COLUMBUS, Ga. (WRBL)— 2015 was the last time the International Canoe Federation (ICF) held their Canoe Freestyle World Championships in North America. Now, they’re set to kick off on the Chattahoochee River in just a few days.
More than 300 athletes representing 20 countries are set to compete starting Monday, Oct. 9. Representing the USA Freestyle Team are 24 paddlers: five senior men, five senior women, three junior men, three junior women, two OC1, three C1 men, and three C1 women. Two of those slots are filled by sibling duo and Phenix City natives Mason and Makinley Kate Hargrove.
Mason Hargrove, 20, has been kayaking for eight years.
Meet Mason Hargrove
“My dad started when I was about ten years old, but any kid wants to be like their dad. So around 12, I really wanted to try whitewater kayaking and threw on all of his stuff and just fell in love with the sport,” Mason told WRBL.
Hargrove says he was first introduced to freestyle kayaking in 2017. Shortly thereafter in 2019 he made the USA National Team as a Junior and went to worlds where he won his first ever World Championship in Spain. (Above: Mason practicing with Team USA Oct. 4, 2023. Taken by Kevin Roble with the Ranger 3 Drone.)
He has also obtained numerous US National Titles before tying for first place in the 2022 ICF World Cups hosted right here in Columbus last year. Now, he’s looking forward to bringing the competition home while competing with Team USA for a third time.
“We’ve always talked about having a World Championship here and now that it’s actually happening, I’m super excited to welcome all of my friends and fellow athletes from all over the world to my hometown of Columbus, Georgia, and Phenix City, Alabama,” Mason said.
Meet Makinley Kate Hargrove
Makinley Kate Hargrove, 16, has been kayaking for the past seven years.
“I started kayaking about seven years ago here in Columbus, Georgia. I started down in the Eddie with my big brother and my dad. Then slowly my family started to join in, and I saw all the people over there on the wave doing pretty cool tricks,” Makinley Kate told WRBL. “I thought that I would want to do that in the future and show that girls can do anything that guys can do.”
In 2022, Makinley Kate made her first slot competing with the USA Freestyle Kayaking Team, a position that came with many firsts, including breaking her first world record.
“A couple of months later I flew out to Nottingham, England. It was my first time out of the country, first airplane ride, a lot of new experiences. We had to get used to a five-hour different time zone also. So, it was super cool to go out there and try a new kind of kayaking,” Makinley Kate recalled. “So, I had about less than two months to get ready for the World Championships. I learned tons of new tricks and I competed my first World Championships and in semi-finals, I broke an ICF Freestyle world record for the highest scoring ride of a junior ever in an ICF event. Then later in finals, I scored and got third place.”
In addition, she has won several US National competitions and is the current 2022 Junior Woman World Cup Champion.
(Above: Makinley Kate practicing with Team USA Oct. 4, 2023. Taken by Kevin Roble with the Ranger 3 Drone.)
Both athletes made Team USA back in March. Mason and Makinley Kate look forward to competing on the same wave they grew up on.
“Each athlete has their own style of how they do each of these tricks. So, it’s really cool to see them surf a wave that I’ve surfed for countless hours and be like, ‘Huh, never thought of doing it like that before,’” Mason said.
“I’ve been paddling in this wave since I was about 11 years old, so it’s pretty exciting to come out here in a wave that I’m more familiar with and also have a competition,” Makinley Kate shared. “So, I get to share the love of my wave with tons of other people that come from all around the world for the World Championships.”
Each competitor only has 45 seconds to perform packing as many flips, tricks, and airtime into a routine without flushing out of the wave. Both siblings share how they prepare mentally and physically.
“About an hour before a competition, I will go somewhere quiet. I’ll put some music in my ears, I’ll close my eyes and visualize what I’m going to do for my ride. It’s definitely hard and a little nerve wracking having everyone down here watching and rooting for you,” Makinley Kate said. “It’s definitely good to zone all that out, focus on you and your tricks and focus on having fun because this is like a once in a lifetime opportunity having the World Championships in Columbus, Georgia.”
While both Hargroves say they are tuning out the noise during competitions, they encourage everyone to come out and cheer on Team USA.
“Super exciting to have another Worlds here and also another one in the United States because last year it was in England and before that it was out in Spain. Super special to have one down back in America. So definitely if you’re able to, come down here and come watch us,” Makinley Kate encouraged.
This upcoming week will be the second time the sibling-duo will be competing alongside each other with Team USA, a feat both are looking forward to.
“I’m also excited to compete next to my sister. She’s also on Team USA. This is the second time we’ve been on a team together. We were on the team in Nottingham, England. She broke a world record there, so there’s no telling what she’s going to do this year. Probably take a few golds along with a few hearts as well so I’m excited to see that,” Mason said.
“It’s super cool that my brother’s made three Team USA slots, so it’s nice to be able to come out here and push each other, teach each other a little bit,” Makinley Kate said. “Of course, Mason teaches me more than I teach him. I can pick on him every now and then, but it’s super nice to have someone who is so high in kayaking and so good at it to be my coach and my brother.”
The 2023 ICF World Championships happening Oct. 9-14 are free for the public to attend.
Locals from both sides of the river can also support the siblings this upcoming Saturday, Oct. 7 with the opening ceremony at the Phenix City Amphitheater. This will be the first event since the 1996 Olympics that the Chattahoochee Valley will host a parade of international athletes with their national flags. Doors set to open at 6:30 p.m. and is free to the public.
“We are thrilled to see the pageantry of an athlete parade along with team members carrying a flag from the nation they are representing,” said Ed Wolverton, President of Uptown Columbus Inc., and the Host Organizing Committee. “Seeing this type of ceremony at an international sporting event is a once in a lifetime opportunity for many people and I encourage everyone to come to this free event,” he said in a news release.
Competitions kick-off Monday at 10 a.m., the full schedule for the week can be found, here.
More information from Uptown Columbus on the World Championships and additional events to follow can be found below.