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Interview Freestyle Kayak World Champion Quim Fontane at home, stuck in Canalunya (near Barcelona) during Corona "Virus Stay at home". Quim recently launched a full coaching program for kids across Europe called The European Whitewater School (EWWS). 



Published on avril 2nd, 2020 | by Kayak Session https://www.kayaksession.com/img-current-issue/upload-your-video.png

Corona Diaries #10, Quim Fontane (Catalunya)

Outside, rivers are starting to flow and spring is around the corner, and the sun is shining high. Yet around the world, many are grounded at home and it seems likely others soon will be. Though difficult, let’s repeat it, folks this is THE THING TO DO! It is necessary and worth it!

So, we at Kayak Session decided to take the opportunity to catch up with our friends in the whitewater community and see how they are coping across the globe.

Today we talk with Former Freestyle World Champion Quim Fontane who is stuck in Canalunya (near Barcelona). Quim recently launched a full coaching program for kids across Europe called The European Whitewater School (EWWS) and is telling us more about it…

How zit Quim, where are you and what is the situation like where you are? 

The situation in Catalonia is one of the worst in Europe for several reasons. The first of them is that nobody really expected this epidemic to spread so rapidly and therefore the government didn’t take any action even when the first infected people returning from Italy were detected. This was unfortunate, but can be understood given the fact that none of us had ever lived a pandemic like this and the scientist who were warning us seemed to be a bit too alarmist after all. 

« the Spanish Government placed and order for a few million Covid-19 tests to a biomedic business in China that wasn’t approved to issue the tests. Such tests only had a 30% detection accuracy. « 

Then reality rolled in and the truly crazy shit started to happen. As the cases skyrocketed the Spanish Government decided not to confine the population in order to save the economy …What are a few tens of thousands of lifes worth anyway? …

Amidst the chaos and the struggle of the affected countries to find tests and healthcare material the Spanish Government placed and order for a few million Covid-19 tests to a biomedic business in China that wasn’t approved to issue the tests. Such tests only had a 30% detection accuracy. The Spanish minister of health declared “We don’t know the Chinese Market. There are companies offering us great bargains and then they are not bargains”. Sorry but… WTF?!

Unfortunately in southern Europe the praxis of politicians do not include resigning from your role when you f*ck it up, even when the scandal is this big.  The role to direct the crisis was then passed on to the army (only country in Europe to do that)… to fight a pandemic! We were 2 weeks into the pandemic and the death toll was on the thousands when finally a scientific counsel was appointed. We have had full confinement since Monday March the 30th only!

« Like most people in these crazy times I am stuck home, with a brand new carbon guigui waiting to be put on the water and a completely remodelled whitewater park in Salt (near where i live) waiting to be tested!« 

Like most people in these crazy times I am stuck home, with a brand new carbon guigui waiting to be put on the water and a completely remodelled whitewater park in Salt (near where i live) waiting to be tested! At the same time the first signs of the spring are arriving and the snowmelt in the Pyrenees has already started. I can barely hold myself from hopping out for a paddle, however this is time for seriousness and responsibility, no matter how much itch these two words generate to us paddlers.  For whatever stupid reason, too often the kayaking community doesn’t have the likes and support of the authorities, let’s not give them any excuse to keep disdaining us.

Quim Fontane surfing Nile Special wave on the White Nile in Uganda
Throwing on Nile Special on the White Nile (Uganda)

Spain has got one of the highest toll of people infected and some of the strongest rules to stay at home right?

Yep, we have this undesirable honour. The official cases are soon going to surpass 100,000 and death toll is around 16,000. However the vast majority of the cases have not been detected because we ran out of tests. Some estimations put the real number of infected well above the 500,000. This would explain why the death toll % is so high. There is just a vast number of cases under the radar that are just coping with the virus at home, and only the worst cases are accepted in the hospital. To give you an overview of the situation; the President and VicePresident of Catalonia, the VicePresident of Spain, the President of the Region of Madrid, the Head of Coordination of Sanitary Alarms, The Minister of Equality and the Spanish Lepen amongst many others have been tested positive on Covid-19.

The rules have been implemented too slowly as a reaction to the number of infections. The virus has the initiative and the government has only been reactive. Mandatory confinement only started on Monday 30th. I have personally been confining with the rest of my family for 2 weeks already. 

« The first ever camp of the EWWS had to be cancelled. This was such a bummer as we were so excited to start the adventure of the school. The camp was completely full with paddlers coming from all over Europe. »

How has Covid-19 impacted your plans for the season? (both personal and professional)

Ahhhhh… man it hurts to think about it, both my heart and my pocket. The first ever camp of the EWWS had to be cancelled. This was such a bummer as we were so excited to start the adventure of the school. The camp was completely full with paddlers coming from all over Europe. How unlucky was that? What were the chances the first camp you ran through your business has to be cancelled due to a global pandemic?

The rest of the camps have also been frozen until further notice as we wait to see how the Covid-19 situation evolves. It is annoying, specially as we have flights booked for a Camp on the Slave River in Canada, we also have an amazing Summer Camp organized that was due to do a tour around Europe… darn you CoronaVirus!
Another impact the Corona has had in our calendars is that the Freestyle World Cups have been cancelled as well as many other iconic competitions such as the Hurley Classic or the SPB Fest. I was planning to have some vacations between camps of the EWWS in Valsesia and it looks like this ain’t happen either… not to mention that Stakeout will be totally off-limits this year. 

Reigning world champion Joaquim Fontaine Maso takes the lead once again in the quarter final rounds. ©Peter Holcombe:kayaksession.com
Quim Fontane during the 2019 Freestyle Worlds, where he will take silver.

How do you spend most of your time at the moment?

I am working on the EWWS website which should launch sometime soon. I am also collaborating with the app Whitewater.guide created by Mike Krutyansky, who you interviewed on the last KS issue. I am in charge of the Pyrenees region. It sort of helps me keep my shit together to relive the descents and write the descriptions of the sections and rapids whilst I am stuck inside. Sometimes I am writing and start to feel this burning sensation in my stomach and the excitement of getting out there builds up… then reality kicks in and you realize you won’t be going anywhere near the river in the next 2 weeks and it sucks… but the daydream was worth it. Why don’t you download the app and collaborate? I promise it is so pleasing to fill the rivers and sections in, it has a genius design and I am sure it will become very popular amongst paddlers. You can also give me shit for how biased and overhyped my local runs are in the app… sorry, I just couldn’t keep neutral. I guess the melancholy and love for the rivers that have seen you grown up are always special. 

« The idea is simple; to join our expertise to create a Kayak School of reference in Europe (….) This is about creating a truly international kayak school for both freestyle and creeking, that spreads the love for our sport throughout the continent and works with the most amazing and inspirational coaches. »

Tell us more about the EWWS… 

This project actually is a shared effort between my coach and friend Jacko Jackson and Freestyle World Championship Finalist David McClure. For quite a while each one of us has been running his own program in their own local environment; Jacko has been running the well-known Burners Program for over 20 years in the UK, and most of the activity happens on the Thames Valley, one of the most active freestyle communities in the world. David started the SouthEast Freestyle Squad a while back and has been very successful at revitalizing the Irish Freestyle scene. Finally, I have been working for a good while with the Salt-ter Kayak School which was founded in 2000 by my local club and which has produced amazing paddlers over the years. Not sure how many other kayak schools other than Salt-ter can claim to have introduced both SickLine Champions and Freestyle World Champions to kayaking… 

Anyway, after having collaborated for a while in each other programs I had the idea to make one more step and create the European Whitewater School. The idea is simple; to join our expertise to create a Kayak School of reference in Europe. It is no longer about developing the local scene in our respective hometowns or countries. This is about creating a truly international kayak school for both freestyle and creeking, that spreads the love for our sport throughout the continent and works with the most amazing and inspirational coaches. 

We only started the project a few months back but we are amazed with how much interest the idea has generated so far. Paddlers from the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, Catalonia, Japan, Wales, Ireland, Austria and Rumania have signed up for the Freestyle & Creeking Camps we’re offering in 2020. And this is only de beginning! We have big plans and we cannot wait to share them with you. 

 » I have recently had some back pain problems and I am not really doing much fitness, I am actually stretching a lot and using the foam roller a lot… »

How are you maintaining fitness and your sanity? Can you get any exercise or paddle at all?

I have recently rediscovered Twitter and I am loving the instantaneity of the information and updates on the current Coronavirus situation. I have always loved politics and it allows me to follow opinion leaders very closely and without the filter of the press.
I have recently had some back pain problems and I am not really doing much fitness, I am actually stretching a lot and using the foam roller a lot… WHAT A DISCOVERY! Hopefully I will be in top shape once the confinement period is over. Playing squash and table tennis has also been entertaining for a while but it starts to become a bit old now. Kayaking has been off limits for 2 weeks already and being in the street without the express consent of the authorities exposes you to a fine that would put an end to any kayaking trips for quite some time… We’re talking of fines up to 30.000€. 

What are you watching right now? Music to recommend?

We have all been doing lots of cleaning recently. Guess what, whilst my sister was cleaning the movies shelf some old kayaking movies that had been long lost were found. Full Circle, Sickline 3, Burning Time, New Reign, Dynasty, Source, Vitamin D, Young New Fresh… I couldn’t resist. I sit alone in the sofa watching these old pearls whilst the rest of the family keeps doing their daily activities absolutely uninterested. They do not comprehend these pearls.
I also watched Beasts of No Nation on the platform of the N. Such a raw, yet beautiful movie that tells the story of Agu, a child soldier fighting a civil war in an unnamed African country. Non-hollywood cinema that I’d absolutely recommend. 

Music – Hmmm… I have been enjoying some lesser know Major Lazer songs recently. “Can’t take it from me” & “Get Free”… Can anyone recommend me more of this genre? It’s sort of reggae-house…

Any words of wisdom for your fellow paddlers across the world?

Uh, wisdom… I’ll leave that to Gandalf the Grey. 

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