How To Compete In Freestyle Kayaking

If you are able to do a eskimo roll and safely get in and out of play features, you are ready to compete. There isn’t a magical score or a set of moves you need to have down in order to sign up for an event and go challenge yourself.

You do need to be able to safely perform you run and have the necessary skills to rescue other competitors from the feature if the need arises. At the end of the day it’s all about having fun and improving yourself as a kayaker. Your experience will be a lot more fun if you can do the basic moves (loops, cartwheels etc.) on somewhat consistent basis but you never know how much you are going to improve as a paddler while training for it.

I went into my first competition without even knowing most of the moves names or definitions and still had a great time, made new friends and learned a lot about the sport.

In the following guide i will be teaching you the basics of structuring a ride, training for the competition and how to train in the days leading up to the competition.

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Structuring a competition ride 

The first thing you need to think about when trying to come up with a set moves for the competition is the the feature. First you need to identify if wave or holes moves are going to be more useful in the feature.

If the feature leans more towards hole moves you need to get some practise rides in or talk to someone who has paddled there before. I have never competed in an international wave competition so i will not be including the details for waves, since i don’t feel qualified to talk about them.

The details you will be looking for are:

  • The depth of the hole
  • The angle of the greenwater, if it’s straight or skewed to a side
  • How retentive it is
  • How retentive the top of the stack is

If the hole is really shallow, you might not be able to do loops there or you will be forced to do non aerial loops.

If the angle of the greenwater is steep cartwheel moves and loops will be easy in that spot but if the the angle is more shallow mcnasties and felixes will be easier.

All the moves will be possible in many types of holes but the difficulty will be very different depending on the spot.

If the feature is skewed, it might favor for example right hand moves over left handed moves which you will need to keep in mind.

If you are going to be competing in a really retentive feature you can start thinking about possible links you might be able to pull off while a less retentive feature might favour doing less moves with a cleaner technique with more set up for the moves.

Some holes can be quite retentive in the bottom while having a flushy stack. These features will favour moves done on the bottom of the hole like mcnasties and lunar orbits over cartwheels and tricky woos.

Looking At Your Own Strengths And Weaknesses

After you are familiar with the feature you need to look at your own strengths and weaknesses and find moves that you could be able to learn to do consistently before the competition.

It’s not going to be enough if you can pull of a crazy trophy moves once or twice in training, if you can’t pull it off consistently over many runs in the competition. In my opinion getting a move/combo down 7 out of 10 times is the minimum if you want to be able to do it in competition.

When deciding what moves to train it’s important to know how each move will score. So you should take some time to study the scorecard of whatever ruleset your going to be competing under. For this guide we are going to be using the official ICF ruleset used in all the official international competitions.

The ICF rules can be found here

American vs ICF Rules

There are many other rule sets out there, for example the north american rule set with 60 seconds rides instead of the 45 seconds in the ICF rules. american rules also have some moves that are not included in the ICF rules like the stern squirt.

The french also have their own set of regulations. Many local competitions will also make adjustments to the rules to make them more forgiving for beginners. If you can score high with the ICF rules, it’s safe to say you will do good no matter the variations.

Freestyle kayaking with friends – pic by Dennis Newton

Visualizing And Planning Out Your Ride Is Essential

After you have identified the moves you are going to try to fit into the 45 second ride, you need to start thinking about your movement and the order of the moves.

If you are starting out with an entry move, you should try to land it in a way you can easily do the next move without wasting time setting up.

If you are starting from the eddy you should start so you will be in the position you want to start your first move in as fast as possible. Some moves like woo trickies and mcnasties start from a backsurf, so it makes sense to do those right after moves that have land backwards.

Cartwheel based moves make sense to throw after moves that flush you high on the stack like loops and phoenix monkeys. All these moves have different ways to do them, so there is no objective way to say what makes sense for everybody.

Just make sure you spend time visualizing and planning out your ride.

Training for the competition

Once you have structured your ride out, it’s time to start training.

Moves can feel very different depending on the type of feature so finding a feature that is similar to the competition feature is important. Even if you can’t find a similar feature you can practice techniques that will fit the actual competition feature.

For example you can practice steep angle mcnasties in a shallow feature by doing a cartwheel end to get into the backsurf and doing it from there. You can also practice shallow feature loops by doing very slow but steep plugs securing small air loops instead of going for maximum air.

When training it’s easy to do sets that are too long and too full action.

The best learning happens in the first 30 min of the training session after warm up. If you are doing long surfs you need to rest well before going back in to make sure you get the most out of each surf.

Doing full 45 second rides will get tiering very quickly, so splitting the ride to “blocks” of for example 15 seconds and taking one of the blocks per session and working that, ensures you aren’t overworking yourself. It’s also important to make sure you are having fun. If you are paddling only for the sake of the competition it will make keeping yourself motivated hard.

After getting 30 min of solid training in, It’s important to chill a bit and do some fun moves with your friends.

Getting paddling company more experienced than you will make sure you keep pushing yourself to get better and are also getting quality feedback.

Training session.

Keep Track Of Your Results

Recording and analyzing your training can be a very big help.

It helps you identify the technical mistakes you are doing and helps you visualize the moves better in your head while doing them. Sometimes it can be very hard to see the issue and just blame something else, like the boat, the feature or the weather.

If you find yourself doing that a lot it would make sense to get someone with more experience to look over your clips and point out the possible mistakes you’re doing.

Don’t get too hung up on the videos thought!

No matter how many times you watch your failed loop, it won’t get any better if you are not out on the river doing something different next time and getting the sensation of what the move is supposed to feel like.

Doing moves from less than optimal positions, with styles you haven’t done before and after exhausting yourself are good ways to make sure you are going to be able to do those moves in the competition even if you mess something up. Consistency is key.

Training during the last few days

You should arrive at the scene of the competition minimum of few days before to make sure you have time to get used to the location.

The very first session you have in the feature consist of mostly moving around quickly, trying a few basic moves to get a feel for the feature and trying to map out where you will want to do each move.

My own plan for the 2019 worlds…

Drawing the feature and marking down where you are going to be doing each move will help considerably. Before the competition all the athletes are going to be training around the clock, meaning you will not be able to get a lot training time in. That means you have to get the most out of the training time you get.

After you have gotten used to moving around in the feature and have a solid idea of where you are going to do your moves you should try to get one of your friends or fellow athletes to time out your rides.

You should be doing competition simulation rides with really good warmups, resting in between. Start from your more consistent moves and end with a banger.

You should skip training the day before the comp and make sure you get good rest and do something fun to get your mind off the competition.

Staying focused and avoiding stress before the competition 

After a lot of training the days leading up to the competition can make or break your eventual result.

It’s important to have good accommodation before the event you need to stay hydrated and eat well. It’s important to do something fun that is not related to kayaking before the event to keep the stress down.

During the world championships training week i noticed a very clear dip in my training performance and had a chat with my coach. Turned out i had started eating out a lot more than the previous week which made me walk a lot more in the hot streets which made me exhausted. After fixing that my performance instantly went back up.

It’s vital that you keep a consistent rhythm in your life when at the event. It’s not always going to be easy but it’s certainly possible.

The morning of the competition is the most stressful time of the whole event. You should eat a very regular breakfast you would eat any other paddling morning and do the exact same rhythm you would do on a regular day. If your turn is later in the day it might be really tempting to go watch the other competitor’s performances but if it’s really hot outside i would suggest staying inside so you don’t have to show up to your heat already exhausted.

Just before the competition it’s important to have your friends there. The mindset of…

I’m just having fun with my friends just like on any other paddling session

is probably the only thing all world champions share.

Competition format

I’m going to explain the basics of the ICF competition structure since most events are using that structure.

First come the prelims. All paddlers that are signed up the event paddle here.

You will perform 2 rides and the score total from both rides combined will be your final score for prelims.

If you managed the qualify to the next round the format depends on the amount of athletes. If there are more than 20 athletes there will be the quarter final round.

The 20 best athletes from the prelims qualify for this round. Here you will do 3 rides of which the best 2 are counted together.

The top 10 from the quarters get into the semi final, where you will do 2 rides and the best ride counts.

The top 5 qualify for the final which has the easiest competition format of all the rounds.

You will have 3 rides and just like the semis, the best single ride counts. In the final you will be given more time to focus and you can take your time getting ready.

In conclusion 

At the end of the day, it’s all about having fun and improving yourself as both a paddler and a person. It doesn’t matter what your results are, that’s not what you will remember in 10 years.

What you will remember thought are the friends you made and the experience the event and doing your best against all the other people sharing your passion.

Go out there and enjoy yourself. An upcoming competition is a great excuse to get out on the river and paddle.

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