Henshaw taking positives from first paracanoe world championships

Charlotte Henshaw pictured competing at the World Championships in the va'a. Pic credit: Balint Vekassy.
Charlotte Henshaw pictured competing at the World Championships in the va'a. Pic credit: Balint Vekassy.

Charlotte Henshaw has had to endure a steep learning curve since picking up a paddle and taking to the paracanoe - none more so than at her first ICF World Championships.

The former Paralympic swimmer is no stranger to the big stage having competed at London 2012 and Rio 2016 under the water and has silver and bronze medals to show for it.

Charlotte Henshaw pictured competing at July's BCU Regatta in the kayak. Pic credit: AE Photos.

Charlotte Henshaw pictured competing at July's BCU Regatta in the kayak. Pic credit: AE Photos.

And, since changing sports earlier this year, the Mansfield star has already clinched a KL2 200m silver medal at the European Championships in Bulgaria on board the kayak.

Henshaw threw herself into the deep end once more when, getting to grips with one discipline, learned the skills to compete in another to improve her overall ‘boatsmanship’.

An opportunity to race on the world stage came along and, no stranger to a challenge, Henshaw qualified for the 200m VL2 final and finished eighth - this time in the va’a.

She said: “I approached this year as a big learning curve and only got in the va’a a couple of months before we went out to the Worlds was a very steep learning curve but to have the opportunity to race at the World Championships was unbelievable.

“I’ve managed to get some perspective on the race. While I didn’t perform the way I wanted to, to even be there at this stage of my career in a boat I haven’t been paddling in for that long is a bonus and I can’t be too disheartened with it.

“It’s given me a lot to focus on and think about moving on to next season, which is always good. I’m going to take the positives from this year and focus on the things I could have done better.”

While competitors use a double-blade paddle in the kayak, the va’a differs considerably.

“You paddle with a single blade and you only paddle on the one side of the va’a. It doesn’t have a rudder and it’s a much longer boat,” Henshaw said.

“You have an out-rigger which is attached to the main boat to act as your flotation aid and leaves you more vulnerable to directional changes because you’re only paddling on one side.

“It’s much more about technique where the blade comes through the water. It’s a real compromise between power and directional technique and I think my inexperience in paddling that boat showed and that’s what happened in the race.

“I wasn’t used to putting down that much power and wasn’t used to controlling it with technical skills.

“It’s certainly something that will come when I spend more time in that boat. It is much more susceptible to directional problems, like I had.

“It’s a real skill to master and not a lot of people double up. I think it’s taken a bit of a back seat because it’s not a Paralympic event, yet.

“To try and do the two boats and be good at them both in the short time I’ve been paddling is a big ask but also I think it’ll put me in a good position long term.

“It’s given me better boatsmanship. It will serve a purpose but was just a lot to take in, in such a short space of time. Everything has been a learning opportunity this year and that’s the way I have to see it.”

A first competitive experience in the va’a hasn’t put Henshaw off and she is keen to pursue both that and kayak racing. A few weeks on she competed at the National Championships and put her directional issues behind her by taking the title in the va’a.

“I think the focus will shift back to kayak,” she said. “I’m knocking on the second best boat in the world. Nicky, who raced in the second boat, we had a race off to get that second boat spot and she beat me by 0.15 of a second.

“Had I gone to the world champs then I would have been contending for a medal. At the moment that is the Paralympic discipline so that will be my main focus.

“But moving forward I think I’ll be flexible in which boat to go with and whether they decide to put the va’a in the Paralympics will have an impact. I’d love to have a go at both and it gives a bigger scope for medal opportunity.”