Martina Wegman; the Dutch girl who had to travel to paddle

martina wegman netherlands dutch wildwater river extreme canoe kayak sportscene river tribe whitewater grand prix teva new zealand

Nick Harding | @nickhdg | Sportscene - Hat-trick! Sportscene completes the 2012 White Water Grand Prix trio; we first interviewed Katrina, then Nouria and now its time for 2nd place overall Martina Wegman. Over an 8am breakfast chat on Skype, I meet the Dutch Triple Sickline Champion extreme and freestyle paddler who has won more competitions than most of the women's field and she is still only 23.

1st place career highlights

  • Teva Outdoor Games (2011)
  • Adidas Sickline Extreme Kayak World Championships (2011, 2010, 2009, 2008)
  • Teva Extreme Outdoor Games (2008)
  • Freestyle European Championships (2006)
  • Euro Cup overall (2005/ 2007)
  • Freestyle Dutch Championships (2005, 2006, 2007, 2008)

First impressions of Martina are that she is so grounded, down to earth, she has a love of the outdoors and certainly has the travel bug. If it weren't for her occasional Dutch utterances, her accent could be mistaken for an acclimatised Kiwi. Home for her now is split between New Zealand and The Netherlands, she spends many summers and winters away from her Dutch family, even though recently she has been showing off New Zealand's beauty to her sister who has been over from Europe.

A Dutch upbringing

Martina heralds from the small almost-coastal town of Schoorl, North East of Amsterdam. Holland is stereotypically flat and not really known for its whitewater, so at the age of 11 with her paddle-hooked father and brother she tried the odd river. Her father never thought she would become a kayaker as she was initially quite scared and so was never forced to paddle. Confidence grew paddling more and more, where it is hard to find water in The Netherlands the only option was to go to the ocean, kayak surfing at Hargen aan Zee. Again due to Holland's geography there would only be swell during the colder, windy autumn and winter months making her one tough cookie.

Things have changed now in Holland; youngsters can use the artificial whitewater course, 'Dutch Water Dreams', at Zoetermeer. However, this can still be quite costly if you want to use it regularly. Martina mentioned how there is talk of developing a second one too.

At a disadvantage?

You would think that Martina would be at a disadvantage in comparison to other paddlers who had grade 4+ rapids on their doorsteps (Nouria growing up at Pau-Pyrenees and Katrina had the Ottawa River), but this lack of daily training is what drove her to become the technical paddler she is today. Her medecine was she had to travel to improve, this is why she has visited an extensive list of countries and rivers.

“Travelling helped me with freestyle to paddle on a lot of different features where others just train on local spots which means they have a hard time adjusting to new ones. Maybe I can adapt a bit faster.”

martina wegman netherlands dutch wildwater river extreme canoe kayak sportscene river tribe whitewater grand prix teva new zealand

Her style

Nowadays she has almost hung up the freestyle boots and does not miss it, she enjoys running rivers more so and describes her style as 'conservative'. Her self-description is apt; Martina is known as being a consistent paddler particularly where she was second in every stage in Chile. She is a perfectionist, more careful and always safety-conscious; “I feel real bad when I miss lines. Running big sections; I just want to get out of them alive.”

Martina enjoys the thrill of racing as she is admittedly competitive on competition days. She has made many friends on the race scene, often paddling rivers and spending time with them privately too. Racing has helped fuel her passion for travelling. 

martina wegman netherlands dutch wildwater river extreme canoe kayak sportscene river tribe whitewater grand prix teva new zealand On women's whitewater

Whitewater is often thought of as being male-dominated. Martina has just come back from an expedition in Mexico where she, Teva athletes and a whole bunch of paddlers explored the Chiapas region – she the only girl in a 14-male pack!

Martina is pleased all the same how quickly women's extreme is expanding, for example the Sickline format was changed last year so the ladies had the chance to race on the same course as the men.

“It is great to see that women’s kayaking is developing and events as the Whitewater Grand Prix pushing the chicks forwards heaps and that Sickline is slowly developing too.”

What's next?

Freestyle has been replaced by her new-found interest in slalom, she is realistic where she is just getting into the sport that Rio 2016 is too soon if she wanted to try for the Dutch Olympic team, so 2020 is more plausible but then, as she says herself, she will “be getting quite old!” Martina does stand a chance of getting in though as there are not that many Dutch paddlers who compete nationally as I'm sure Sportscene's very own ex-Dutch team member Rob van Bommel can vouch!

As for the Whitewater Grand Prix this year her goals are not clear-cut. ”I don't need to win, but when I'm starting a race I go for it. I will try to go one better and win one stage. It's going to be difficult to beat Nouria, I need to do some training!” [Addition 27-03-2013, it has been brought to our attention that the Whitewater Grand Prix has been cancelled for 2013]

martina wegman netherlands dutch wildwater river extreme canoe kayak sportscene river tribe whitewater grand prix teva new zealand She's off shortly to Vanuatu for a quick leisure trip before the paddle season kick starts again. More long-term and after her kayaking career, nomadic Martina may settle suppressing the travel urges and do something using her degree in Sports Economics in the creative part of marketing or graphic design.

On her nemesis

Nouria, only 21, has a really promising future ahead of her, what does Martina make of this?

“Her background in slalom makes her real strong. I think she paddles every day, goes running and goes to the gym, it definitely gives her an advantage for running whitewater. If she keeps going like this she can only get better and better.”

Let's wait and see how their rivalry evolves...