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The Hurley Classic, now celebrating its 30th birthday, was a wonderfully organised event, and shows just how good freestyle kayaking is for both the health of the sport, and open participation.

After last year’s Hurley event was dogged by sub zero temperatures and so much snow that Em and I couldn’t even get to it, I took a much more relaxed approach to Hurley 30. I decided that I was going to just chill out, enter the EXO Flat Water Trickery event (the first time its been held there) and take photos of the main Jam session freestyle.

As it turned out, this was a fortuitous decision, ending up as I did (and still am at the time of writing) suffering from flu. Pretty much I was about as useful as a chocolate teapot all weekend, but still mustered the energy to enjoy the event.

Rob Crowe setting up for an Air Screw at Hurley 30

Along with being able to catch up with people from far and wide, Hurley further highlights one of the most truly unique aspects of white water kayaking, both as a pastime and as a competition. The most inexperienced beginners can paddle alongside the worlds best in the same event. Those top paddlers don’t just keep themselves to themselves either. They are on the water cheering those with lower skill or confidence on, quite often offering tips as well. This simply does not happen in any other sport that I know of.

EXO Flat Water Trickery

Okay, so flat water freestyle isn’t quite as spectacular as the main wave freestyle, but it can be, given the right person. Which isn’t me!

Anyway, feeling full of flu I wasn’t exactly holding out much hope for any sort of success in this event, not least because my list of things I can do is extremely limited even when I’m not ill! But hey-ho, I gave it a go anyway.

The event took place in one of the top eddies near the bank. To call it flat water would be to take a bit of liberty! It was more of a moving and turbulent water freestyle!

I found myself in the same heat as flat water Jedi’s Bartosz Czauderna and John Russell, as well as my partner Emily, who was a bit concerned about making a fool of herself (an unfounded fear I might add).

When it came to my turn I tried a cartwheel, and to my surprise and relief the flow was helping to the point where I think I might have even managed a clean move. It’s all a bit of a blur. I know I tried a loop at one point, but I have no idea if it counted or not, but I heard a few cheers after I did it! I do know that I surprised myself by pulling off a cross bow double pump. No doubt helped by the flow again!

The flow was making things difficult in other ways, though. Balancing in a bow stall was really hard. As a result I only managed to make one proper loop attempt. But it all likely made for a lot of comedy.

The long and short of it is that my final score for the event was 30. Which I think is a pretty good achievement. That placed me 17th out of 25 in the prelims. Not bad for a flu ridden kayaker with a very limited set of moves at his disposal.

The future

The EXO Flat Water event has important future implications, and was a test event of sorts. In Poland, such competitions are held all the time. In the UK, where there are vast areas that are not served by any sort of white water feature or facility, the idea of holding flat water freestyle competitions opens up lots of venues around the country, as well as helping promote freestyle kayaking in general.

Emily surfing away during her heat in the Freestyle Jam

The Jam sessions

Of course it goes without saying that Emily had entered the main freestyle event on the release gates. To say she was nervous would be an understatement, but she really pulled the rabbit out of the hat, not only scoring for spins and Shuvits, but also having a beaming smile on her face throughout!

Hurley was a fantastic coming together of the kayaking community, and, assuming I don’t go near anyone else with the lurgy approaching the competition, next year I’ll be entering the main comp. And with any luck my loops will no longer be wonky!

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