The Midwest Freestyle Championships is the highlight of the summer for playboaters in Wisconsin and the surrounding states. All year long we wait, practice, and play to get ready to earn our bragging rights for the next year. But the event is bitter sweet because while it is something we look forward to each year, it is also the last time everyone is together until next summer.
Over 70 people made the trip for our family reunion of sorts, and 35 of us pumped up our level of competition by learning from some of Jackson Kayak’s best two days before the competition. Colin Kemp and Brian Tupper join us all the way from Reno to teach the clinic along with local star John McConville. This was the 5th year of the clinic, and its popularity is proven having sold out every year! Be sure to sign up by Spring to get your spot!
This year was especially loaded with beginners! We have been very fortunate to see a huge growth of interest in the sport over the last few years thanks to many efforts in the midwest and the first thing new kayakers want to learn is how to playboat. The lower portion of the park is perfect for learning basic surfing, spinning and cartwheeling skills and at the same time, Colin challenges our crew of experts at little drop to add even more tricks to their skillset.
This year the competition couldn’t come quick enough for me. It is my third year paddling and I spent all summer preparing to move up to the Intermediate competition at little drop. Colin helped me learn to maneuver in the park’s most challenging but yet most rewarding feature known as little drop. The experts make it look simple throwing huge air loops, godzillas, and cleaning cartwheels here. I was fortunate to get a few ends but my loop during the comp came around slightly crooked and didn’t quite score so I missed the semi’s.
I still had one more chance to redeem myself though, in the women’s competition. There were 8 of us this year and Christa Gornjak who advanced to the intermediate semi’s laid out a good first run that I had to beat. Last year i didn’t come close to her score but I had a few more tricks up my sleeve this year…righty cartwheels! I managed to win every round and take first place!
Expert Prelims was the most exciting part of the day for most everyone as there was a bet on the line. If 4 time reigning champ John McConville did not finish first in qualifying, he would have to shave a portion of his beard. Luckily the competition this year was fierce with both Brad Schanke and Ben Kinsella here for the first time, adding into the mix of 13 others fighting for a spot in the final. And?…….Ben managed to hit a McNasty that put him just past John by 5 points! Yippie! Where is the razor???
And to finish off the day? The Masters comp! 13 guys and girls over 40 rocked it out….but wait, there is so much more to this weekend than boating! Like I said…it is a family reunion of sorts. So while we are there for the competition, I think everyone’s favorite moments come in the nights to follow. We all gathered in the campground for some cooking, and to eat the leftover noodles and company that was donated for the event. Then Colin moved the party to the local VFW to watch “Coming Home”. It was great getting to see some local rivers of the North Shore in Spencer’s new movie; and at the same time, his footage of the Grand Canyon has us all planning a journey for next year. But you can’t finish a movie night without something local, so “uncle” Steve Bletsch brought his footage of our crew on the Ottawa this summer.
When we walked outside, more fun began. 4 square! It is a long standing tradition for this family to play the most intense game of foot four square you have ever seen. The are always some pros and some newbies to the game, but with crazy rules like hazing and the ever changing referee who gets the final say even if they are wrong…(when in doubt, Lemke’s Out)…everyone has a chance to win! Of course, playing with a beer in hand is a must and the late night fun is followed up with memorable (or maybe not so much?) rounds of drinks at the VFW.
Day 4 begins! Beginner finals, intermediate finals, expert finals, team event, and boatercross!! The expert class was the closest it has been ever! Ben Kinsella won the prelims, but couldn’t pull out the mcnasty to advance to the finals. Brad Schanke laid out the best run of the weekend in the Semi’s nailing godzillas, loops, splitwheels and cleaning both right and left cartwheels! But….in the finals he fell just 4 points shy of john’s ride meaning once again, Mr. John McConville would win the title…5 years straight.
The competition isn’t all serious though…we have to throw some random fun in the mix. Team Comp! Yes, teams of 3 are randomly selected to throw down for 2 minutes in little drop! Each team has their own approach, some put two people in the whole at a time, others plan their moves, and some…well…they have no plan at all I was matched up with both lemke and adrian! This year my goal was to get the team style points by singing 3′s company while in the hole….how did that turn out? Well, a pretty harsh window shade and face surf as usual but, the bonus of the team event is that while i flush and work my way back to the feature, dave and adrian are throwing down like crazy! When they got knocked out, i hit a lefty cartwheel and we finished 3rd!
Boatercross finished up the day, Colin and Chad had a new plan for this years race. Heats of 7 started below diagonal ledge, they had to pass a gate on river right of big drop and come back around to surf across “The Bull” to an upstream gate on river left, then peel back into the current to race to the finish. Why was this so exciting? Well, if you missed the first gate, you had to go back and catch it…this combined with those still coming downstream into the same spot plus those who succeeded needing that space to surf across the bull led to CARNAGE! The top two returned to the top for a finals of 12 paddlers in a mass start! Pretty much everyone ended up attempting to surf the bull at the same time! I have never seen so much chaos and carnage! Ben peters pulled off the win followed by colin kemp and Ben K.
At the end of the day, prizes are awarded and the random drawing leaves everyone with something good! Pint Glasses went to the winners of each class and this year Steve Bletsch won the Jackson Rockstar! thanks Jackson! And everyone got a hat and lip balm from Chacos! Thanks Chacos! Not to mention the numerous prizes from Rapids Riders, Midwest Mountaineering, Bear Paw, and all of the World Kayak Sponsors! But now it’s time to head for home, or our next travel destination. Some will go south, others look forward to Gauley Season, and the rest of us, well…we unfortunately have little paddling left to do this year as the Fall approaches. Since water around here is scarce this time of year, we say our goodbyes…sad to leave not knowing when I will see everyone again.
But It doesn’t last long….Monday my phone is blowing up with texts about travel plans to squeeze out any last times to get on a river this year
Big Thanks to Nora and Amy for all of these pictures!
K1 BEGINNER K1 INTERMEDIATE K1 WOMEN K1 MASTERS BOATERCROSS
Kyle Behrends Matthew Cooper Ashley Knutson David Gustafson Ben Peters
Josh Novacheck Jeremiah Kramasz Christa Gornjak Michael Croak Colin Kemp
Phil Lutey Chris O’Brien Diana Kittelton Phil Lutey Ben Kinsella
John McConville 1st Jim Jensen 2nd Colin Kemp 3rd Dave Lemke
Brad Shanke Kennedy Rubert-Nason Ahna Butt Adrian Ortiz
Colin Kemp Ben Peters Brian Clement Ashley Knutson