WINDSOR, N.S. — Paddling season is at its peak, and with the hot summer sun beating down, it’s easy to see why so many are taking to the water.
And people in Windsor will likely notice a busier Pisiquid Canoe Club, which is at least partly thanks to Christian Hall, the new-ish head coach.
There was only a small group of paddlers when Hall started in April 2017, with two paddlers in the spring program, upping to 15 by last fall.
That’s steadily grown in 2018.
It’s still a bit of a change for Hall, who hails from the Senobe Aquatic Club in Dartmouth and has also worked in other clubs in HRM. There, he often worked with up to 20 paddlers in the off-season.
“It’s been a learning process for me, but we’ve seen really good growth in this program,” Hall said.
Now fully into its summer program, the main recruitment drive, Hall is hoping to continue to grow overall membership for the club.
Hall said paddling athletes need to be active throughout the year in order to be competitive at the provincial and national level.
“Nova Scotia goes to the Canada Games and usually wins a medal in every (paddling) event, winning 70 per cent of our medals in canoe-kayak,” he said. “The level is so high here, you need to be active all year, even at the 12-, 13-year-old level.”
Competition — and skill levels — are high.
“One of the things I always say about our sport (is) there’s really no house league paddling once you get past 12 or 13 in Nova Scotia. Everyone’s playing AAA whether they know it or not,” he said. “You really need to be training off season too continue to develop as an athlete.”
Hall is hoping to help make Pisiquid a paddling destination, growing its prestige.
“If you look at Orenda (Canoe Club) in Lake Echo, they have a lot of success from a similarly small-sized community,” he said. “They’re sending athletes to the national championships every year. We want to achieve that here.”
It’s about starting them early too, with high performance athletes usually beginning around seven or eight years old, if not younger.
Fall is when technique becomes the focus, after a summer where speed is everything.
“In September and October, we do long, steady paddles with a focus on technique,” he said. “In November, the kids are off the water and we have a brand-new weight room in the club and do a lot of running. But, also, yoga, soccer, a part of it is just keeping up the general fitness.”
And in the spring, they’re back in the water, improving their paddling before race season kicks off again.
Hall has been paddling since he was four years old, with a strong family connection to the sport.
His father, Tony Hall, coached many Olympic and national champion paddlers over the years, including Stephen Giles, who won bronze in the C-1 1,000 metre in Sydney in 2000.
Tony Hall opened up a club in Georgia around the time of the Atlanta Olympics, which is when Christian began paddling himself.
Tony Hall has been recognized by the Nova Scotia Sport Hall of Fame for his contributions to the sport.
When the family returned to Dartmouth, Hall continued to paddle, first at Mic Mac, then Cheema, both in HRM, before he followed in his father’s footsteps and started coaching, mainly in Dartmouth.
As an athlete, Hall competed at the national championships, winning medals in war canoe and crew boats. As a coach, he’s also had athletes compete at the national level.
Hall said there is still a bit of a challenge recruiting new paddlers, especially if they’ve never been in a canoe or kayak before.
“Many eight-year-olds want nothing to do with the water at all, they’re very hesitant,” he said. “But you wouldn’t believe how many by the end of the summer can’t get out of the water. It’s amazing to see.”
For athletes under 11, he tries them out on all kinds of different boats and in different positions, to get them used to the different skills needed.
As they age and find their specialty, they focus more heavily on that discipline. But that doesn’t mean they’re excluded from other boats.
“We do want our athletes going to play soccer, going to play hockey, going to cheerleading, going to a bunch of different stuff,” he said. “Whatever they end up doing when they’re 17, 18, paddling will help them out. At the end of the day we want to build better athletes, and build better people.”
Maura Macumber, 10, has been a member of the club for years. She’s been enjoying working with Hall as the new head coach.
“He inspires me to do a lot of stuff I wouldn’t normally do,” Macumber said. “He’s coached all of these other clubs and has a lot of paddling experience. He pushes us to what he knows we can do.”
Sierra Kelly, 11, agreed, adding that Hall has also added more organization and scheduling to the club.
“He says a lot of things that might seem silly, but they’re actually true,” Kelly said. “When we’re paddling in the war canoe, he says ‘kiss the fish,’ so when we’re paddling (he’s directing us) to really reach down into the water.”