Freestyle Kayaking • X-Games for Whitewater • On the Nantahala River, North Carolina USA

If you're entertained by the spins, flips, turns and tricks of freestyle snowboarders, surfers and skaters, or the half-pipe freestyle event in skateboarding, you'll love freestyle kayaking. It's the X-Games for whitewater.



2011 World Championships
The previous World Championships were held June 20-26, 2011 in Plattling, Germany. We have videos of each day's events as well as an interview with Eric Jackson.

Freestyle kayakers compete by performing a variety of moves or tricks on a stationary river feature. Standing waves, 'holes', or hydraulics, or eddy lines — areas where the water changes direction — are all potential freestyle features.

The athletes perform tricks like cartwheels, loops (full flips), blunts (really fast, near vertical turns that spew a curtain of water), and such colorfully named moves as the Roundhouse, the Phonics Monkey, the McNasty and the Donkey Flip.

There are nearly 30 different moves, including the 180-pointer Helix (a 360° spin with at least 180° of which the boat must be inverted. The boat must also be aerial at some point of the inverted part of the move) and the 10-pointer Spin (a 360° rotation of the boat at a 0°-45° vertical angle).

In ICF competitions, athletes have a set time to perform as many different moves as possible, and they can score additional points for style. The moves fall into three categories: Entry Moves, Basic Moves, Bonuses.

Kayaks used in freestyle kayaking are often shorter and lighter than other kayaks for whitewater boating, allowing for increased ease of movement. Some modern freestyle kayaks, made of light plastics, can be lifted completely out of the water by a skilled kayaker.

History — Originally called ‘playboating,’ Freestyle kayaking has been popular since the mid 1980s, about the time that many extreme sports were emerging or beginning to gain in popularity. The 1990s saw the introduction of organized competitions — initially called rodeos — but the sport really exploded in the 2000s with improvements in boat design and the manufacturing process, which maximized maneuverability and dynamic potential.

Freestyle kayaking is a growing sport internationally, and since 2006 has been sanctioned by the International Canoe Federation, the governing body of paddlesports world-wide. The first official ICF Canoe Freestyle World Championships were held on the Ottawa River in Canada in 2007, and the first Freestyle World Cup series was held a year later in Prague (CZE), Augsburg (GER), and Thun (SUI). The World Championships and the World Cups are held on alternate years, with the World Championships taking place on the odd numbered years.

The 2013 Wave is the centerpiece of the Nantahala freestyle kayaking venue. It is created by a Wave Shaper, an underwater concrete structure that alters water flow, enhancing the existing drop at that point of the river and creating a word-class competitive feature. This project received support from The Golden LEAF Foundation of North Carolina.