Meet the team Mondays:
Every Monday we are going to showcase our awesome team members which we support in the paddle sport world.
This week we are introducing our newest member to the team - Vanessa Hiller.
Nessa, we hope you are well! I guess what we should start with is how did you get into the world of kayaking?
I used to work for a outdoor charity for young people. We went to Brownsea Island for a week of coastal activities and I tried sea-kayaking and was, like, this is so much fun!! Then I saw the error of my ways and moved quickly onto white water, then freestyle (lols - some of my best friends are sea kayakers).
What’s the CIWW Freestyle Hub that you started up?
This is a community kayaking project I run with Daithi O'Brien at Cardiff International Whitewater, where we run development days and social paddles for freestylers. We also let the creek boaters and taillee boaters join in, mainly so they don't mow us down all the time (and Luke Edwards and John Russell have been a big part too). It started out as a few get-togethers; the idea being to just hang-out at CIWW and encourage people to join us on the water, have a laugh and work on freestyle skills. It's grown massively over the last year and on the snappily titled "Winter Wonder Loops" social paddle in January, we had nearly 40 freestylers come along, some complete novices, some ninja-grade! Daithi and I are both on the GB Freestyle Inspirers programme, which has helped bring some really experienced freestylers down to Cardiff to share skills.
Amazing stuff, it’s great to hear that your encouraging people into the sport. Do you plan to run any competitions at CIWW for when this is all over?
We have decided we are not doing competitions. There are loads of competitions out there for people to get involved with; our aim for the Hub is to build a community where people develop their freestyle skills just for the fun of it. We create a chilled, party wave vibe where people feel comfortable to try new moves with no pressure; tap into that mindset of "what the hell, I'll just try it" and people have a skill development explosion!
Sounds like a perfect environment to learn in! What freestyle kayaking move are you working on currently?
I'm still trying to finesse the end of a loop, and I'm getting more cartwheel ends. CIWW is great for wall grinds (not in the C&KS demo boats you hear!) so doing some inventive wall grinds to cartwheels. I spent a lot of time in the Thames Valley this winter, mainly Hurley, though we did a Marsh stake-out day, and on those features, I was working towards a blunt. Mostly I’m just happy if I get air and don't just faceplant too hard.
We hear you got a new freestyle kayaking before the lockdown. What did you get? Is it in any funky colours?
I have a Pyranha Jed in yellow, blue and hot pink - it's sooo beautiful but I haven't had a chance to paddle it yet. Soon as I can, I am off up to the Dee and one of Pyranha guys is gonna help me get it outfitted for it's maiden voyage! I am one of the C&KS Pyranha team paddlers, so it is great that they have supported me by providing this beautiful new boat!
What have you been doing to keep yourself sane during lock down? Any new skills learnt?
I've been doing a lot of fitness (garden circuits) and yoga to keep my body and mind in shape for when we can get back on the water. I've dusted off my hula hoops to work on hoop tricks...and I bought an LED glow in the dark hoop for garden night-time hoop raves! I'm also learning loads of dance routines from online tutorials; learning dance moves and hoop moves is actually great for freestyle because of the body co-ordination and explosive fitness element.
Where’s the best place you’ve ever paddled?
Ottawa...the waves were just beautiful! I got on the Garbarator and it was like being thrown downstairs in a boat, but in a good way! I'd like to get back out there now I have more boat control and try and work on moves other than Harry Pottering.
What’s the greatest piece of advice someone has ever given you when kayaking?
Hmm, there have been so many. Daithi always tells me "don't swim or I'll unfriend you" (this is very tongue in cheek; there is no shame in swimming and Daithi is the most supportive guy ever!). In all seriousness, an AOAC club coach called Andy Wilson taught me early on to visualise your moves ahead of doing them, look where you want to go and focus on where you want to be - which has always stuck with me.
If you had the opportunity to invent a new piece of kayaking kit, what would you make?
Something to stop your toes jamming into the end of your freestyle kayak; freestyle has ended my foot modelling career for ever.