Is Hurley Making Us Lazy?
By Marc Musgrove
Published in Canoeist, Jan 2002
Marc Musgrove and Emma Woods spent much of 2000 and 2001 on a World Tour.
It seems odd to question Hurley as an institution. It has after all been the training ground for many British freestyle paddlers and is home to British competition. Having travelled around South and North America for the last 8 months, though, I'm worried that Hurley is focusing our skills in very specific areas. The first thing you notice at a lot of American playspots is that, depending on the area you're in of course, many US boaters are very strong on their left side.
In fact it's very noticeable in Canada around Calgary where a large number of the playspots go left - Kananaskis in Alberta and Trail in BC for example. This obviously can work to the British advantage - when we got to the playhole at the bottom of the Upper Lower Elk, the locals were surprised to see us going right. The same seemed true at the Kaituna hole in NZ.
It's a bit of a stretch to say a whole country is one-sided or other, particularly in places as large as the US, but you can notice general trends in skills. Hurley seems to breed righties purely because gate one is so sweet for wheeling that way. Getting to competitions and playspots over here immediately shows you the need to develop both sides equally - which is especially important for our chances in world competitions.
The other major thing about Hurley that is maybe holding back skills development lies in its sheer retentiveness. Hucking right is a relatively simple matter if the hole will hold you in. The large majority of park and playspots we've visited round the Americas don't seem to have quite the stickiness however. It's even more true when catching features on the fly when river running. I know I'm as guilty as anyone else when at home, but when Hurley is on 3 and kicking, I can rarely be arsed to drive to Wales any more. Getting out on rivers and checking out other features is something I think we should be doing more of.
A large chunk of the time we've been playing in either waves or wave/hole features which really lack the balls to hold you if you mess up. In Blighty, I don't think we give enough priority to looking at wave moves - Shepperton for example only just seems to have come into vogue this season. Sites like the Thamesweirproject that encourage people to check out other features than Hurley are great for British boating for that reason. I'm personally going to spend more time at the Bitches when I get home.
Time spent working on simple moves like spinning on green waves is not wasted - without those skills blunting on waves without a massive foam pile is an uphill struggle. Just learning to stay on kind of feature and link moves is worthwhile in my opinion.
There also seems to be a trend towards going as low volume and as short as possible in boat choice - this might make wheeling faster and easier to initiate, but it rarely makes it more controlled to learn. For wave moves, boats with faster speed and more even volume distribution and length like the Riot Doms, Liquidlogic Sessions and Necky Switch all seem to make wave moves more accessible and visually more spectacular than the real shorties.
It's also interesting to see that most of the people who make the British team are the ones who also spend the least amount of time in Blighty. Working on waves is a key skill which was perhaps most graphically illustrated by Alex Nicks' success on the FJ wave at the New Zealand worlds.
When you've had to sit in the eddy freezing for ten minutes at Hurley, there seems to be a trend to want to do your best ride once you finally get out of the eddy. Perhaps it's the desire to avoid dunking your head in the cold water, but that invariably seems to mean throwing right as hard as you can. Go down in the evening and work on lefts (be prepared to mess up) or go river running and spend some time working at smaller waves such as down from the NRA bridge on the Tryweryn. Or leave the country and find warmer water. You never get any better by just repeating the stuff you already know how to do.
Marc Musgrove and Emma Wood would like to thank sponsors Playboater, Werner, Bomber Gear, and AS Watersports.