Heaven finishes second in freestyle at 2019 Championships
By Darren Lum
Surrounded by historical buildings from Minden’s bygone era, Coleman Heaven made a little history for himself and the town with a podium finish (the first in recent memory) in the 2019 Canoe Kayak Whitewater National Championships held from Wednesday, Aug. 14 to 18 at the Minden Wild Water Preserve.
Heaven spoke to a small gathering at the 2019 World Tour Paddling Film festival about his sport a few hours after winning silver in the junior field for the freestyle event.
Heaven, who graduated from Haliburton Highlands Secondary School past year, entered this year’s nationals with the aim to make it to the podium after a disappointing fourth place at last year’s national championships held in Alberta.
He was shocked to have his dream realized.
“I was super stoked, you know? I heard third and, I was like, ‘Oh, OK.’ I was expecting third, maybe second and when I heard third, I was like, ‘Oh, no, I hope I made [the podium].’ When my name was called, I was like, ‘Ahhh, I’ve never been on the podium’ so I didn’t really know what to do with my hands. So I walked up and I didn’t know what to do with my hands at all,” he said. “It was sweet. Everyone was super stoked. It was just an awesome day.”
It was during the second round of competition where he had the greatest difficulty, he said.
“It was all the tricks I knew I could easily do. I was hung up and I was on my third and last run and I finally got it done there. That was stressful. Round three I managed to pull it all together and pull it off,” he said.
In each of the first two rounds with 14 competitors, the competition demanded competitors perform four of seven listed tricks known as a “jam” format. Then the competition was left with four junior riders (and one cadet) and switched to International Canoe Federation rules for the final. This is when each competitor is allowed three rides, 45 seconds in duration to complete one ride to count to a single high score. Do as many tricks in the time allotted, but perform tricks only once.
Heaven scored a best score of 260 points, edging out third place finisher Luke Pomeroy by 10 points, but shy of first place winner Marc-Antoine D’Avignon, who finished with 370 points.
Heaven had said the podium finish was all the more rewarding because it happened at the Minden Wild Water Preserve. It was not only where he learned to white water kayak, but also where he spent hundreds of hours, making memories with his father and friends, including developing as a paddler.
The teenager said it was awesome to be able to achieve what he did in front of a supportive home crowd, comprising family and friends a year after finishing fourth at nationals in Alberta.
“So stoked to come back on to the home turf and put some stuff together and get redemption from last year,” he said.
Both parents were there.
His mother Irene just made it in time to see her son compete and his father Paul was there, like always, feeding him water and his favourite fruit: peaches.
As far as the future goes, Heaven is not sure about moving up from junior and competing in the open men’s division in freestyle, but is looking forward to his first year of engineering at Queen’s University.
“Next year there is a lot more people obviously up to as many ages [allowed]. There are a lot more way better [paddlers] than I am to be honest. We’re just going to have to train throughout the winter and we’ll see what happens,” he said.
Making the national team is still a long- term goal of his, which will include a trip to Nottingham, U.K. for the 2021 ICF Canoe Freestyle World Championship.
Whatever the future holds for him, he hopes his Gull River performance will inspire others to take up the sport of white water kayaking and build the sport locally.
“It would be sick to watch it grow. It’s a sweet sport. You don’t have to pay to go kayaking really. Get your boat and go as much as you want. It’s not that expensive of a sport to do. Everyone can do it. It’s awesome,” he said.
Heaven encourages youth to follow in his wake.
With the white water so close and access to YouTube, youth have a great opportunity to put in as much time as they want and to develop their paddling to be among the best in the country. The key is to enjoy paddling though. From time on the water to the enjoyment of the sport, development will come and possibly success like he enjoyed on the Gull River.
“You just got to keep doing it for fun, you know? In the end you can’t focus on trying to win. You have to enjoy it otherwise you’re not going to progress,” he said.