Freestyle kayaking is a fun, fast and dynamic discipline of the sport of kayaking. Freestyle paddlers use white water waves and holes to perform surf and gymnastic-style manoeuvres and tricks. The sport uses short kayaks designed to surf and spin across the water surface, and release up into the air. In competitions, freestyle kayakers gain points for every different tricks they perform, with bonus points awarded if they can get their boat out of the water and up into the air. Competition runs last for 45 seconds in which competitors have to perform as many different moves as possible. Each different move scores points and the highest overall score wins.
Freestyle canoeing is the same as freestyle kayaking except the canoeist kneels in the boat and uses a single bladed paddle whereas kayakers sit in the boat and use a double bladed paddle. The C1 (canoeing) discipline uses the same boats as K1 (kayaking), however OC1 (open canoeing) have slightly larger boats and do not have a spray-deck to enclose the cockpit.
Squirt boat (kayak) is the slower, smoother and more graceful element of the sport where kayakers paddle super low volume kayaks and perform fluid and graceful moves above and below the water surface. In competitions squirt boat kayakers gain points for smooth control during their 60 sec choreographed routines. Points are awarded for each different rotation, and additional bonus points awarded for how deep and long they can keep their boat under the water in a mystery move.
In Great Britain, competitions are open to all levels, with novices and GB Freestyle team members competing at the same events. Competitions comprise of various classes (K1, C1, OC1, Squirt) and categories (gender and age - junior, senior, master). Most events also have categories for different ability levels (novice, intermediate and elite) allowing you to compete at the right level. Often different rules are used for the different experience levels e.g. fun or less rigid rules for novice categories and International freestyle rules for elite categories.
Competitions take place at freestyle venues across the whole of Great Britain, with some competitions offering other events such as BoaterX, extreme slaloms and coaching sessions to support those new to the sport.
One of the biggest events of the year is The Youth Freestyle Series. The Youth Freestyle series is a number of one-day events aimed at progressing white-water paddlers. It is open to any 18 and under paddlers with a fairly reliable white-water roll who want to improve their freestyle or white water paddling or who want to take part in a fun freestyle competition. It doesn't matter if you have no previous experience of competition or if you're on the GB team - the competition caters for all levels of paddler. Watch a video of the 2011 Washburn event at: http://vimeo.com/28128734
Each year UK Freestyle holds the British Championships. This is currently done via a league format with the best results taken from a series to decide the British Championship ranking. The events have novice, open and expert categories to ensure everyone is included.
Great Britain has had great success at international level competition. At the last World Championship, Team GBR bought home 3 gold, 1 silver and 2 bronze medals. James “Pringle” Bebbington and Claire O’Hara won the K1 Mens and Womens events respectively. Claire also retained her squirt boating world title! Other medals went to Jamie Austin, Bren Orton and Gabby Bates.
For more information on freestyle, please visit the UK freestyle website which can be found here.