Fairfield Canoe Club
2019 Centenary Year

Sabastian Wakim - Profile and Interview


C Boat paddler - Fairfield Canoe Club (Melbourne) and Gyor Canoe Club (Hungary)

Australian Canoe and Dragon-boat Champion 

Questions & interview crafted by Dasha Kopecek



This profile and interview were created in late Sept 2018 when Sabastian was on a visit back-home in Melbourne for some well-deserved rest & recovery, prior to his return to Hungary to take on his next big stage of canoe training and conditioning – a three-month winter strength and conditioning program. This is a one-of-a-kind-program, which is to occur mid-October – mid-December 2018. Sab departed Melbourne, bound for Hungary on Sunday 14thOctober, 2018.

Sab has made significant training and racing improvements over the last 6 months in Hungary. This includes a re-imagined & re-created canoe stroke, technical application, and improved strength and fitness. We at FCC have smart phone video evidence of him in action. You have to see it to believe it. And, there’s more to come!

Sab has a positive attitude. He knows that “what got you here, won’t get you there”!! 

Following are Sab’s responses to a number of questions which were shared across a one-hour chat on Monday Sept 24, 2018.

Note: there are a few extra bonus reflection questions included at the end of this profile - interview. These are for those who may wish to ponder them, and ask a response of themselves, to such questions! Feel free to share your response with FCC E-news editor between Oct – Dec 2018. 


# Where did you grow up?

Mostly in Melbourne. From 1 – 2 yrs old in Thornbury. 3 – 7yrs old in Lebanon, 7 – 11yrs old in Preston; and 12 – 15yrs+ in Preston (change of location) and 15 – 24yrs Northcote.


# How many years have you been C boat paddling in Australia?Since December 2014 + so in December 2018 it will be 4 years.


# How many years did you paddle in Dragon-boats?March 2012 – August 2016 (5 years)

                                    #Number of years of overlap, when you started to paddle canoe + Dragonboat?


# A Fun fact or special achievement about canoe / life / work / training / competition / play / rest & you, which others may or may not know?

I did Taekwondo from 3yrs – 11yrs old

Airforce Cadet from 13yrs – 18yrs old. I became the youngest Australian “Officer” ever at 16 years old.


# Your pet event in C boat?C1 500m (Sab broke the 2min, C1 500m barrier, during his last training / competition stay in Hungary, between March to Sept 2018)


# A Highlight of the 2018 Marathon World Championship for you? 

On the second last lap, going into the portage, I got amazing crowd support. The crowd support was totally crazy. I could hear my coach yelling in the background, plus I did not get lapped and finished the race (26km distance for senior men, held in Portugal). This was my first Senior event in Marathon.


# Most memorable part about the 2018 Marathon World Championships for you?

Finished 11thout of 16 in C1 Senior Men’s event. This was my first senior race.


# What’s the first Hungarian word you learnt?Horkol…. It means “snoring” (I was told I snore, in fun, but I am aware and told by others that I don’t snore!!) 


# Favorite Home (Australian) food?Anything that’s not pork.


# Favorite Hungarian food?Liver pate for breakfast and/or Turos Batu (a special pastry cheese parcel)


# What do you wear at training / competition in-season (warm weather climate)?

Shorts (commercial) pants and a training singlet + footwear: “Dorgo” (a Converse brand type of shoe)

                        #What’s important about the footwear you use for canoe training & competition?


#Favorite uncle / aunts?I have 18 of them in total. No favorites! Am unable to put them in any rank order. They’ve all been very supportive and helpful to me. I’m thankful for their support and encouragement.


# What’s one of the best places you’ve paddled in Hungary?

For training: a place called TOLNA, it’s about a 3-hour drive from Solnok. It’s one of the poorest areas of Hungary and a poor club that’s located on a small tributary of the Duna (Danube) River.

For racing / competition: SZEGED, an international race course, where they frequently hold National Championships, World Cup events and World Championships in kayak / canoe for juniors and seniors.


# Your best C boat “team-boat” experience in Hungary to date?

I did a training session in C2 with Levente (his sister is Virag Bella – a champion paddler) and we paddled with LK2 World Champions, Renata and Jofi (them in a K2).


# What do you do to chill out / relax?Sleep!


# What’s your secret to optimizing rest & recovery?Sleep. When the coach gives you the opportunity to rest, take it. This then gives you over two hours between training sessions, which is essential for me.


What’s your race motto?“Obsession for perfection”…..  To be the best of my best! 

“Only crazy people do canoe” – Sab noted this comment by Olympian & Previous Australian Team Head Coach, Maty Marinov

(scary!! - Dasha’s comment)


What’s thebest sprint canoeing event you’ve attended whilst in Hungary?

The Red Bull Viszi-sprint races in Budapest – Its composed of 2 x 100m racing lanes / distance, at a half meter deep (there are similar sprint canals in Germany, with “tarps” in them, to keep the depth low). The excitement of racing and watching the best paddlers take every competitive edge possible is heaps of fun…. Sometimes they cheat at the start line and finish. An exciting event with many vocal spectators. You need to purchase tickets to be a spectator & if you know the right people, you can get the tickets for free! A fantastic atmosphere.


#Is all feedback (provided to you) relevant to you at this stage of your canoeing career?

I think it is, though I need to sleep on this question.

I started at a Hungarian coach & self-rating score for canoe of“zero out of 10”. My Hungarian coach recently scored me as having progressed to a score of “seven out of 10” on my progress and learning in canoe.

There are three levels of paddle learners (from motor learning theory & practice). Whilst an athlete generally progresses through the learning continuum, that is, each of three main stages or levels, I’ve learnt that the first (beginner) learning phase is on-going. There is no end to level one.


# What gives Hungarians a physical edge in their kayak / canoe training? 

Aerobic conditioning. The Sprint paddlers run a lot, endurance-based runs of 6km / 1 hour & sprints (they run like gazelle’s). Marathon paddlers also run to promote sprint-based power & endurance.

This also forms part of the “psychological conditioning” which teaches and trains you “how to feel” and push the limits and to go beyond & exceed your previous best.


A comment by Sab on the shoulder strength of his Uncle Baz(Australian C boat Champion and Aust Team Representative at World Championship level in C boats): 

Baz has a cast iron shoulder that cannot be beaten in a right arm wrestle. We’ve had many right arm wrestle-athons and he always wins!


# Your top five tips for paddlers:

  1. Know about your sport and event(s) inside-out. Have a 360-degree perspective, any time, any place, inside-out and outside-in.
  2. Everyone in our canoe sport is an asset regardless of depth of experience and racing background or ability.
  3. Improve your strength levels. You can start with bench press, bench pulls and chin-ups for canoeing. Get some professional assistance to get yourself started safely.
  4. Run in and out of season to improve your endurance, aerobic condition and overall fitness.
  5. Personal visualization training is helpful – watch videos of you and the best paddlers in action. Imagine feeling what they feel. Build on the “good feelings” – this is your (Sab’s) best friend.


*** Extra bonus REFLECTION questions for Sabastian. A short response to any of the following is welcome:

  • Share a couple of technique coaching tipswith us in relation to what cues / feelings / advice has been pivotal to you reshaping and re-crafting your canoe stroke/ feel for the water? (eg. your stroke length at catch is vastly changed. How did you do this? Any key coaching input / support? Fitness? Any X-factors that helped you to renew / change your canoe stroke?
  • Do you have one or two tips to share about developing psychological resilience (for sprint or marathon racing)? How might you advance your psychological skills / aptitude in the next 3 – 6 months of training? What’s important and what do you need to work on to shift your racing to the next level?
  • Any suggestions or recommendations on how Australia can better develop its current and/or a future pool of male and female canoe paddlers from beginner towards high performance level? Ideas & wishful thinking welcome.
  • What do you believe are the top 3 – 5 basic canoe (C boat) skills a new learner to paddling needs master in their first 3 – 12 months of paddling? Any Tips? Clues? Ideas?

Suggestions / tips or advice on how to grow and improve canoeing coaching at Fairfield canoe club to attract more junior girls and boys (school age)? What have you seen that works at club level in Hungary, which we may be able to model or try or modify into Australian context?

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