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Freestyle kayaker makes national team

For weeks now, as often as twice a day, before and after work, Whitehorse's Joel Brennan, has been putting his boat in the water as a freestyle kayak enthusiast.

For weeks now, as often as twice a day, before and after work, Whitehorse’s Joel Brennan, has been putting his boat in the water as a freestyle kayak enthusiast.

Next June he’ll be putting it in the water as a member of Team Canada at the Junior World Championships.

“I’m pretty happy because next year I get to travel to Germany for the junior worlds, and it’s a pretty big opening for sponsorship and getting your name out there, for my future in paddling,” said Brennan. “I’m happy about that.”

The 16-year-old earned himself a spot on Canada’s junior team at the National Freestyle Kayak Team Trials in Calgary at the start of the week.

Coming from the Yukon, Brennan surprised the competition, finishing second in a field of 13, grabbing one of just three available spots on the junior men’s team.

Although only doing freestyle for five years, Brennan has been involved in water sport for much longer.

“My parents are paddlers, so I’ve canoed my whole life,” said Brennan. “My brother did a kayak course one year, so he got into it, and the next year I started kayaking. I got hooked and have done it ever since.”

The two-day trials took place on a man-made wave on the Kananaskis River, near Calgary. Not too different from the manmade wave in Whitehorse near the Millennium Trail Bridge, the Kananaskis wave had both its advantages and disadvantages, said Brennan.

“The wave down there was more like a hole, so the water falls back on itself, like the one in Whitehorse,” said Brennan. “But it’s a lot steeper of a wave, so it’s harder to set up for tricks. But the wave was so steep, it was a lot easier to air out of, so I had a lot more air-moves than I did back in Whitehorse because the wave was easier to learn them on.

“The wave itself, was pretty hard to link moves together on, because of the steepness of the wave. It’s a dam-controlled river, so it always surges.”

Using the steepness of the wave to his advantage, Brennan advanced through the preliminaries, semis and into the final with big-air tricks such as front flips, space godzillas, air wheels and cartwheels.

“You can get different bonuses from the amount of air you get,” he said.

Brennan’s success on the national stages came just a week after a disappointing showing at a local competition. In the freestyle event at the Whitewater Rodeo in Whitehorse just over a week ago, Brennan placed fifth in the men’s division.

“Yeah, I did badly,” said Brennan. “The water level of the wave was perfect for me before the competition, like it was a nice clean hole with slow water. So I could do the moves I wanted to do, that I practiced for. I had a nice rhythm set up.

“But then someone called (Yukon Energy) to get the water released, and they got it to a level that’s perfect for everyone. It turned into more of a wave than a hole, so you have to switch to a whole different style of boating and tricks.”

A former student of Vanier Catholic Secondary, Brennan will be attending Lakefield College School in Ontario this fall, which will extend his training season and provide him with opportunities to occasionally travel to Canada’s freestyle kayaking hot-spot.

“Usually when I go to school, I don’t get my boat shipped up until the spring, because that’s when the school has a kayak team of it’s own - it’s not competitive, but it’s still a team,” said Brennan. “I’m about three hours away from the Ottawa River, which is sort of known as the freestyle kayaking place in North America, where everybody goes to train.

“I know some people that live there, like Billy Harris - he’s ranked number two in Canada right now - so I can stay at his house whenever I need to train.”

The Freestyle Kayak Junior World Championships will be held in Plattling, Germany, at the end of June into July.

Contact Tom Patrick at