For Bennett Smith, a childhood hobby has evolved into an international opportunity. Smith is a junior at Auburn University who has lived in Vestavia Hills, Alabama since the fourth grade. At 13 years old, he began kayaking recreationally.
After gaining a few years of experience, Smith said he became interested in freestyle kayaking. As he explained freestyle kayaking is comparable to gymnastics, but in a kayak paddling down rapids. As a 16 year old, he qualified for the junior world championships. Following the junior championships he admitted to making a conscious effort to increase the intensity of his training regimen.
In 2016, Smith began spending more time in the water on a daily basis in addition to working outside of the water at minimum three times per week. Having finished third in the junior championships qualifiers in freestyle kayaking, Bennett was awarded one of the top five spots to compete as a member of team USA.
“Freestyle kayaking is simple to understand," Smith said. "Each competitor has forty-five seconds to do as many tricks as possible. Like gymnastics, some tricks are harder than others and have a higher point value.”
While kayaking is not currently an Olympic sport, Smith said that there is an eight-year plan that aims to place kayaking on the list of sports in the 2024 Olympics. Since the games do not currently host the sport, the world championships are the highest level of kayaking competition in the world. The world championships are hosted bi-annually among different international locations. This year the competition is in San Juan, Argentina.
Smith said that he hopes to perform well for the USA and hopes his hard work will pay off. Nonetheless, he added that perhaps the most important aspect of the sport is that it is a fun safe way to exercise.
"Kayaking isn’t as dangerous as people make it out to be," Smith said. "It’s a sport you can do throughout your life.In fact, a lot of the people I see kayaking regularly are older than me and have been kayaking for years.”
Smith said that Alabama natives, particularly Auburn students, are fortunate to have multiple rapids nearby. He recommends a trip less than one hour from Auburn along the Coosa River in Wetumpka, Alabama. There are multiple outdoor centers near the Coosa that give training and provide rentals to beginners.
"Try it out yourself," Smith said. "Drive a short way to the Coosa River. It’s less than an hour away and there are tons of trips that three different companies run."
He added that the Chattahoochee and Warrior rivers are excellent rapids to visit in Alabama too.
In addition to representing Team USA in Argentina, Smith works at the Auburn University Recreation Center and urged anyone interested to visit the Auburn Outdoors Services.
Fans can support Bennett beginning November27 as he helps lead team USA in the kayaking world championships.