I have had an inkling for a while now that part of the reason why some people are put off by freestyle kayaking is because of its association with competition.
It is a fact for which I am glad that British Canoeing has in finally acknowledged, or at least has said that it has acknowledged, as part of its new programme to promote freestyle over the next few years. The idea that freestyle is in fact not just competition focussed, and can be enjoyed by people of all ages and skill level.
From the perspective of people who might otherwise give freestyle a go were it not for the competitive image, I can fully sympathise with how it might be easily dismissed as being very competition focussed. When I dabbled with playing around in a slalom boat it was the focus on the competition aspect that put me off. All I wanted to do was learn the methods of slalom in order to help my river running. I had absolutely no interest at all in travelling all over the country and competing. But eventually the competition focus, and narrow concentration on very serious training in various clubs and venues where it could be taught put me off carrying on with it. I sold my slalom boat.
I can see that the image of freestyle could very well be the same in some peoples eyes to how I saw slalom. People seriously practicing moves over and over, and a very heavy focus on scoring points and knowledge of the rules. But unlike slalom, freestyle can, and is, quite recreationally based, if that’s what you want from it. Which is why it is also known by another term. “Playboating”.
For me, learning how to do freestyle is about learning how to have more fun in a kayak. I have no interest in training for, or taking part in serious competition. It is simply a way for me to be on the water and to be able to interact with it much more in three dimensions, while having lots of fun with like minded friends.
Sure, I may decide to go in for the odd competition, but that’s because I’m doing it for the fun and a different day out, not because it is the focus of what I am doing. Because I am technically minded, this aspect of learning the techniques for tricks also fascinates me. In other words I enjoy the process of learning.
In all, don’t be put off by any competition centric promotion of freestyle. Playboating is as much another way to recreationally use a kayak or C1 as any other form of boating. Whether that’s making more use of the features at venues like CIWW or HPP, or making the most of any flat water you have nearby. And that’s part of why I am such an advocate for it. It’s a way to enjoy the dynamic side of kayaking no matter what type of water you have near to you.