The excitement is building up as we are less than one month away from the 2021 ICF SUP Worlds that will take place on Lake Balaton in Hungary from September 9th to September 12th which I will have the pleasure to co-announce. Like in 2019 in Qingdao, all the events are open to everyone and more than 200 participants have signed up so far to the different races! We are catching up with Hoichan Kwon, in charge of all things SUP at the International Canoe Federation, just back from the Olympic Games in Tokyo, to get a teasing taste of the competition as well as the sanitary, travel and registration conditions. But first things first, DO NOT FORGET to register before August 28th!
Hello Hoichan, can you please introduce yourself and tell us about your sport and professional background?
Hi Mathieu! I’ve always dabbled in various sports growing up but never had the talent in anything haha. Always having passion for sports, I’ve always looked for volunteering gigs or internships at sports organizations. I think my job in sports was during my university studies where I worked at a sports lab cleaning test tubes. After my undergraduate studies, I found a job at a sports marketing agency where I briefly worked before returning to school for a master’s degree in sports management. By then I knew what I wanted to do in life and found my way to the ICF.
Can you detail your current role within the ICF?
I’ve been here for close to 4 years now and have had many different titles. Originally, I was hired by the Korean Olympic Committee and was sent to the ICF to gain international experience so my initial role here was not clear. That is of course until I started managing SUP. Currently, I’m managing every aspect of ICF SUP under the ICF Flatwater Discipline manager Martin Marinov. I’m very fortunate to be involved with such a fantastic young sport as I get to influence how it develops. With Martin, we wrote new ICF SUP rules (which will continue to change with future feedback), look for new event organizers, organize development camps for athletes, and organize seminars for officials. I would have less freedom if I was managing a different discipline at ICF as they are already well established.
You are about to organize the 2nd ICF SUP Worlds following the Qingdao event in 2019. How has the involvement of the ICF evolved in the world of SUP and SUP Racing in the past two years and what are your expectations for this year’s event?
Despite whatever the current view of ICF is on SUP, we are dedicated to improving the sport. We definitely want to preserve all the great things about the sport but also to improve some aspects to make it more professional. One aspect to facilitate that is by standardizing rules and regulations so athletes know exactly what to expect and train for. Another, is of course by bringing in more money so athletes can truly be professional and make a living just from SUP. The best way to bring any more money into the sport is by improving the sports presentation and bringing on TV. As you saw from our event in Qingdao, we had professional TV crew throughout the whole competition and it was televised on national tv. We intend to improve further in Hungary with graphics and extra racing data. The competition will be again live on national tv and also be streaming internationally. We put a lot of investment into improving sports presentation which we are excited to show off. By the way, we are very happy to have you on board as part of that improvement!
Who else is involved in the organization of the event?
The HOC (host organizing committee) consists of the Hungarian Canoe Federation plus more and of course, us the ICF are in charge of the organization. It’s like the IOC and the Tokyo2020 in a lot smaller scale.
Why was Balaton lake picked for the 2nd ICF SUP world championships? Can you describe the spot and the local conditions? Is it easy to travel to?
The Hungarians are a very strong paddling nation and we’ve had great experience working with them in the past so we were delighted when they approached us with Lake Balaton. Everything about the lake and the host city made sense. The lake itself is very scenic and attracts many tourists and the host city has had experience hosting international events. They hosted the FINA Open Water Worlds few years back. It’s a very calm lake with no motorboats allowed. However, we will try to set up the long-distance race to have some downwind leg but we’ll see if the conditions permit.
Obviously, the event is organized amidst particular sanitary conditions. Can you take us through the different restrictions and Covid-check processes surrounding the event as well as for traveling?
Traveling right now is not easy for anyone anywhere at the moment especially with the variants. Actually, I’m supposed to be flying to the US today for the ICF Super Cup but unfortunately, my PCR test came back positive so I’m now quarantined at home in Switzerland… luckily I’m fully vaccinated and have zero symptoms.
Anyway, to traveling to Hungary, you will need two things: a negative covid test (or EU vaccine certificate) and the invitation letter to the competition which exempts you from the quarantine regulation.
The invitation letter will be issued on September 1st to anyone that has registered for the event!
During the competitions, we will implement the ICF COVID protocol to limit everyone’s risk. The protocol can be found on our website but we will also announce the details shortly.
Lastly, we are working to organize testing possibilities at the venue for those who require a test to return to their home country. Details of that coming soon.
What does the participation look like so far? What major battles are we to expect on the Elite side?
Registration has been slow but getting there. Last time I checked, it was around 200. It would be great to have big numbers but I’m more concerned about having the best talent. For the long-distance race, I’m excited to see if Michael Booth can defend his title against the hometown heroes the Hasulyo brothers. I don’t recall seeing Titouan Puyo’s name on the entry list yet but hopefully he can make it as well, I’ve been a big fan of his success this year. For sprint, I am excited to see Connor Baxter back to defend his title in Hungary where canoe sprint is very strong so maybe we’ll have some strong competition there. We’re doing something different for technical race this year which you will see soon so it’s hard to make predictions there… it will be very exciting though!
One particular aspect of the ICF SUP Worlds last year was its openness to non Elite athletes. Is this still the case this year and something that you want to keep for all future editions? To what events can amateur paddlers take part in?
Yes, it’s the same. The event is open to everyone this year. I’m not sure if it will remain the same in the future. This year depending on the number of entries, we plan to have preliminary rounds for sprint and technical races because we want the main draw to be very competitive and fun to watch. I think that in the near future, we will need to implement a qualification system for those two races but we’ll see. Also, we’re always going to have an open inflatable race, that’s part of our ICF rules that one championship must include i