Freestyle kayaking is going through a sort of revolution. We are moving away from the hole boating and cartwheels of the 90’s and early 00’s and into the age of the big wave. Before you get angry at me for thinking that I am going to bash NOC winning the World’s bid read the rest of this article. The progression today is coming in waves, both themselves and what can be thrown on them. Paddlers are surfing bigger and more dangerous waves. They are getting more and more air, while throwing moves once thought impossible. Paddlers like Nick Troutman and Joel Kowalski are close to the double air screw. Guys like Ben Marr are are taking style to a whole new level throwing tricks that look smoother than the most celebrities faces. Boats are getting faster and bouncier allow these huge maneuvers, but some boat companies are still building boats that are friendly on both waves and in holes.
The waves that these guys are surfing these days are nothing like those 10-20 years ago. Gladiator almost reaches twenty feet on the low end and is backed up by a, the Ledge, that forms a gnarly recirculating hole at any level. Waves like Detonator and Bus Eater are also large beast that have been tamed, but still shiver a little in comparison to Gladiator. The waves are getting larger and with their size comes more inherent dangers. The water gets bigger making it harder to maneuver, and making holes and consequences, like flush drowning, larger as well. These inherent dangers do not frighten away top paddlers as they see it as more of a test of pure boating skills and not just their freestyle abilities.
The tricks that paddlers are throwing are getting, bigger, more complicated and the tricks that have already been perfected more styled out. Combos are being linked together that make people wonder “How is he able to do that without hurting himself?” Look at the Best Combo section at Tribe’s Rider of The Year Awards, there are moves like Airscrew to Blunt or Clean Blunt to Pistol Flip. These are a far cry from the days of when a donkey flip was cutting edge. I am hoping to soon see a 540 helix to pistol flip. It will be done, and soon.
I feel like it is time for boat making companies to make a choice; either make a novice boat or make one for the more advanced. They can make both, but many companies try to make a top of the line boat, that they then dumb down so that appeals to a larger group of paddlers. They need to make the decision of whether they want to appeal to those looking to progress the sport along with their skills, or to master that eddy turn or spin. Right now the boats are the same across the board, to me, the only companies that made a boat for advanced paddlers only, and they are still popular, are Bliss-Stick, with their Rad and Necky, out of business I know, with their Orbit Fish. These boats are performance machines, and Necky’s O Fish, because it was discontinued is in huge demand for those surfing big waves. A good quote that I saw was “you don’t show up to a F1 race with a big wheel” (contact me if this was you) and to me that seems what the current state of big wave paddling is in right now. It is also that everyone is showing up with the big wheel and there is not much of an exciting race. Speed and crashes make for more exciting auto races, so the same should be true for freestyle kayaking. Boats are getting faster, and bounces are getting bigger, so it is like the big wheels are moving up to full bikes, but there is still tons of room to go.
I really would like to see a future where big wave competition push kayaking more mainstream, and worlds is on a feature for the elite, not one that appeals to Joe Everyman. I think Rush said something like this: “They don’t hold the X-games on a small quarter pipe that every one can do. People want to see Shaun White getting twenty feet of air out of a huge super pipe.” He is right.Freestyle kayaking and competitions are moving, like they should, away from the the small features and onto huge behemoths that make even Evil Knievel shudder.
And that is my two cents! I will now get down off my soap box and see you on the water!
By Matt Hill