how did you first get into kayaking?

I started when I was seven through Cubs. Both my parents are leaders, and my Dad is really into kayaking too. I did it for about three years at the weekends, just as a hobby. Then I had a bit of a bad experience when I got really cold and wet one night and I didn’t want to do it any more. But eventually I came back to it and found I loved it.

How did you overcome that feeling of not wanting to carry on kayaking?

I realised that I really missed being active, and I needed something to fill the gaps in the week. I forced myself to go to training sessions for a few weeks, and the skills all came back to me. I started to really enjoy it again, even more than I did before. I was 13 then, and the instructors let me try some new stuff like tumbling in smaller boats. I passed my first assessments and that’s when I really got into freestyle kayaking.

What has been your biggest achievement so far?

Definitely the recent competition I did. I won the Junior Novice category at the SAS Hurley Classic Freestyle Kayaking Championships in November 2015. There were competitors there from all over the world - people I’d seen in Youtube videos were in the same arena, competing with me! I entered last year too, but this time there was an even bigger turnout. It was huge! It was actually the biggest feature [in the water] that I’d ever paddled. It was a huge adrenaline rush.

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What are your plans for the future, now that you’ve got this win under your belt?

I’ve got a few more competitions coming up this year, but what I’m really aiming for is the Team GB selections in 2017. I’m going down to watch it this year to scope out the competition and see what extra training I need to do. I’m always questioning whether I’m good enough – and this drives me to practice harder and get better through competing.

What would happen if you got into Team GB?

I’d be aiming for the World Championships. Currently, freestyle kayaking isn’t an Olympic sport, but the governing body is aiming for it to be included in the Olympics in a few years, which would be amazing. The difficulty is that freestyle kayaking is so dependent on natural features, like rocks and drops in the water, so you can only do it in certain places. But, that’s also what makes it exciting, because each place is completely different.

How do you fit all your training in alongside Scouts and school (and a social life!)?

It is a bit of a squeeze! I kayak three times a week, including instructing others. I’ve just completed my qualification, and I love giving other people the chance to try kayaking. I’ve been teaching other Scout Leaders to gain their Adventurous Activity Permit so they can take their young people out on the water. It’s great to be giving the opportunities I had to other people. Kayaking tends to take up every spare bit of time I have – although I’m not allowed out until I finish my homework!

Sounds like you know how to keep yourself busy! What tips would you give someone who has just started kayaking?

In terms of technical skill, make sure you look in the direction that you want the boat to go. No matter what you’re doing, whether it’s just paddling in a straight line, or doing some of the flips and tricks I do, you just stick to that rule. It’s also really important to relax in the boat. When you’re nervous you tense up and your moves become jerky, and that makes you wobble. And the most important thing to remember is that nothing comes first time, you have to practice.

Thanks so much for talking to us, Harry! We wish you all the best with your competitions and we’ll keep an eye out for you at the World Champs in a few years.

Inspired? Kayaking is available at some of the Scout Activity Centres.

Kayakers can work towards the Paddle Sports Staged Activity Badge and Time On The Water Staged Activity Badge, both within or outside Scouts sessions. Kayakers can also work towards gaining an Adventurous Activity Permit to lead kayaking sessions and create more opportunities for young people in Scouting to enjoy the sport.

Has Scouting helped you develop your hobbies and interests? Tell us what you tried for the first time through Scouting on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

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