New champ tops freestyle field at Whitewater Rodeo

It seems every year more spectators crowd the Rotary Centennial Bridge in Whitehorse as paddlers put on a show in the Whitewater Rodeo.

It seems every year more spectators crowd the Rotary Centennial Bridge in Whitehorse as paddlers put on a show in the Whitewater Rodeo.

Correspondingly, more and more photographers are fighting for good angles at the edge of the water by the man-made spin wave.

Neither group was disappointed at this year’s rodeo on Wednesday.

Spectators were wowed and photographers clicked away as the annual event got a new freestyle-kayaking champ.

Whitehorse’s Joel Brennan, a former national team member, won the advanced category for his first time.

“It was good to be out on the water again,” said the 21-year-old. “I definitely have the competitive edge out of my bones from competing at the national level … It’s not a competition as much as just seeing everybody – just go have fun, compete and I guess I was lucky to win.”

Brennan, who has been living in Alberta the last two years, represented Canada at the 2011 Freestyle Kayak Junior World Championships in Germany and then spent two years as head instructor at Liquid Skills kayak school on the Ottawa River.

Some big loops (or flips) made the difference for Brennan, one judge told the News.

“Loops, space Godzillas, just some of the bigger aerial moves that have higher ranking points,” said Brennan. “Cartwheels are a really great trick for linking moves.”

Olivier Roy-Jauvin placed second and Connor Oliver-Beebe third in the advanced division.

The intermediate division was another close one. Deano Bennett topped it, ahead of second place’s Mael Pronovost and third place’s Sean Stark. Fourth place went to Natasha Harvey, the top female.

“I didn’t do too much paddling this year but I came out for a fun time, hanging out with all the great people around here and just paddled my heart out,” said Bennett. “I tried doing a loop, but I couldn’t stick it, so I just kind of farted around. I did a couple of spins, did a couple of cartwheels … The more practice you get down here every day, the better you get.

“I’ve been paddling with the club for almost 13 years and I learned through the community.”

Austin Shaw, Marek Henderson and Luanda Pronovost placed first, second, third in the beginner freestyle division.

As always, there was a lot more than just freestyle going on at the rodeo.

Mael Pronovost, who won two gold medals at the Canadian Whitewater Championships last month, was unsurprisingly the winner of the slalom event. The 14-year-old raced through the gates with a time of 1:59, outpacing Oliver-Beebe (2:02) and Roy-Jauvin (2:08).

The course wasn’t quite as good as the one he rode at nationals, “but it was good for what we have in Whitehorse,” said Mael. “The gates are very far apart, so you really have to go down to the bottom of the eddy and then back up because the currents are so fast.

“Yukon Energy allowed us to put the course up. Without their approval we wouldn’t have been allowed to have this event happen.”

After placing in two prior events, Roy-Jauvin finally notched a win in the downriver race, beating Oliver-Beebe in second and paddling veteran Bob Daffe in third.

Luanda Pronovost, who also competed at the Canadian Whitewater Championships, snatched first in the youth division of the downriver race. Ruby Lieu-Ashthorn came in for second and Sam Flemming for third.

The Whitewater Rodeo has been an annual event for over 20 years, but the hosting Yukon Canoe and Kayak Club has been around a lot longer than that. It is believed this season is the club’s 50th.

“I believe it is, so we’ll have plans for celebrations next year,” said club president John Quinsey. “It was the Yukon Voyageurs originally – in ‘65 I believe – and at some point it changed to the Yukon Canoe and Kayak Club. It was all canoeing back then and they had a clubhouse at Chadburn Lake and used to hold dances out there … There were a lot of social activities back then.”

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