Freestyle is an impressive whitewater sport that showcases the athlete’s strength, flexibility and fitness as they perform flips and tricks while surfing and playing on standing waves and holes on the river. The features vary in size from location to location and can range from 4 feet to a massive 15+ feet in height. Any freestyle paddler with tell you the best vantage point of all is right in the thick of the action. The exhilarating feeling of catching air off a wave while pushing the limits of creativity with new tricks keeps this sport ultra-fresh. In competition points are awarded for style and the level of difficulty. The challenge of it all is linking each movement together into a single flowing motion.
The best vantage point is right in the thick of the action
Out of competition, there’s a certain awe awarded by one’s peers instead of points. New freestyle paddlers usually start on smaller features play boating with the basic spins. From there they move forward to learn new tricks and often practice in a pool or calmer waters.
This sport, much like its dry-land and winter counterparts (skateboarding and snowboarding) is all about refining the current moves and evolving to do bigger and more complex things. What people said could not be done 10 years ago is happening today and the cycle continues.
Measuring no more than two metres long and built of plastic or a sturdy lightweight composites, freestyle boats are the shortest type of competitive paddling boat. A skirt keeps the water out of the boat and helmets and lifejackets are important critical safety equipment.
Within Freestyle Kayaking there are 4 unique disciplines:
K1: One person kayak with a traditional kayak paddle. Paddlers compete in hole or on a wave.
C1: One Person Canoe with a closed cockpit and a traditional canoe paddle. Paddlers compete in hole or on a wave.
OC1: One person Open Canoe with an open cockpit and a traditional canoe paddle. Paddlers compete in a hole or on a wave.
SQUIRT: Very different of the disciplines, the squirt kayak is flat and long with a skirt and a shorter kayak paddle. The athlete performs tricks on eddy lines doing freestyle type tricks and the big points are awarded for “downtime” – how long the kayak and the athlete are able to remain submerged underwater.
Freestyle competitions follow the guidelines from the International Canoe Federation (ICF). Athletes have a set time to perform as many different moves as possible in a 45 second ride.
There are K1, C1, OC1 or Squirt categories. After preliminary rounds, athletes in the finals have 3 rides to showcase their skills and make their mark.
Points are awarded for the basic moves and ability to link all the moves together. Additional points are awarded for air time and how high above the water surface that the trick is performed.
World Championships are held every odd year and a World Cup series is hosted on the even years.
There are approximately 20 basic scoring moves:
Spin – A 360-degree rotation of the boat on a wave or hole. A spin can also be clean (only one paddle stroke) or Super Clean (no paddle strokes while executing the move)
Roundhouse – A 180-degree rotation around the bow of the boat on green water, clear of the foam pile. Can be done around the stern as well for a back-roundhouse.
Blunt – Same as a Roundhouse 180-degree rotation around the bow but the back of the boat is elevated higher. The boat needs to be at an angle greater than 45 degrees to the surface of the water. An Air Blunt means that the boat does not touch the water during the execution. A Clean Blunt means that the paddle is not used to initiate the move.
Backstab – A 180-degree rotation around the stern of the boat. The back is elevated more than 45 degrees, on green water, clear of the foam pile. “Air” Backstab means that the boat does not touch the water at one point of the execution. “Clean” backstab means that the paddle is not used to initiate the move.
Pan Am – A past vertical aerial blunt, the boat must go inverted and rotate 180 degrees and finish upright landing in a back surf. Can be done around the stern as well for a back-Pan Am and can be with “Air” and “Clean”
Flip Turn – An aerial short axis rotation (tilt) of over 90 degrees (like a table-top) performed with a 45 – 90 degree long axis rotation landing in a front surf.
Airscrew – Barrel roll performed above the surface, front surf to front surf. Boat and body must be aerial for the full 360-degree rotation of the hull.
Donkey flip – Barrel roll performed above the surface, front surf to front surf. Boat and body must be aerial for 180-degree of the rotation of the hull.
Helix – Performed on a wave, it’s a 360-degree spin with at least 180 degrees of which must be performed inverted at 135 degrees or more, ending in an upright front surf. The boat does not touch the wave during the 180-degree spin.
Felix – Performed in a hole it is a 360 degree spin with at least 180 degrees performed inverted at 135 degrees or more, ending in an upright front surf.
McNasty – Elevated 180-degree rotation starting in back surf, linked with a front loop.
Cartwheel – Two consecutive ends in the same rotational direction, and both ends at an angle greater than 70 degrees. A Cartwheel can also be clean (only one paddle stroke) or super clean (no paddle strokes to initiate).
Splitwheel – Two consecutive ends, with a change of direction in between each. One end of more than 45 degrees and one with more than 70 degrees.
Loop – A front loop is two consecutive ends over 70 degrees from bow to stern where the boat remains facing the direction of the water flow, starting and finishing facing upstream. An air loop is when the boat does not touch the water. A back loop is the reverse – stern to bow.
Space Godzilla – Also called airwheel, this is an aerial loop with a 90º rotation between ends. Both ends must be over 70º. A “Back Space Godzilla” is performed the same way but stern to bow.
Entry Move – Move done entering the hole from upstream.
Orbit/Lunar Orbit – Stern pirouette elevated over 70 degrees, initiated from a front surf. Move may finish as a 360 pirouette ending in a front surf (orbit), a 270 pirouette ending in a bow cartwheel end, or a 180 pirouette ending in a back loop (lunar orbit).
Phonix Monkey – A cross-bow 360-degree pirouette elevated at least 30 degrees minimum followed by a front loop. Only one paddle stroke may be used in the move.
Tricky Whu – A three ended sequence performed using one paddle blade only. Two ends must be over 70 degrees and the other over 45 degrees. The first end is initiated on the bow one way. The second tail end is split back and rotated through 180 degrees. The third bow end is followed through in the same direction as the first.
Bonus – in an Air Bonus the boat hull does not touch the water and the paddlers head is out for the water through the move. In a Huge Bonus the paddler’s head is clear of the water by at least 1 foot. For a Link Bonus 3 moves are linked together to make a continuous fluid motion.