One of the aspects of kayak competition that is fascinating is that age is not specifically a handicap (the Hearn/Lugbill line up of winners in the ’96 Olympics were just about the magic age of 40, while this year Hailey Thompson, the women’s C1 slalom racer that everyone is watching, is only 16). We have young boaters being inspired by “experienced” boaters, and vice-versa.

The women’s wildwater event is a great example. This weekend 17-year old Haley Popp will be competing for a berth on the women’s US wildwater team, competing against the likes of Jennie Goldberg (who has been paddling whitewater for 30+ years). Both trained together this past weekend. And now will compete in wildwater at this weekend’s Nantahala Double Header/US Open.

A sincere thanks to both Jennie and Haley for taking time out to answer a few questions before the big event this weekend!

Jennie- What brings you from Washington State to WNC this week?

I came to Western NC this week to compete in the USA Wildwater Team Trials which are being held on the Nantahala. I arrived last Saturday so I’d have plenty of time to practice on the course!


Haley – being from Chattanooga you have not had to travel quite as far. So what have you been doing to prepare for this year?
I have been training since last fall, getting out on flatwater daily, doing gym work five or six times a week, and training on the Nanty many weekends. I started with a base fitness and have worked on technique, strategy, and mental toughness, all in prep for this year’s racing season.

Jennie – How long have you been wildwater racing?
I have been racing Wildwater for 10 years. (Slalom for about 20). I’ve
been paddling whitewater, though, for 30 years. I just can’t stop!

And over the years, what changes have you seen?
Once I added slalom and wildwater racing to my paddling activities I noticed that my confidence and my river running skills vastly improved. I definitely became stronger but I was also able to make very technical maneuvers,learn to use the water features to my advantage and nail all my moves! I also learned how to quickly scout a rapid and then actually remember it once I got back on the water! And it seems that improvement keeps coming. Just this year I have learned to apply even more power to every stroke. It’s very empowering to feel the kayak surge forward under your command when you want it to! And, of course, along with all that training comes big pecs and biceps and rippling abs…. 🙂

Pec, Biceps and rippling abs…is that what keeps you motivated?

That and the fact that I find it easy to keep motivated because I just love being on white water and paddling a kayak. I also enjoy a good work-work and I certainly get that every time I get in a wildwater boat; those boats are so much fun to paddle when you’re going fast! Whitewater racing also keeps me in shape for being able to enjoy my most favorite paddling activity which is being on a multi-day wilderness whitewater run.

So Haley, how is the competition looking for this weekend?
I don’t know all my competitors, but I know some great racers out there. Tierney O’Sullivan has only been a senior for a couple years now, but she’s probably the toughest woman out there. Close by are Lane Errickson, Jeannie Goldberg, and a few others. I’d say I’m well matched as anyone, on a given day we all might do quite better than the others.

And what is it that is really impresses you in the field of women?

I love meeting new paddling women! Right now, I really look up to Tierney, but I love to watch all my amazing friends! I enjoy watching the progress of Hailey Thompson, a 16 year old c1 slalomist, because she is pioneering women’s canoe and dominating while she’s at it! I’m big about promoting progress in women’s paddling, for all types of women and all types of paddling, and my inspiration is all those women I see out on the river!

Jennie – any words of wisdom for up-and-coming women?

I encourage more women to try this sport. Now is a perfect time to try racing because the field is small….need I say that this ups your opportunities to win?!! But, of course, I’m only giving away my secret because racing is more fun with more competition. So hop in a boat and try it! I’ve found that women naturally have better balance and finesse and that counts a lot in whitewater racing.

Ladies, what are your goals for 2010?

Jennie? I really want to race at the World Championships in Spain this summer, but that means that I have be one of the top 4 women finishers at the race. My next goal is to not come in last in the Senior World Championships, then to medal in the Masters Championships and before the end of the year to get more women to paddle wild water with me!

Haley? This year, my main goal is to make progress. I have a lot of little goals, like certain races, but I really want to just move forward, always be getting faster, stronger, and more confident on the water. I would love to compete in Spain, at the Senior Wildwater Worlds. It’s a bit of a challenge, as I’m only 17, but if I can make the team, it’ll be a great opportunity for me to race with the best.

Well you both are inspiring to all of us. Good luck, good lines, and good fun!!