Climbing the ranks in slalom and cruising Europe in a caravan

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Ben Hayward is having a breakthrough season. The 24-year-old slalom athlete from Edmonton has cracked the World Cup final in back-to-back World Cups to finish 7th and 9th in Men’s K1. It’s been a few years since Canada has achieved a result like this in slalom and Hayward has mapped out his plan for international success. In addition to turning heads on the slalom scene, he’s also turning a few heads on the road with a truck he’s used his architectural skills to convert to a caravan so he can live and train in Europe. He’s launched a new website and fundraising campaign to take Canadian and international supporters along for the ride as he pursues a spot on the World podium and the 2016 Canadian Olympic Team. Here’s Ben with a few thoughts on his recent successes and adventures.

How has this year been different than previous years of training and competing?Hayward interview

This year I was actually heading into the season a little bit nervous for national team trials because I had not got the chance to race in any warm up events. I had a great camp in the Emirates this year but also had to commit a lot of time to university. I think most of the success is coming from having a body that is no longer hurting which I owe to the amazing support I got from Sherri Audet at Motion Works Physiotherapy.

What was it like to break into the World Cup final two weeks in a row and what did it take to get there?

The experience was unreal. I knew that I had the potential to get there last year and it felt amazing to race to my potential, and do it twice. Apart from being injury free this year, I think the races went well due to some new psychological race prep that I tried out this year. I felt a lot more focused and calm on the water than I ever have before.

Tell us more about your plan for success leading up to 2016.

I am really excited for the next two years because I get the opportunity to be a full-time athlete. I will be living in my caravan over in Europe for the better part of those two years. This will allow complete freedom to travel to all the best training venues, train with some of the best paddlers in the world, and also get a lot more race experience. – Building a Hobbit Van from Ben Hayward on Vimeo.

So where did you come up with the idea for VanStarter?

I have seen the amazing success that lots of other athletes have been having with these online ‘kickstarter style’ fundraisers. I really wanted to do my own but I didn’t want to lose the 8-15% that athletes usually pay to have their campaign hosted on established websites. By building my own website, I only lose 3% to PayPal and can use that savings to offer some quality givebacks that people actually want.

What have been the biggest challenges you’ve had to overcome to get this thing off the ground?

Prior to flying to Cardiff to build the van I had very limited experience in construction, website building, and cinematography/video editing. The last month and a half has been pretty intense learning all these skills and immediately applying them. There are still a lot of challenges to come as I need to learn the basics of being an interior designer, electrician, mechanic, and my own sports agent to promote all of this. It is one heck of a journey to be on though.

What has the response been like to the caravan and your fundraising efforts?

The reception has been more amazing than I could have possibly imagined. I am still awestruck by how quickly people got behind this project and supported me with almost a 3rd of my campaign goal raised in just the first 10 hours. The response over in Europe has been fantastic too. Every person’s head turns as I drive by and there is always someone asking me where they can get one. It also inspired one of my paddling idols, Danielle Molmenti, to donate a mattress and some cupboards because he loved the idea. I am so incredibly grateful for all of the support I am getting to raise funds for the project, and also to those who are helping share this story.

The fish scene in your promotional movie is being regaled as a work of cinematic brilliance. What behind the scenes stories can you share with us about making that movie and do you have any advice for athletes looking to make their own?

That is great to hear! I came up with the idea when trying to make a short video piece that had the potential to go viral. I wanted it to be both funny and incredible so that people would want to watch it many times and share it with friends. I got some help with the fish scene from my friend Katelyn Dorothy Mann who is a film producer living in Vancouver. The two of us, with another cameraman, drove up to the Rutherford Creek facility where we shot the piece in conjunction with a different promotional video that we were making on the whitewater. It was a lot of fun to do and I would encourage other athletes to be as creative as they can be when promoting themselves. I think people can get pretty inspired by seeing something that they have never seen before or didn’t think was possible.

Hayward and his Canadian teammates will resume international competition at the start of August with World Cups 4 and 5 in Spain and Germany before coming to North America for World Championships in Maryland, USA in September. See competition calendar for details.