Ripples on Golden Pond! - A Taste of Slalom.

by Bob Cook

What are all those sticks hanging over the water for?" I looked up at the three tubers just emerging from the top of the course at Golden's Whitewater Park. Yes, it looks so bewildering; the red and white, and green and white "candy cane" trimmed sticks hanging out over the water at seemingly random spots. It is understandable if observers look upon it as an eyesore. But these kids didn't seem to be sitting in judgement, just curious. For me, however, the judgement was all too clear, and harsh. These simple poles over the water were not placed randomly, but were placed with intent, and it was our task to maneuver around and through them with grace and speed.

Slalom can be intimidating. A well set course is not intended to be easy, and most courses are not set up for the convenience of canoeists. Open canoes are difficult to sneak under gates to take advantage of the often tight eddy lines that kayakers or C-1 boaters can negotiate quickly and with precision.
Seven of us accepted Jeff Oxenford's invitation for a day-long clinic for slalom paddling on June 28. Joining Jeff were Bob & Jill Stecker, Ken Bauer, Mick O'Shea; from London via Manhattan, Kansas, another tandem team from Oregon, Jim and Jan and myself.

And what a day it was! We were hosted by Bob Campbell, whitewater coach at the Sydney Olympics, and 1992 Olympic C-2 Champion, and current U.S. World Cup Team member, Joe Jacobi.
On a beautiful Thursday morning, after the initial stretching, opening remarks, and introductions, Bob and Joe led us to Golden Pond to practice some fundamentals.

Under Bob and Joe's watchful eyes, we practiced sweeps and cross bow draws and then paddled forward and did fiqure "8"s before heading off to the Whitewater course. In doing our best strokes we ran headlong into critique that I found surprising. Bob and Joe corrected us when we did our best "Bob Foote" imitations in various strokes.

When I sought understanding from Bob Campbell, I came to understand that there are variations to technique that are situation-specific. Paddler stance, forward strokes, corrections and sweeps each have a different look from the racer's perspective. That makes sense in light of what's being addressed; speed, precision, and grace. Then I recalled how Bob Foote told our instructor class that our own teaching repertoire would vary depending upon the group we were instructing. I know that, for instance, it's not important that we teach the same kind of technique for a forward stroke to a "
Quick Start" class as we would for instructors or whitewater paddlers. There is a continuum of style and technique.

Each of us brought our own expectations and hopes to the day, and for me, it was the pursuit of joy through precision paddling. And I wasn't disappointed. It was very enjoyable to have the opportunity to work with some of our nation's best minds in the slalom event; whether to gain an initial experience of slalom, or to hone skills that have been developed for years. Bob and Joe took pains to give each of us individual attention as time warranted. Every experience is also enhanced or diminished by other participants; how they respond to instruction, the questions they ask, the "culture" that is created by the group itself. I was very satisfied that our group helped create a positive mood and attitude that made the experience fun.

Our experience was enhanced by the inclusion of digital video of our runs, which allowed Bob's comments to be heard later while observing our specific movements. This removed the issue of trying to remember a specific turn or gate or drop, it was all there on tape and could be paused or slo-mo'd later for examination. This is a wonderful teaching tool. And a real bonus is that we're all promised a copy for our own edification as well as memory. Not only that, but Bob and Joe invited us to continue to dialogue with them via e-mail. It's a gift that keeps giving! All in all a terrific day; probably too short for most of us, but enough of a sweet taste that we all look forward to future sessions with Joe and Bob, and hope that more members will take advantage of this marvelous opportunity.

*(Bob Cook was a participant in the Gold Medal Open Canoe Clinic in Golden, Colorado on June 28, 2001. He is paddler of the gifted and talented variety and a swell guy too!)