Three local kayakers will test the best

POULSBO — Three North Kitsap athletes will test their skills against the top young kayakers in the country this summer.

POULSBO — Three North Kitsap athletes will test their skills against the top young kayakers in the country this summer.

Brandon Johnson, Alden Denny and Matt Kurle have qualified to compete in the Junior Olympics for kayaking.

The Junior Olympics will be held in Bryson City, N.C. July 19-20.

“It’s a national-level race. It’s not the biggest race of the year for juniors — the biggest would probably be junior nationals or the junior team trials — but it’s pretty big,” said Denny, who attends West Sound Academy.

The kayakers qualified for the Junior Olympics by finishing first (Kurle), second (Johnson) and third (Denny) in a qualifying race in Bend, Ore.

Kayakers must place first, second or third in a qualifying race to earn a trip to the Junior Olympics.

The North Kitsap kayakers were the only juniors to race in Bend.

Each competed in Junior Olympics last year.

Johnson said his entrance into kayaking was unintentional.

He was working toward his Boy Scout merit bade for swimming with local kayaking coach Dick Shipley, who is also the father of Olympic kayaker Scott Shipley.

Shipley asked Johnson to try kayaking.

“I’ve been hooked ever since,” said Johnson. “It’s the excitement, the adrenaline rush.”

Competitors in kayaking must steer a kayak through 20 gates without missing or accidentally brushing them.

A touched gate will cost a kayaker two seconds off his or her time. A missed one will cost 50.

Some gates are designed so kayakers have to maneuver with the current, while others force the athletes to fight it.

Denny said that the courses’ individuality is part of the sport’s appeal.

“Every course is unique. Every river is unique,” he said.

Kurle, Johnson and Denny are classified as junior competitors because they were 18 or younger on Jan. 1, 2003.

Each is hoping for a better finish at the Junior Olympics than last year, when the event was held on a different river in North Carolina.

Johnson has been training with a coach, Tony Roessingh, and thinks he is prepared to finish better than 19th — his place last year.

“I have more technique. I think I’m a little bit faster,” Johnson said.

Denny has been kayaking and lifting weights three or four times a week.

He was disappointed that he didn’t perform better at the qualifying race in Bend, during which he was suffering from a cold.

“Technically, it wasn’t that bad. But I didn’t have enough boat speed,” he said.

Johnson looks forward to the Junior Olympics, with its “tons” of people, 30 or more competitors and laser-timed finish.

“You just try your best and see what happens,” he said.