Canoe Freestyle is a white-water Canoe Discipline where the paddler performs a range of acrobatic tricks and manoeuvres on a river feature such as a wave or hole.

Canoe Freestyle, also referred to as Play-boating, is enjoyed by many as a recreational sport.

At the top level athlete Walt Blackader is perhaps single-handedly responsible for the emergence of the Canoe Freestyle discipline. In 1968 Walt, an avid sports-man developed his own techniques for entering rapids sideways and backwards.

He and his friends went on to make especially nimble fibreglass kayaks and many other kayakers followed Blackader’s lead. The new Canoe sport grew into what was initially known as Rodeo.

Along with the 1980s and the emergence of other extreme, freestyle sports such as snowboarding, wakeboarding and skating, came a rise in popularity in the recreational level of Canoe Freestyle.

Eric Jackson of Rock Island, TN, and owner of Jackson Kayaks, performs an “entry move”
during a run at the 2012 ICF Canoe Freestyle World Cup Final on the Nantahala River.
Photo by Steven McBride.

The competitive side of the sport was popularised in the 1990s. But it is really in the last decade that the sport has exploded and that’s mainly due to the incredible developments in boat design.

Many Canoe Freestyle athletes are now in the business, designing boats for athletes and play-boaters around the world. Most notably is US-based Jackson Kayak, headed by Eric Jackson; four-time Canoe Freestyle World Champion and USA Canoe Slalom National Champion in 1990. Jackson Kayak is just one company that has produced the smaller more manoeuvrable boats that we see on the Field of Play today.

Athletes participate in competitions both nationally and internationally. The sport is constantly moving forward with paddlers with new spectacular moves emerging at each competition, every year

Freestyles accepted into the ICF

In 2006 the ICF welcomed Canoe Freestyle as one of its official disciplines. The first official ICF Canoe Freestyle World Championships took place on the Ottawa River, Canada, in 2007. The first World Cup series was held a year later in Prague (CZE), Augsburg (GER), Thun (SUI). World Championships are held every even year, just as the World Cup Series takes place every odd year.

In 2012 Freestyle Kayaking was showcased at the London Olympic Games an event that is hoped to continue and evolve into becoming a recognised Olympic Event

This year Australia has taken 9 Athletes to 2013 ICF World Freestyle Championships currently being held in Nantahala Gorge 2nd- 8th September 2013-09-02, where they will compete for a podium place against fierce competition from Athletes around the world

Canoe Freestyle competitions are held on stationary features on rivers, in particular standing waves (which may be breaking or partially breaking), ‘holes’ and ‘stoppers’, where water flows back on itself creating a retentive feature (these are often formed at the bottom of small drops or weirs), or eddy lines (the boundary between slow moving water at the rivers' edge, and faster water)

The Moves

In ICF competitions, athletes have a set time to perform as many different moves as possible, and they can score additional points for style. Finals are always judged over three runs of 45 seconds each and the moves throughout each competition fall into three categories: Entry Moves, Basic Moves, and fun Bonus moves.

The moves and tricks are similar to those seen from Freestyle snowboarders, surfers and skaters, where the athlete completes spins, flips, turns and more. What’s more with today’s boats, athletes can get the kayak completely airborne while performing tricks.

There are nearly 30 different moves, including the 180-pointer Helix (a 360° spin with at least 180° of which the boat must be inverted. The boat must also be aerial at some point of the inverted part of the move) and the 10-pointer Spin (a 360° rotation of the boat at a 0°-45° vertical angle). Other colourfully named moves are the Roundhouse, the Phonics Monkey, the McNasty and the Donkey Flip.

All around the world, a handful of big water paddlers have played an important role in the development of the sport. Because of the internet and the possibility of fast and cheap distribution of freestyle videos, new tricks are transmitted around the world in no time and kayakers everywhere can attempt to imitate them and develop them even further. It’s because of this that Canoe Freestyle is such an evolving sport.

For a full list of moves and more information click