Coast paddlers competing in World Championships

International Va’a Federation

Three Sunshine Coast paddlers are competing in the world distance outrigger championships starting this Friday.

The athletes will be close to home in name only, however, because the 2019 International Va’a Federation’s 2019 World Distance Championships are taking place on the other Sunshine Coast in Queensland, Australia.

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Va’a means canoe or boat in Tahitian. Racers from 22 countries will be competing in 25-kilometre races in six-person outriggers.

This will be the first World Championship for Catharine Esson, 56, a member of the Gibsons Paddle Club, who joked she is “the old rookie,” since she will be competing in the 40+ category with teammates with international experience who are more than a decade younger.

“This for me is kind of a big step,” Esson said. She joined the paddle club about four years ago as a way to improve her paddling skills, and quickly developed a passion for the sport.

Jerry Rolls, president of the Gibsons Paddle Club, said of Esson’s achievement that “it’s an incredibly rigorous training regime. You have to be really dedicated and you have to have a bit of money because there is not much support for this sport.”

Since making the team, Esson has worked with a coach in Kelowna and has trained independently of her teammates, who are spread across the country.

“Timing is important in a team paddling event. You can’t really work on timing when you’re not together, that’s the biggest challenge,” Esson told Coast Reporter.

The teammates have attempted to make up for the distance with a training camp in Victoria prior to the championships.

Esson is staying open-minded about next week’s competition since this will be her first at the international level.

But she isn’t the only rookie.

Davis Bay paddler Ian Bolden will be competing in the 50+ men’s category. It will be the 54-year-old’s first world championship, though he has competed in international events, such as the Canadian Downwind Championships.

The Gibsons Paddle Club member also paddles in Hawaii with the Kaiola Canoe Club. His goal is to “bring a medal home for Canada.”

“The competitiveness happens naturally,” Bolden said. “We always joke about one canoe being a workout and two canoes a race.“ He also plans to absorb the area’s culture and connect with other paddlers.

The Sunshine Coast’s oldest participating athlete is Ron Roberts, who joined the Gibsons Paddle Club as a part-time member and who commutes weekly between Burnaby and Halfmoon Bay. Roberts, 76, will be paddling in the 70+ Canadian men’s team, with hopes of winning gold.

Unlike Esson and Bolden, he has competed in several international events, most recently at the 2018 World Crew Club Championships in Hungary, where his team won a gold and two silver medals.

“I have always been a competitive person, and when I decide to take up a sport, I have always aimed for the top,” Roberts said. “I never expected to go as far as I have when I started paddling at the beginning of July in 2014. I was simply looking for something to do after retirement, and decided to try dragon boating at the suggestion of a golf buddy. Obviously I was pretty good at it and got hooked.”

The championship runs from Aug. 9 to 17 at Moolooaba, hosted by the Australian Outrigger Canoe Racing Association.

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