Mandi Watt dipped her paddle into water for a new adventure this week.
The novice kayaker found out how hard it is to maintain her balance on the water when she stepped into a kayak for the first time Tuesday.
"It's pretty scary and it's pretty embarrassing because all the other people are not tipping and you are," said Watt. "It was a lot to handle at first."
But by Friday the 15 year old was ready to venture beyond the buoys and test out her skills with the rest of her Zone 8 teammates on the BC Summer Games kayak/canoe team. Watt said her teammates offered a lot of helpful advice to prepare her to venture out of her comfort zone.
"I kind of felt like I was part of the group," said Watt about joining her teammates.
Watt said she decided to join at the urging of her friends Meryeta O'Dine and Ryan Bennett, both of whom took part in the 2010 BC Summer Games in Langley. The sport of kayak/canoe made its reentry into the summer games two years ago after a 14-year absence.
Despite only a three-day training camp before the 2010 games the seven-member crew from Prince George returned home with four medals, narrowly missing out on a fifth when O'Dine tipped her kayak at the end of her race and wound up disqualified instead of with the silver medal.
In 2012 the eight-member team is split evenly between returning veterans and newcomers. The group took their paddles and watercraft out on West Lake for a four-day intensive training camp this week with a pair of coaches - Canadian national team member Corey Hamilton and Jennica Rawstron - from Kayak and Canoe BC in the Lower Mainland who were helping prepare the team for the July 19-22 competition in Surrey.
"We really need their expertise in order to really advance in the more technical areas - those subtle fine points that really help you get to an advanced level," said Zone 8 assistant coach Heather Fisher.
Without an official Prince George club the Zone 8 team didn't have an actual qualifying meet. Some of the athletes went down to an event in Kamloops in early June, but it wasn't mandatory for everyone. Fisher said one of her goals is to establish a kayak/canoe club in Prince George.
"There's a lot of recreational canoeing but there hasn't been a youth flat water racing club for canoeing and kayaking," said Fisher. "For me it's a natural thing to come to Prince George because we are an outdoor sports town. We'd really like to develop this racing for youth in the summer."
There are about 16 kids interested in the sport but, Fisher said, she'd like to have at least 25 people signed on before they look into getting official club status.
In addition to Bennett and O'Dine the other returnees from 2010 are Gemma Hansen and Josiah Fisher. The newcomers include Watt, Tomas Bonafine, Steven and Daniel Houston-McMillan.
The assembled group practices on boats loaned to them from clubs in the Lower Mainland and they've collected some equipment, like paddles and lifejackets, to use over the past couple of years. Fisher said based on her research the cheapest kayaks are priced at $2,100.
Kayak and Canoe BC has also contributed a few boats for the Prince George athletes.
The Zone 8 team will battle their BC competition in a variety of events in canoeing (C1, C2, C4) and kayaking (K1, K2, K4) in 200 and 500 metre distances. Fisher said a couple of the veterans will probably try the 1,000m and 2,000m distances.
In addition to learning new skills at this week's training camp the athletes, between 13-15 in age, learned how to work in tandem in the double and quad boats. Most of the paddlers said they preferred the kayak boats because once they learned how to keep them from tipping they were easier to handle, as opposed to the canoes where an athlete has to balance on one knee while steering.
Fisher said the motivation for the kids heading to Surrey is different, with some of them focused on returning home with medals and others, like Watt, looking to stay out of last place.
For O'Dine the goal is to grab hold of the medal that was snatched from her grasp in 2010.
"I expect to do better than I did last time and I'll know what to expect in what the athletes are like and what the competition is like," said the 15 year old.
After her adventure beyond the buoys at West Lake, Watt said after she returns from Surrey the rest of her summer will be spent trying to convince her parents to invest in a kayak.
"I think I might push my parents to buy one," smiled Watt, adding she's not opposed to dipping her toes into the job market to help with the costs. "I'll look for one in September."