Bebbington on Winning the Worlds…Special PL Q&A

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When Great Britain’s James Bebbington won the gold at the World Freestyle Kayak Championships in Plattling, Germany, it marked the first time the title has migrated off North American soil. PL caught up with him for his take on being the new champ…

What were you feeling going into the finals, and who was your biggest competition?
I was feeling pretty relaxed, I was fifth in the semi’s so for me the only way was up. I hadn’t really shown my best in the comp until this point, so I was just excited to get a last opportunity to try and bring it. I pumped myself up a bit more than the other rounds and that seemed to do the trick; I felt much more myself. As for who was my biggest competition, they kind of all could potentially pull of a winning ride but I was really looking out for Peter; he’s spent a lot of time on this spot and is a great competitor so he was who I thought most likely to put up the biggest fight.

What were your thoughts after EJ got eliminated early on?
I was very surprised and pretty gutted for him; I knew how hard he’d worked and how much he wanted to do well here. But from the other side it was one very dangerous competitor out of the way and my good friend Martin Koll got into the Semi’s in tenth and since we’d been training together the last couple months I was really stoked he got through.

Dane ripped it. Thoughts on his future when he competes with the men next year and beyond?
He has an incredible amount of talent and will be a very tough competitor for the senior men to beat when he moves up; one to keep an eye on for sure. There are also many young kayakers, kayaking at a very high level that will knock many of the seniors down a peg or two when they turn 18. Watch out for the young Europeans and Brits especially!

Is freestyle making a comeback? Where do you see it headed?
I think the last few years freestyle has really exploded again, even the manufacturers are noticing it. I think the development of really well-fitting dry kit, top-end composite freestyle designs, Jackson Kayaks kids’ boats and an increased amount of events for all ages/ abilities has played a big part in that. I think the sport will split up into a few directions. It will have the ICF events, which is more inline with Olympic/slalom kind of competitions, which is all about the technical skills, proper training, athleticism and formal judging. Then you’ll have more of the Whitewater Grand Prix-style events, which is all about the spectacular waves and whitewater and trying to show the real big air moves on these features with a less formal kind of judging. Both styles of events need to be apart of Freestyle and both have their place.

This is the first time the champs have been won by someone other than from North America. Is the rest of the world finally catching up?
I think the Europeans caught up a while ago; we just didn’t quite get to the top of the podium. European kayakers are very good and talented. Because many of us train on lots of different spots and travel lots, we’re very technically skilled and we all have our own very unique styles. I think the domination of the Worlds might swing in the European kayakers direction for a while now.

Any sponsors you’d like to plug?
Can I just say thanks to Palm Equipment, Teva Shoes, Brookbank Canoes & Warrington Sports council for their support this year.

Click here to see James & Katya’s Blog.

From Bebbington’s Palm Blog:

“Throughout the event I hadn’t really paddled at the level I knew I could. I knew I was being too relaxed, not aggressive enough. For the finals I focused on pumping myself up as hard as I could and getting ready to have the fight of my life.

My first ride didn’t go my way but I was feeling more myself for sure. The second ride I just gave it everything I had and got 1020 pts. The leading score at that point but definitely not unbeatable, so on the third ride I went even harder. I didn’t go as big as my second ride but squeezed in a few extra moves to get 1053 points.

Then I had to watch as four great kayakers, Gerd, Nick, Stephen and Peter, all went and gave it their all trying to beat my score. They all paddled great and Peter, who is a deadly competitor and amazing kayaker, very nearly got me. Finally though, luck and timing went my way and I took the win.

I never felt so good as when the results came out and I could see everyone’s faces – all my friends, family, Katya and many of the people who helped and supported me over the years all around enjoying the moment. And then all the Great Britain team piling on top of me and sinking me. Seeing how happy and emotional Terry Best (my friend and supporter for years) was so so nice. Then seeing Guigui’s face after finally one of his amazing designs, the Easymix 2008, got to the top!

The whole experience was one of the best moments in my life!
Standing on the podium was exactly how it looked when I visualized it. The whole event was such a fun time. There was always something going on, great people, and perfect water levels. Robson, the ICF and the judging team did a great job pulling it off.

Big props should also go out to Great Britain’s Claire O’hara, who won Gold in Squirt and Women’s K1, and Palm’s Bren Orton who took the Bronze in the Junior Mens.

The journey I took to this point is pretty unusual. I’ve loved kayaking ever since I was 12 and loved to freestyle kayak almost as long. After competing for most of my junior years I’d had a few successes but lost my way a bit about four years ago when I got a bit distracted by the party scene. I had a great time then but forgot what it was that I really wanted to do with my life.

I was working as a video kayaker on the Nile with NRE working for Davey O’hara with my buddy Anton and I was having a great time there. On the river every day, partying every night but at the same time I didn’t feel truly happy.

I was missing something. About three months after I moved to Uganda I met Katya and together we at first went harder than ever in the bar. But she also was so fired up on freestyle that I began to find my fire for it again. Gradually my focus went back to being in my boat; surfing, catching air and throwing tricks. At this point I saw how hard Peter Csonka was training and kicking ass and I really admired his focus and determination. It was then I decided I was going to be a World Champion one day.

So we left Uganda and started to compete and train hard. Over time we got more and more successful in our competing and this last two years have been amazing. A win at last year’s World Cup, second in the Europeans and now the World Champs Gold. It really has been the best couple of years.

We trained hard and have done lots of work to get to this point and Katya has been the best coach you could have. She also introduced me to many new ideas and approaches to life; we eat only raw fruit and vegetables for a start, we hardly drink any more and we meditate daily. All these aspects she introduced me to have had a profound effect on my happiness and kayaking. Life is for enjoying and improving yourself, this is what makes it so fun.

My next goals are to keep improving as a person, get my wave kayaking to the same level as my hole kayaking, keep competing on the highest levels, help Katya to get her goals, see more new places and to keep pushing ourselves and our kayaking as far as we can!
I have so many people to thank for getting me to this point: Shep, Sneaky, Terry and the whole Best family, Pete Caterall, Hippy Dave, Tim Ward, Jacko, Pete Astles, Sam Ward and Dennis Newton, Matt Chadder and Dickie. Wigan Canoeing Groups Eric Bradbury, Bob Andrews and Will Potts. Elton, Tim, Simon and Sophie from Reaseheath College. All the Uganda/ NRE crew particularly Davey and Timmy. My friends who made this year so good and fun, Aniol and Gerd Serrasolses, Martin Koll, Emily Wall, Bartosz, Irish Tom, Mathieu, Sam Ward and Anton Immler and everyone who was at the Whitewater Grand Prix event. Guigui for making the best freestyle kayaks out there!EJ, Mathieu Dumoulin, Peter Csonka, Rush Sturges, Pat Camblin and all the Tribe athletes and Palm’s Cheesy for giving me continued inspiration and ambition. My Sponsors Mark Burch at Brookbank Canoe Stores, Cheesy and everyone at Palm Equipment for the amazing kit, and Arnd and everyone at Teva Shoes. Thanks to them all for giving me the opportunity to train full time in pursuit of my goals.

The biggest thanks though go to my Mum, Dad and Katya. They’re the ones who have shaped my life the way it is and are my biggest supporters. I’m so happy right now. Do only what you enjoy most!

Video of his winning run: Click here