Sprint kayaker Brian Malfesi, a former Olympian with his sights set on the next Summer Games in Paris, is fiercely proud of his roots, and is an easy choice as a Hometown Hero.
Malfesi raced in K-2 (doubles kayak) with Vincent Jourdenais at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, and while that’s a huge accomplishment in his journey as an athlete, he’s still going.
The 28-year-old won the 2022 national team trials in Dartmouth in May of 2022, in the single kayak 1000m event, and that qualified him to compete in World Cup events in the Czech Republic and Poland.
His goals are to compete at the World Championships in Dartmouth in August, and keep working toward the next Olympics.
“I want to continue until Paris in 2024,” he said. “That’s the ultimate goal.”
Malfesi will be one of four athletes honoured at the annual Hometown Heroes Night – when some of the community’s greatest athletes are honoured – being held after a two-year absence on Oct. 12 at Garibaldi Secondary School.
At 28, he’s right in his prime for a paddler, and still will be during the games. The sport has recently seen Olympic champions as old as 36 and as young as 22, he said.
Malfesi was born and raised in Maple Ridge, and his family home was just a short walk to Whonnock Lake. His brother Michael got into paddling sports, and he followed in his wake.
He loved the sport for its social dynamic – where all the team members are rooting for each other.
“It’s a really close community – like a family almost.”
And he took off. In 2009, at the age of 15, he qualified for the Canada Games Team in the under-19 age category.
He made his international debut at the 2010 Pan American Championships, winning a pair of bronze medals from the junior K-2 and K-4 1000m races.
He wore the Maple Leaf again the following year, at the ICF World Junior Championships, making the B final in both the K-4 1000m and K-2 200m.
Malfesi represented B.C. at the 2013 Canada Games, winning three medals including gold in the K-1 1000m.
His next major international competition came at the 2014 U23 World Championships, where he made the A final in the K-4 1000m and finished third in the B Final of the K-2 1000m.
The following year, in 2015, he made the senior national team, and paddled in his first World Cup events. His best result of the year came in the K-2 1000m with Andrew Jessop as they finished fifth at the final event of the year in Copenhagen, Denmark. He made his senior world championship debut with Jessop in the K-2 1000m, finishing sixth in the B Final.
After competing at the U23 Worlds in 2016, Malfesi was back in senior competition in 2018, winning K-1 1000m silver at the Pan Am Championships. In 2019 he returned to the World Cup circuit in a K-2 partnership with Vincent Jourdenais. The pair posted two top-four finishes in B finals of the K-2 1000m, before finishing fifth in the B final at the 2019 World Championships, which would later be enough to qualify Canada in the event for Tokyo 2020.
Malfesi and Jourdenais booked their spots in the Olympic boat by winning the national trials. In their Olympic debuts, Malfesi and Jourdenais were B finalists in the K-2 1000m.
He looks like he’s wearing shoulder pads, and allows that being strong and fit help someone excel as a print paddler. But he said there is also important technical and mental aspects to the sport.
What makes a good paddler is “the ability to work really hard, but also focus on the technical things,” he said.
As a westerner, he’s a rare bird in the sport of canoe and kayak racing, as most national team members are from Eastern Canada.
“Paddling is dominated by the eastern provinces. I’m pretty proud of being from here, and helping to grow the sport in the West,” he said. “B.C. is my home, and Maple Ridge has always been my home.”
He’s the pride of the Ridge Canoe and Kayak Club, which is sending more paddlers on to national and even international competition.
“We’re a small club, but we produce a lot of good athletes,” said Malfesi.
And he still loves Whonnock Lake, where he grew up, and has still been training there twice daily as recently as this fall.
“It’s amazing – it’s honestly one of the best places I paddle.”
For more information about the Hometown Heroes Night see mapleridge.ca
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