The ICF freestyle world championships take place bi-annually. This year the worlds returned to the scenic little village of Sort located in the beautiful Spanish Pyrenees. Sort is well-known in the scene as freestyle history was made there in the past. In 2001, the freestyle world championships, in 2004 the European Championships, as well as numerous world cups, were hosted there.

photo: Rüdiger Hauser

The playspot on the Noguera Pallaresa river got built and rebuilt several times as natural floods washed away the spot. For the 2019 worlds, the organisers came up with the idea of building a freestyle kayaking whitewater arena. An incredible amount of work was done in advance to make it resistant against any imaginable high flow of the Noguera Pallaresa. Having a bit of trouble with funding, high flows and building permissions, the work on the feature was only finished a couple of days before the national team training sessions were about to start. The result of all the effort was a stunning looking feature. That said, being slightly shallow in some spots most of the athletes needed to adapt their routines quickly during training to match the setting as well as accept the challenge of regular boat repairs.

Event site – freestyle arena in Sort

Leading up to the event

The days leading up to the major competition were packed with training sessions, getting used to the hole, and watching other competitors working on their rides. Every paddler had their ups and downs with good and bad sessions and, as the line up is long, a missed move or flush often resulted in frustration and personal doubts. However, on the flip side, we got to see our friends from all over the world and catch up with them over some of the greatest eddy chats of the season!

Squirt event, opening ceremony and Palm team dinner

At this Worlds, nine Team Palm paddlers competed in five of the eight categories.

The first competition day was all about squirt boating. The Squirt event took place a few kilometres upstream of the freestyle feature. Squirt boaters have been pleased with the event site and as the freestyle feature was closed all day many paddlers made their way upstream to watch the paddlers throwing ends and going deep for their mystery moves. Team Palm’s Zosia Tula and Tomasz Czaplicki from Poland both made it into the semifinals and finished both in sixth place. After the new World Champions Clay Wright and Rose Wall (both USA) were crowned everyone rushed back to town to get ready for the opening ceremony in the heart of Sort.

The day after everyone was back into freestyle as the last team training sessions were scheduled. Local Team Palm paddler Ian Salvat from Sort arranged a brilliant evening where the Team came together for dinner with lots of tasty food before the freestyle battle started.

Happy Team at the Palm Team Dinner ready to rock the Worlds

Freestyle competition

The freestyle comp kicked off with OC1 and K1 Junior Men’s prelims. The first Palm paddler to go was Ben Higson from Team GB. Being one of the youngest paddlers he finished in a fantastic 21st place collecting lots of competition experience. I’m sure we will see him further up the leader board during the next couple of years.

Ben Higson (Team GB), placing 21st

The next competition day was all about Canoeing and K1 junior ladies. With no Palm paddlers involved I spent the day coaching our (Germany’s) C1 paddlers, OC1 paddlers and cheered for the junior ladies.

On the third freestyle comp day, it was the K1 men’s category. With the biggest starter field with 66 competitors, they had the hardest battle to make it into the top twenty and advance to quarterfinals. Unluckily Team Palm’s Lucien Schreiber from Ireland dropped out in 38th and Ian Salvat Cuevas in 22nd position.

Lucien Schreiber (Team IRL), placing 38th
Ian Salvat Cuevas (Team ESP), placing 22nd

Finally, on the fourth day of freestyle action, it was the K1 women’s turn. So Zosia, Lowri and I (Anne) got to compete. With a competitor field of forty-three ladies, we also had to make it into the top twenty to get another chance to paddle in the quarterfinals the following day. All of us made it through easily.

Day five was semifinals day for the junior classes and quarterfinals day for the K1 men’s and women’s categories. This time it was all about making it into the top ten.

Lowri Davies (Team GB), placing 14th

In the women’s category, Lowri Davies from Team GB who was still having trouble with her injury finished 14th. Zosia and I made it through in 1st and 2nd position.

In the men’s category Harry Price finished 17th in his first year as a senior and Alan Ward just missed the cut in 12th position (both Team GB). Tomasz was the only Team Palm senior men advancing into semi-finals the next day.

Harry Price (Team GB), placing 17th
Alan Ward (Team GB), placing 12th

On final competition day, there were men’s and women’s semi-finals scheduled in the morning and both having night finals under the lights.

As we got to the feature in the morning there was less water in the river, so the feature got a bit tricky. Every paddler got a bit nervous a guess as only the top five paddlers in each category were going into Finals. There were multiple flushes and scores were not as high as the days before. Zosia and me made it through in fourth and fifth position. Tomasz Czaplicki from Poland finished in seventh place overall.

Tomasz Czaplicki (Team POL) placing 7th

Spending the rest oft he day trying to escape the heat, getting enough hydration and trying to not get nervous we found ourselves back at the event site just before darkness. The water level still didn’t rise much more, so again a tricky feature. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to pull out one of my best rides so I finished in the unlucky fourth place in the end.

Anne Hübner (Team GER), placing 4th (photo: Rüdiger Hauser)

Zosia Tula from Poland managed to claim one of those top three spots and finished with a well-deserved bronze medal – congratulations!

Zosia Tula (Team POL), placing 3rd

It was Hitomi Takaku from Japan who nailed her final runs and claimed the World Champion title followed by Marlene Devillez from France. In the men’s category it was Dane Jackson (USA) followed by Catalonian paddler Quim Fontane Maso (ESP) and Sebastian Devred (FRA) who made it onto the podium of this World Championships.

Zosia on the podium

The town of Sort was a great host for the World Championships. The residents seemed to be stoked to have us freestyle paddlers there, cheered for us the whole week and tried to make this Worlds the best freestyle worlds of any time. Thank you Sort!

Great fireworks finish – thank you in Sort! (photo: Rüdiger Hauser)

If you missed the action in Sort check back on YouTube where you can find all the live feeds and daily recaps of the event:

Find all results here: