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Victoria waterways road to nationals for competitive kayaker

James Bay’s Coen del Valle likely to race twice for B.C. in 2017
Coen del Valle churns through the water during competition. The James Bay resident will represent B.C. at the Canada Summer Games next month. Photo by Matthew Abbott

It can get rather busy on the Gorge Waterway and Victoria’s Upper Harbour on late spring evenings.

Competitive kayaker Coen del Valle and his clubmates with the Chinook Racing Canoe Club routinely share the water with everything from dragon boaters and recreational kayakers to St. Michael’s University School rowing crews and even the odd Harbour Ferries boat.

When you’ve got a goal in mind of finding ways to get faster in advance of a major national competition – the 2017 Canada Summer Games in this case – it makes paying attention to what you’re doing easier.

“Kayaking is one of the most technical sports, I think,” says del Valle, who qualified for Team B.C. with his overall efforts paddling in the 200-metre, 500m and 1,000m heats and finals at the provincial trials in Kamloops last month. “So much depends on what angle your arms are at … I’m focusing on moving my stroke further forward, concentrating on creating a more positive blade angle.”

Those seemingly small but critical adjustments help cut down on resistance and can potentially shave seconds off one’s time.

Del Valle, a James Bay resident and UVic student who turns 20 in July, was one of five paddlers to qualify for the B.C. men’s kayak team. While paddler placement in boats for the Games is up to the coach’s discretion, del Valle expects to race in K4 (four-person) and likely K2, but doubts he’ll be tabbed to race K1, which is generally reserved for the fastest paddler on the team.

Leading up the Games, which run July 29 to Aug. 1 in Winnipeg, the 20 B.C. kayak and canoe paddlers will train together at a full-team camp in July.

“We have to train together to be used to the team boats … and start building team synergy,” says del Valle, for whom these Games will be his highest-level event since he began kayak racing seven years ago. “I think it’s just really exciting. I think we have a pretty solid team this year, especially in men’s kayak. The other (groups) are little on the young side, but we have some good veteran leadership.

In between the Team B.C. camps, he’s out on the water locally with the relatively new Chinook club, coached by his mother, Rhys del Valle. He’s glad to be finished the semester at UVic, where he majors in mathematics, noting that it’s good to be able to focus on his sport. On the other hand, mixing the two serious endeavours sometimes works out well.

“It’s nice, especially in mid-term season when I’m really stressed, just to be able to get out on the water and paddle hard,” he says.

Next up for del Valle is the provincial championships next month back in Kamloops, where he’ll race K1 and K2, with teammate and fellow UVic student Patrick Dann. While the 200m and 500m are del Valle’s specialties, he plans to race the 1,000 as well. The top four from each final qualify for the Canadian Sprint Canoe/Kayak Championships set for Aug. 22-26 in Welland, Ont.

All in all, it’s shaping up to be a very busy few months. While many high-level young paddlers use the Games and nationals as stepping stones to the Olympic team, – following in the footsteps of decorated Canadian paddlers like Adam van Koeverden – del Valle is content to work hard this summer and see where life takes him.

“I’m going to take some time to focus on school for a bit, but if I come back and I’m still doing well, the Olympics is something I would definitely want to go for,” he says.