Miracle on the Ottawa

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“Now that it’s happening, it’s completely surreal.”
Dagger’s Rush Sturges never uttered more poignant words. He was sitting in the eddy with other competitors at the World Freestyle Kayaking Championships on the Ottawa River Tuesday, training for the event which starts today. Many feared that the mammoth feature wouldn’t come in, thus relegating another World Championship to dud status. But Joe Kowalski and Matt McGuire of Wilderness Tours, the event’s host, saved the day and convinced Ontario Power Generation to release an extra 7,000 cfs, bumping the level on the Ottawa River to the required 40,500 cfs.

And yes, you read that right. That ungodly amount of water is more than flows through the Grand Canyon during normal summer flows.

Competitors took advantage, throwing huge airs in a made for television event that, unfortunately, has no television coverage. “The athletes have been asking for a world championships to be held on Buseater for years,” says Eric Jackson. “And we finally got it.” Jackson’s son Dane threw one of the biggest air screws of the day, wowing organizers who were caught gawking at the mighty might in between set up.

Wilderness Tours has gone all out, building a permanent press box on a precipice high above the wave along with grand stands on the opposite side of the river.

Early favorites Anthony Yapp, Jackson and Sturges – along with athletes from all corners of the globe – trained late into the evening to get in as many practice rides as possible. Up until, Tuesday, competitors had been training at an alternate feature downriver in the “Middle Channel,” and had to make up for it after Kowalski and McGuire’s 11th hour save. The Ottawa splits into two channels, “The Main” and “Middle.”

Buseater requires boaters to not only showcase epic surfing skills but cardiovascular fitness as well. To get into the wave, they have to surf over using a MacGyvered ski rope, which takes serious core strength. Deciding whether to tow in or drop in from above will be a strategic choice for competitors as they prepare to take their rides during the competition. Using the rope could tire them out and leave them spent while dropping in leaves open the flush factor. The size of the river makes it almost impossible to get back up to the wave.

Regardless, the story of the day remains the generosity of the Ontario Power Generation. “Our water levels were at a 50-year low,” says McGuire. “They really came through for us.”