Marking the 30th anniversary of the first World Stunt Boat Championships

This was the moment whitewater freestyle went truly international – rodeo, hot dogging, stunt boating, call it what you like, this was a gathering of the best, to show off everything they could do … and it’s also part of Palm’s history. Looking back at the event, thirty years ago, you can trace the origin of so much development in whitewater kayaking’s short history, and wonder – where next?

High summer 1991, at St David’s on the most westerly point of Wales, a finger of land pointing out into the open expanse of the Atlantic Ocean, was the epic and unlikely home to the first World Rodeo Championship (also known as the Stunt Boat World Championships). Brian Adams has just released the notorious single ‘(Everything I Do) I Do It for You’; the Soviet Union is dissolving; and the internet age is about to begin.

Looking out to sea that morning across to Ramsey Island, the tide, squeezed around the mainland and into the sound, pours over a series of jagged rocks, and on this large spring ebb it throws up some fabulous rapids.

Twenty-two paddlers representing seven countries battled for glory through five events. With two tides during the day, they paddled out early in the morning to compete at ‘stopper riding’ in Perception Corsicas, followed by squirt boating in Enigmas and then a ‘skills test’ (which began with a daunting eight metre seal launch) in Prijon Invaders.

In the evening, the tide was on the ebb again for the squirt boat final, then the ‘wave riding’ competition in Pyranha Stunt Bats (on the fabulous main wave) and finally a sprint around the rocks in Falchions (by Palm and Ace). The events and conditions favoured different paddlers at each stage, but in the end Jan Kellner emerged as the first World Champion.

Each of the competitors received a collection of matching Palm gear, a day-glo Rodeo jacket and PFD, as well as a pair of awesome sunglasses. The event was endorsed by the ICF and the gaggle of contributing paddlesport companies. And the whole thing was thanks to the daring imagination of organiser (and competitor), Andy Middleton who hosted the whole thing with his company TYF.  The idea for a truly international world championship had come about on a weekend road trip from the UK to a rodeo in Finland by Andy, Charles Willis and Shaun Baker, but that’s another story …

Around the serious competition (for worldwide fame), lots of paddlers accompanied the competitors; to spectate; help out with safety; and to show off their own daring stunts on the rapids in between events. It was a festival of paddling and an opportunity for new friendships across the world. Plans were already afoot for the second World Whitewater Rodeo, to come in 1993 on the Ocoee River, Tennessee.

The Bitches event continued to grow in popularity for seven more years, culminating in a Jose Cuervo party at which 140 boaters drank ten cases of tequila in two days. Rodeo has become freestyle, and the boundaries of stunt boating are pushed forward year-on-year by the freestyle competition scene ( – so remember where it all started, with this daring event on the wild coast of West Wales.