I am Tuisku Äänismaa, freestyle kayaker in the Finnish national team and in the last couple years i have been traveling around Europe exploring the best spots, testing them and taking some notes about training there.
If you are into freestyle, you probably know that the spot you train in is really important. That’s why in the recent years kayak tourism is on the rise to the main freestyle spots all around Europe.
Here’s the 5 best kayak freestyle spots in Europe.
The whitewater course of Holme pierrepoint in Nottingham is the home for the UK’s national whitewater center housing facilities for rowing, race kayaking, slalom and freestyle. If you follow freestyle in social media you have probably seen a lot of videos from the famous Inletgate hole on top of the course, it’s probably the most stable and hole on this planet. It’s deep, sticky and retentive. The hole goes from concrete wall to another, meaning it doesn’t have shoulders for easy setup. For me it took a day to get used to setting up in the hole without the shoulders. After you get used to it, your progression will be incredibly fast, since the stability allows you to keep trying new moves over and over without flushing off the hole. The course is quite long for just running down it and there are a lot of interesting freestyle features bellow on the course.
Just below the inlet gate, you have the Twin’s wave which is a bit shallower more technical hole for more basic moves. Under that you have a wave for smaller wave moves. The wave is quite flat so it’s hard to get good momentum going. Below that you have a set of holes, the first one being the Troll hole. It’s very steep and retentive, similar to a hole you will commonly find in competitions. After flushing of that you will drop into a small wavehole that is mostly good for moves like spins, roundhouses and mcnasties. The water is quite filthy, so earplugs and nose plugs are highly recommended when paddling here.
Near the river, there is the national watersports center and all its facilities. Including a hotel with a breakfast and a state of the art gym.
Millau is a beautiful town in southern France. The whitewater course on the bottom of the valley is a very low speed and low water course that’s basically only good for freestyle practice. The hole on top of the course is a very steep and powerful hole, making loop/flip tricks perhaps easier than anywhere else. The hole is pretty narrow, so it’s easy to fall off to the side but thanks to the great shoulders and calm eddy it’s really easy to get back into it and setup from the bottom. Because of the steepness it can feel quite hard to maneuver at first but thanks to the narrowness you can use the eddy to get back to the top of the hole.
The rest of the features on the course and generally too shallow for freestyle but you can still do some eddyline stern moves downstream. The hole does not have water during the night and it opens up at around 9am and closes sometime in the evening. i would recommend searching for the times of the season from instagram ect. if you plan on visiting.
The water and weather are nice, clean and warm, so paddling here is very pleasant.
The town of Millau is a very nice and calm place with a lot of stuff to do. The town has multiple incredible trails for mountain biking, rivers for river running, freestyle bmx parks and good locations for paragliding.
There are a lot camping sites and hostels around the town and even some chalets for rent on the hills so sleeping here shouldn’t be an issue no matter the budget.
The area around Makinito is very quiet and services here are quite limited. There aren’t really any hotels or stores around, so bringing supplies with you is important when coming here.
When arriving you will be driving on a very small and dodgy looking road right next to the river. There is a bargate blocking the road but kayakers are allowed to just lift it up and go paddle. The area is owned by a private owner but he/she allows paddlers to use it.
Because of that it’s important to not damage anything in the area.
The freestyle spot of makinito may just be the easiest spot in the world to paddle in. It wide, stable, deep, the stack is shallow and it’s extremely retentive. The hole forms in a small canal and has artificial shoulders build by the kayakers. It’s extremely easy to do McNasties, loops and all the advanced combo moves. There is no eddy but you can paddle back up from below the hole thanks to the super retentive stack and the ropes attached to the riverbank.
The atmosphere by the spot is really relaxed. There are couches set up by the river and there are usually pros training here around there year, meaning you could learn well by watching them paddle.
There is a small parking lot by the river but no other facilities other than an outhouse.
You are also not allowed to sleep or camp around the river because the grass in the ear is used to feed the France’s best racing horses. You will have to drive a couple kilometers downstream to the kayaking club’s cabin when you can camp.
The site of the 2019 ICF freestyle world championships, Sort is a village on the mountains of catalonia. The scenes are beautiful wherever you look. The river runs straight through the center of the village. The water is coming from really high on the mountains, meaning its really cold. The cold water is definitely balanced by the hot air temperatures here.
The spot itself is on the bottom part of the village, It ranges anywhere from a small wave to a decently sized wave depending on the water flows. There is a dam controlling the water flows few kilometers upstream, meaning you can get a good idea on what the flow will be in few hours by looking at the water flow of the dam. The info is available online. On the ideal flows, the feature is a medium size wave hole allowing technical hole moves in the pockets and explosive wave moves near the shoulders. The hole is quite shallow considering how much momentum you get from the tall stack but with the right technique it’s manageable.
On higher water flow the spot will become a decent wave. It’s quite steep so you can get great momentum to throw moves but it’s not going to that retentive. The nice long eddy makes practicing moves even when flushing off enjoyable.
The village of Sort has a lot of restaurants, bars and a few hotels. There is also housing for rent. You will get anything needed from the village. There is no rental car service so in the village so if you need a vehicle you need to bring it from somewhere else. The river that runs through Sort, is a class 3-4 whitewater river running kilometers from above and it’s a great river running spot. It has multiple long rapids that are a good fit for intermediate paddlers and also offer harder lines and opportunities for downriver moves for an advanced paddler.
Čunovo, Bratislava, Slovakia
23 km away from the center of Bratislava, lies the national whitewater center of Slovakia.
The course in Cunovo hosted the 2018 european championships for both freestyle and u23 slalom. It’s an old and large center focused mostly on the whitewater course.
The course is split into 2, left course is for slalom and the right one being for river running and freestyle.
The freestyle hole itself is quite wide, steep, powerful and shallow. It’s not symmetric, so it favors left side moves more than right but right hand moves are obviously still possible.
It is a lot steeper than most holes, meaning you will have to use the shoulders to be able to set up efficiently. This hole is extremely good for Phonix monkey, switch McNasty and tricky woo.
Right next to the course there is a large hotel with a restaurant and good quality rooms. The hotel also rents out bungalows and camping sites right by the hotel. It’s quite close to the border of Hungary and Austria, so roaming mobile data can have a lot of issues in the area but there is a good wifi in the lobby. Around the center there are a few restaurants but the selection and availability of them is quite limited. There are buses that come from the course that take you to the center of Bratislava and back.