THE SIMPLE SECRET BEHIND GORDAN HARBRECHT’S CONSISTENT SUCCESS
Standing at the start of another summer of racing, Gordon Harbrecht admits something feels different.
The German powerhouse has been here plenty of times before – not just in the surfski, where he has helped to put European paddling on the map, but also during his years as a member of his nation’s sprint kayak team.
Yet, preparing for October’s ICF Ocean Racing World Championships in Portugal, the now 36 year-old is looking ahead with a different perspective.
“I still love the sport so much,” he tells The Paddler. “Going to races and training in the mornings by myself when it’s quiet.”
“But now with my family, I am actually a little bit more relaxed about it because life is good anyway – the result doesn’t matter too much.”
“I think this attitude is actually helping my results. The motivation is still there, the passion is still there… but I think the pressure is a bit less.”
You only need to look at Harbrecht’s latest races to know that he’s right.
He was recently forced to take time off the water as he recovered from illness and also micro-fractures in his back, but to start the season, he found sensational form.
Gordan finished second in Amsterdam’s iconic Waterland Canoe Marathon behind World Champion Mads Brandt Pederson… despite the fact he was paddling his Nordic Surfski.
He then travelled to France to compete in the Breizh Ocean Race – a weekend of racing that also doubled as the country’s selection event – and came away with a sizeable victory.
“Actually, in some ways, I surprised myself a little bit,” he says.
“I’ve had some good training weeks but I’ve also had lots of work and lots of time with my family.
“It seems now as I’m getting older I really know what works for me, and if I have a few good weeks I can feel good.”
“I’m not training more or harder than previous years, but now I know what I need to do in training and how to race.
“It’s something all of the guys my age, like Cory [Hill] and Sean [Rice] have gone through, finding the right balance between training and racing.
“My life now is not always about paddling, but I still feel there is more potential, so with some good training and racing over summer I can get fitter.”
That won’t always be easy.
Next month, Gordan and his wife Katharina will welcome their second child.
“It’s going to be a little boy. We’re really excited to become a family of four,” he says.
Still, Harbrecht is firmly committed to challenging for the title at this year’s World Championships, after finishing second to South African Nicky Notten in 2021.
But now – perhaps unlike his early years of racing – he won’t be doing so with a point to prove.
“I have shown myself that I am one of the good athletes when I am fit,” he says.
“Sure, I haven’t won any big titles, so I don’t feel like I am done… but basically for me, it’s not about titles.
“I love the sport and I love being fit. I love the training and racing, as well as travelling and making friends all over the world. I am just happy to be doing what I love.”
“I love what I do with Nordic Kayaks and that I still have time for my family at home, travelling a lot… it’s a very exciting time, both privately for my family and also for business.”
That outlook has seen him adopt the role of coach to some of Germany’s rising stars, who are now making their own mark on the European racing scene.
“It feels a little bit ‘big picture’ what i’m following. I just do what I feel is good.”
That sense of satisfaction is now guiding his own paddling.
“I don’t feel like I have to do it for anyone else. I don’t feel like I am racing to prove that Germany is a surfski nation… I just do it because I love it.”