There are plenty of reasons to get into freestyle; if you’re a river runner, playboating skills will be very helpful to get you out if you do get stuck in a sticky hole! And freestyle can be a good way of making the most of a local spot, even flat water, for a good time on the water without travelling too far. If your wondering how to go from your first steps at paddling to being on the crest of the wave, here are my top tips.
Don’t you need to be an advanced paddler to do freestyle?
No – freestyle is a great discipline for wherever you are with your paddling and wherever you mean to take it. The key is to choose a small freestyle feature to start on, with plenty of flat water behind to give you time to recover if you do capsize. Having the beginnings of a roll is an advantage, but not essential. Take a friend along in case you do struggle. Messing about with surfing and freestyle is a great way to learn edge control and get experience in combat rolling!
If you have a good roll, you can take on more challenging features. With bigger features, we usually say that if you are not rolling, you are not trying hard enough! You will develop good boat and edge control, perfect your combat rolling, and hopefully learn some new tricks to impress your friends.
How do I get started?
If you are a beginner, and not confident in your roll, you might want to start with a friend who is experienced in playboating, join a canoe club to develop your roll and find more people to paddle with, or get some coaching.
If you are confident in your roll, it is often easy to turn up at your local freestyle feature and meet other freestyle paddlers who are willing to give you some tips to get started.
Often competitive freestyle events have free introductory sessions, and are a great way to get a taste of freestyle, meet experienced freestyle paddlers and watch some exciting competitions. If you don’t have a freestyle boat, competitive freestyle events, demo days, shop open days and kayaking festivals are often a good way to see what kit and boats are out there and to try them out.
Where can I go?
Take to the internet to find out where your nearest freestyle spot is. For example, in the UK, there are friendly and predictable freestyle features on the Dart Loop (Devon), at Cardiff (CIWW), Hurley on Thames, Home Pierepont (Nottingham), Lee Valley (London), the Tees Barrage (Teesside), Pinkston (Glasgow), and the Tryweryn (North Wales), and many more more besides. Lots of UK beaches catch a swell, so you can find a sea wave to surf when conditions are good too. Magicseaweed.com is a great resource to find coastal surf spots, worldwide and get a (sometimes unreliable) prediction on when the waves will be in.
If you are not sure try posting on internet forums. There are lots of local Facebook groups, for example if you search Thames Valley Freestyle on Facebook, you will find a group for freestyle kayakers in the Thames Valley – people post on these groups to update on levels and arrange to meet and go paddling.
How do I meet other freestyle paddlers?
Go kayaking! Speak to other kayakers on the water, freestylers are a friendly bunch. Often you will get lots of free coaching just by chatting to more experienced paddlers. Once you have been going more regularly you can build up your contacts. If you’re not sure that there’ll be other people at your playspot to join in with, try posting to meet a paddling buddy on one of the forums if you want to arrange to meet up there.
Go to events. There are plenty of great kayaking festivals, many of which have freestyle features. These are great places to meet paddlers, coaches and try out new kit. In the UK, gbfreestylekayak.com is a great source of information for freestyle news and events and Ukriverskayaking.co.uk has a great events page too. Playak.com has a pretty good calendar, with lots of Continental European events.
How do I learn that new freestyle trick?
Get some formal coaching – I would certainly swear by it. A good coach can help you to practice and improve your paddling in ways you may not have thought about.
If you see someone at your local spot doing a trick, ask them how to do it – informal coaching between friends is how most freestyle paddlers learn new tricks and develop their technique.
There are lots of resources on the internet – our own YouTube channel has some great freestyle how-to videos – plenty of paddlers are putting their knowledge out there on the net for you to soak up.
Surfing a wave or pulling a big trick can be addictive. Have fun and share the stoke with new paddlers! I look forward to seeing you out there!