Quim Fontane Maso, three time European Freestyle Champion, took time from university and training to speak with DBP-UK Admin and Team Paddler Chris Macdonald on all things whitewater kayaking. We are stoked to bring the Dirt Bag World this exclusive interview. Cheers!
CMac: What mental preparation do you do prior to the competition, to calm the nerves?
QFM: When I was an upcoming freestyle paddler I thought the pros didn’t feel the pressure or the nerves. It felt like they had things well under control, they were too good to have doubts about their rides, tricks and performance. I dreamt about the day I would be so good in my freestyle boat that I wouldn’t feel the pressure anymore.
This day has never arrived. As you need to push it hard to keep up with the big boys, you need to put together rides with risky tricks and combos that sometimes are on the edge of your ability, so the doubts are always there, and these always lead to nerves.
Today I know that all the pros do go through nerves, and in my case they keep increasing round after round until I make it to the finals. Once I’m in the finals the nerves disappear and I can show my best performance. It’s a thing that I don’t choose, but it’s pretty good to know.
My mental preparation: self-talk, thinking about the task not the outcomes, mental rehearsal. I go through my ride, use techniques to rise my arousal level, and get into my flow.
CMac: What’s the atmosphere at competitions? Is there camaraderie between athletes of all the nations?
QFM: Indeed. Almost all the competitors are very friendly and approachable. The atmosphere at freestyle competitions is something pretty unique. The International competitions are a good opportunity not just to show your skills and compete but also to meet with many friends that you only have the chance to see a few times a year. To my mind the friendliest of all teams is the Japanese; they are pretty fierce competitors as well!
CMac: What kit do you use and why?
QFM: My favorite piece of gear is my Kokatat/Snapdragon topdeck. I cannot paddle freestyle without a topdeck, I hate it when the drops of water drip down your ass because the jacket rolled up and the water gets into your kayak.
As for the boat, I would have never achieved my 3rd European Champion without my Guigui Prod. It’s not just about how much easier it is to learn the tricks and throw them, it’s also way more fun to paddle, so you end up training more because you’re having fun all the time in all features. It performs in the wave and go big in the hole while it still makes links really easy.
CMac: What does a usual week consist off when not competing, such as training schedules?
QFM: I go to uni and train when I can, usually 4-5 times a week. The problem is that my local river is tiny and it has water on for a few months a year, so I end up having to travel lots (which I don’t complain about because it’s one of the coolest things of this sport).
As you might guess I’m not a professional kayaker; I don’t make a living from the sport. I have to combine studying and kayaking, which isn’t easy when you’re trying to be at the top of the game.
CMac: Where is your favorite place to paddle, whether training or competing?
QFM: Paddle – There’s nothing that could possibly compared with the White Nile. Hot water, big waves, friendly people, beautiful sunsets, wildlife… it’s all there. Check my video “Ode to the Nile” and see for yourself!
Compete – Millau during the Natural Games. It’s almost like my second home. I have learnt most of my tricks there and it’s one of the best spots for linking. The Natural Games are a huge outdoor festival and during the Night Semis you get like 10.000 people watching, with awesome music.
CMac: What do you struggle with the most training or competing?
QFM: I usually compete better than I train. I also start the competition with regular, sometimes lame, rides and build up from there. Sometimes I find it hard to perform at my best in all the stages of the comp, but once I’m in the semis and finals it all starts to come together and I find it easier to send big rides. I’m a bit irregular and this is one of the things I know I have to improve.
CMac: What do you enjoy the most about the sport of kayaking in general?
QFM: A good sunset session on a good wave. It’s good for your soul.
The feeling of going down a committing river that you’ve never done before, not knowing what’s waiting for you around the next bend… it’s also one of the best feelings of kayaking.
CMac: How does winning the European Championships feel, if words can even describe the feeling?
QFM: Hahaha. The first time I won the title I was 6 years younger, and much less experienced. I thought winning the Euros was going to be life changing. Well, to be honest, now that I’ve won it three times I can say it doesn’t make such a big difference if it makes any difference at all. I haven’t been approached by any new sponsors, I haven’t made it into the news, I still need to go to uni so I can get a living tomorrow, and even in the kayaking world no one will recognize you outside the freestyle scene. The beautiful thing about freestyle kayaking is that you do it for the love.
I think showing a sick style out there is much more valuable than the medals that might be hanging from your neck.
I am, of course, beyond stoked to have made it to the top of the podium as well. It was the most important competition on the calendar this year, but at the same time it’s just that: a freestyle competition.
CMac: What do you see yourself doing in the future? What’s the next step in your kayaking career?
QFM: Definitely World Champion.