Racing canoes and kayaks is thirsty work, but Balmy Beach paddlers got an extra big drink this month after bringing home the Ontario Cup.
The provincial title caps a season when Balmy Beach Canoe Club shot from 16th to third nation-wide.
“I don’t think we can ever do better than this,” said head coach Peter Martinek, grinning.
In August, Balmy Beach sent 32 athletes to the sprint canoe/kayak nationals in Regina – they flew home with 41 medals.
The first and second-place clubs, Oakville’s Burloak and Nova Scotia’s Cheema, each sent teams nearly twice the size.
Balmy’s season is even more impressive when you consider where they practice – a 500-metre stretch of protected water they share with a marina and a sewage plant.
“Have you seen this water where we are paddling? I’ve never seen such horrible conditions in all my life,” Martinek said.
“But we’re a very enthusiastic team, so somehow it works.”
Balmy Beach is home to two national team members, Sam Roworth and KC Fraser. But asked about nationals, both were quick to say that Balmy’s surprising surge came from the jaw-dropping wins of their youngest paddlers.
“It was a lot more than we expected,” said Roworth.
Fraser remembers talking with Lucas Turnbull before his first-ever race at nationals.
At 14, Turnbull was by far the youngest athlete on the water, a bantam who raced the C2 1000 with Douglas Ellery against juniors who could be 19 or older. He was the only one who had to wear a life jacket.
“They caught up more than a boat length in the last 100 metres,” said Roworth. “That was probably the most impressive race.”
At nationals, Balmy Beach also took home the senior women’s and junior men’s burgees, and became the first club to win a national burgee in para canoe.
A few weeks later, five Balmy Beach paddlers flew to Mexico City to race at the annual Pan Am Championships. It was the largest team that Balmy Beach has ever sent, and a unique challenge given that the Mexican course is 2,000 metres above sea level.
Nick Matveev won gold in the K 4000, an Olympic race, and silver in the K1 200. Hayley Plante won silver in the K2 500 and switched flags to win a bronze in the K4 500 with the US national team. Taylor Potts won two bronze in C1 200 and C2 500.
With the competition season over, the club’s high-performance paddlers are going into a training regime of swimming, running, paddling, gyms and cross-country skiing.
“It’s the really boring part,” said Roworth. “A lot of kilometres at a lower intensity.”
But there’s a lot to train for this winter, since the kayaking World Cup this spring is a qualifier for the 2016 Olympics in Rio. Toronto’s Pan Am Games is also fast approaching, giving Beachers a rare chance to see sprint canoe-kayak at its best.
“It’s a great opportunity for people who don’t see our sport often at an international level,” said Fraser, adding that she hopes seeing the Pan Ams in person will further inspire Balmy Beach’s already impressive junior athletes.