A Canadian territory has never been represented in flatwater canoeing or kayaking at the Canada Summer Games.
That could change this August in Sherbrooke, Que.
The Yukon Canoe and Kayak Club received a rather large shipment last Friday. Inside were four flatwater sprint boats.
It might seem a little last-minute to establish a team to compete at the Canada Games, but the club is going for it anyway.
“Even if it’s one competitor from the Yukon, we’ll consider that a huge success,” said club president John Quinsey.
“If they were out there paddling without tipping over with every stroke, then we have a good chance to get at least one competitor down there.”
The boats are very fast because they are extremely slim. They also have rounded bottoms to help slice through the water with little displacement.
Those qualities also make them very tippy. One would be hard-pressed to find a less stable watercraft.
About a dozen potential paddlers, many of whom are accomplished athletes like Yukon Ski Team members, came out on Monday to try the boats at Schwatka Lake in Whitehorse.
Their wetsuits were prudent, as none left without taking a dip. But a few began to get the hang of it and could stay up with tentative strokes and lots of feathering (swishing the paddle back and forth in the water for balance).
To stay above water for any amount of time in a C-1 (solo canoe) on a first try is an accomplishment.
Pelly Vincent-Braun, 14, has loads of canoe experience. But he wasn’t expecting the boats to be so difficult.
“My dad owns a canoe school, so I’ve been paddling most of my life, so it’s pretty instinctive,” said Vincent-Baun. “But they’re pretty tippy … I do whitewater canoeing and there’s quite a difference.”
Club secretary Walter Brennan and former Sport Yukon executive director Trevor Twardochleb have discussed the idea of introducing flatwater paddling for years. Now seemed like a good time to do it.
“I thought, it’s about time we did that,” said Twardochleb. “Walter and I have talked many times over the years and we thought it was an excellent time to try and make that transition.”
Twardochleb contacted a friend with the Manitoba Paddling Association who put him in touch with coach Jerome Seremak, who deals with boat sales. Together Twardochleb, Brennan and Seremak struck a deal: the Manitoba team would give four used boats for free if the Yukon club paid the shipping. The Yukon club received a C-1, two K-1s (solo kayaks) and a K-2 (two-person kayak).
“They said, ‘We would love to see a northern presence at the Canada Summer Games in canoe and kayak sprinting,’” said Brennan. “It’s a steep learning curve, but there are some great athletes in the territory.
“The main thing is we would like to get a presence at the Canada Games and we know we’d have to start small.”
The Yukon Canoe and Kayak Club began as a recreation group and in the last few years has increasingly turned its attention to whitewater canoeing and kayaking.
The club hosts the annual Whitewater Rodeo and is developing a whitewater park called Rock the River with a stationary wave and a slalom course.
So now the club is heading in two directions at once. It recently became sanctioned as the territory’s governing body for flatwater paddling by Canoe Kayak Canada, the sport’s national body.
The club has already received an invitation to compete at the B.C. championships the week before the Canada Games.
“It would be marvellous for our kids here if we can do that, if they are ready,” said Brennan.
The club has already lined up a pair of potential coaches in Sydney van Loon and Haley Wood.
Van Loon was a competitive cross-country skier who was introduced to flatwater paddling by her ski coach as a summer activity.
She went on to compete on behalf of B.C. in flatwater kayaking at the Canada Summer Games and the Western Canada Summer Games.
“The people I used to paddle with in B.C. knew I moved up to the Yukon and not a lot of people know much about the Yukon. We all knew there was lots of paddling – the Yukon River Quest and marathon (races),” said van Loon. “People I used to paddle with used to ask why there’s not a flatwater club if there’s that much water and people are as outdoorsy.”
In fact, it was Canoe Kayak B.C., which supported the Yukon club’s membership in Canoe Kayak Canada, that referred van Loon as a potential coach to the Yukon club.
So does putting together a team in under two months sound a little crazy?
“I think when you have motivated and fit, driven youth – a lot of them even have paddling backgrounds – I don’t think it’s that unimaginable at all,” said van Loon
“Walter and I were thinking: could we get some kids to the Canada Games? Is this is the best thing to do?” said Twardochleb. “But there’s some really good athletes here, some really good paddlers.
“It’s kind of against a lot of our philosophies. You want to send a team that’s well prepared,” he added. “(But) there are active kayakers and athletes, so if we can make that transition … I’m all for it.”
It’s not too late to get involved, and maybe compete at the Games, if you were under the age of 21 as of Jan. 1, 2013.
If you’re interested in trying flatwater paddling, or if you would like to help as a coach or manager, contact Quinsey at email@example.com.
Contact Tom Patrick at