Kayak/canoe paddlers between the ages of 12 and 16 from the Nelson Kayak and Canoe Club are going to the BC Summer Games in Nanaimo July 18-20. (Left- right) Heather Potkins

Nelson Kayak and Canoe Club sends paddlers to BC Summer Games

This is the first Summer Games for these athletes who are ready to experience a new challenge.

The Nelson Kayak and Canoe Club is sending nine athletes to the BC Summer Games in Nanaimo this week. The young paddlers range in age from 12 to 16 years and will compete July 18 through 20 on Long Lake.

It’s the first summer games for these athletes and they are excited. On Saturday, they got a chance to try out the new K1 and K2 kayaks newly obtained for the club by president Kaj Gyr in May.

The flat water kayaks are narrow, light and delicate which requires fine balancing skills.

“It really feels like you’re tipping, but you’re not,” said  Ben Woodward after he paddled the K1 boat. “It’s hard to turn.”

Head coach Jason Rusu said the goal for the crew at the games is to have fun. “The games is for them to have exposure to the sport at this point. They don’t know it but I’ve got stars in my eyes for them in the future.”

What draws these athletes to the sport and 7 a.m. practices?

For Joey Timmermans he likes paddling in the morning as “it’s quiet and calming.” As for the games, he’s super excited to try out the new boats. Heather Potkins, 13, enjoys the calm of being on the water as well. She was introduced to the sport by fellow paddler Tessa Timmermans. Heather said she’s excited to try the six man kayak at the games.

Rusu is the new coach and in the past the club coaching has always been cobbled together by families generously volunteering their time. Assistant coach Kevin Hilde, 19, is volunteering his time while he is home for the summer from his winter studies at University of Northern BC. Rusu is the visionary and Hilde is the continuous link who enjoys Jr. coaching.

“We couldn’t do it with out him,” said Rusu.

Rusu and his wife are new residents to Nelson but he has a long history in the sport of sprint racing canoe/kayak.  He was the first person from Saskatchewan to make the national canoe kayak team. He went to the Olympics in 1992 and the 2003 canoe sprint world championships. He has been a coach since 1995 but due to his contracting career in Rossland, he is no longer a career coach.

“I love the sport,” said Rusu. “Being on the water, the natural environment; you can paddle out of town limits and be surrounded in nature. It’s peaceful and powerful to feel acceleration under your own power.”

The team practices two to three times a week. He said the kids like the more difficult boats as it challenges them. “I can tell because they are smiling. It’s the challenge even if it is frustrating. We all like a challenge. They get bored if it’s too easy.”

The paddlers are learning new skills each time they’re on the water with specific guidance like “reach out ahead of your toes, straighten your arms and turn your upper body/torso more during the stroke.”

Hilde will be accompanying the athletes to the games as he got the time off work and Dia Currie will help as a chaperone.

Fore more on the BC Summer Games, visit bcgames.org.