Yukon freestyle kayakers were almost guaranteed a new champion at the annual Whitewater Rodeo, hosted by the Yukon Canoe and Kayak Club at the Millennium Trail Bridge on Wednesday.
However, goaded by fellow paddlers, Terrace, BC’s Jeremie Drouin decided to extend his stay and defend his title from last year.
“It was so fun, I’m happy I stayed an extra day,” said Drouin. “I was going to go home last weekend, but everyone was like, ‘You’re just going to leave and leave your title? You’re leaving because you’re scared.’ OK, I have to stay now.”
The 23-year-old, who was spending his second summer in Whitehorse conducting river-raft tours, again won the senior freestyle kayak division. Even with his triumph last summer, it wasn’t expected.
“I’m just as surprised (as last year),” said Drouin, who has only ever competed in the Whitehorse rodeo. “I think nobody is ever happy with their runs, but Joel (Brennan) is a pro in the hole. No one goes like him in that hole.
“Same with the rest of them. It’s a pretty tight crew and they’re all pretty good. It could have been anyone.”
Drouin remembers hitting a bunch of loops on the wave, but the rest, “I don’t know. When I get on the wave, it’s all a blur.”
Finishing second was Whitehorse’s Brennan, a junior paddler lumped in with the adults, ahead of Jason Zrum in third.
Defeating Brennan is no easy task. The 17-year-old competed at the World Freestyle Kayak Championships in Plattling, Germany, in June, finishing 26th out of 34 paddlers.
“It’s good to just go out and have fun, so I wasn’t too worried about my placement,” said Brennan, who did some big front loops, McNasties and a couple split wheels. “That’s the way it is, sometimes it doesn’t work out.”
On the wave with the seniors was Aliye Tuzlak, taking first in the women’s division, and Shayn Bryant, taking first in recreational.
Paddling to first in freestyle canoe was Whitehorse’s Mike Terlesky, a multiple-time winner of the division, who also had good things to say about the runner-up, Pelly Vincent-Braun. (Ryan Burlingame took third.)
“I wasn’t quite deep enough for anything really great for canoe,” said Techesky. “Mainly just offside spins, a bit of a cartwheel – I was trying to do a pirouette – nothing too fancy.
“I’m happy that Pelly didn’t get me. He’s the biggest competition we’ve had here. That kid is going to be on the national team.”
As usual, Yukon Energy helped out by opening the dam’s spillway to increase water flow in the river. However, it was a little too much for some in the slalom race, with many paddlers swept downriver and unable to complete the course.
After looping to victory in the freestyle, Drouin was again on top, beating out Olivier Roy-Jauvin in second and Laurence Brennan in third.
“It was tough,” said Drouin, who was second in last year’s slalom. “They purposely made it hard – it was good. No one nailed it perfectly.
“I was lucky enough to hit the eddy without having to walk up. If you miss it by a foot, you have to walk up. If you get it, you don’t have to.”
Though outdone in the slalom, Whitehorse’s Roy-Jauvin cruised to victory in the downriver race, outpacing Jeff Cousins and Drouin in a tie for second.
“I’ve been kayaking for a few years and really enjoy it – I do it a lot,” said Roy-Jauvin. “I have a little trick: I don’t put my (spray) skirt on because in the race you have to start out of your boat. So I don’t put my skirt on and, by the time everyone else does, I’m halfway down the river.
“It risky because your boat can get swamped by the waves.”
In the raft race all boats had to be flipped in the turbulent waters. But the winning rafters were allowed to flip their boat upriver, in calmer water, to even the playing field. The rookie team of Vern’s Vixens, who won, had only tried rafting the day before the rodeo.
“Don’t let go of the raft, I think was the No. 1 strategy. Don’t let go of the paddles was No. 2,” said team member Alex Jessup. “We had a few tricks up our sleeve that our wonderful coach taught us. Other than that: teamwork.”
After being introduced to the rodeo last year, boogie boarders were back on the manmade wave. Taking first was Alison Daffe, in front of 10-year-old Mael Pronovost in second and Quinn Landreth in third.
Contact Tom Patrick at