Freestyle Kayaking in the surf!?
It probably all started way back in pre-colonial North America.
Native Americans used open dug-out canoes to navigate the watercourses of the continent and on more than one occasion a warrior must have missed the take-out before a big rapid. Navigating the eddies, drops, boils and holes they must have had the adrenaline boost of a lifetime! Meantime, in the same era the Inuits much further North were building closed kayaks from frames covered in animal hide. The Inuits used these for fishing, and because their boats were closed and sealed they could roll up if they fell over – escaping a hypothermic death in their frigid waters. Past the Western coastline of America a tribe on a Pacific island had such plentiful resources that they had enough time for some fun in the sun, so they sculpted some wooden planks and started surfing.
Now when the colonialists arrived in the Americas they soon saw the benefit of the dug out canoes the locals made and started using them. It didn’t take long before it became a hobby, past-time and sport. Problem was, these open boats flooded too easy in rough water. The Americans got tired of swimming, so they broadened their horizons and did some benchmarking with their Canadian neighbours up North. Soon they were charging rapids in high tech closed kayaks, having the time of their life.
As every whitewater kayaker knows, eventually you get stuck in a hole, and have to try and surf your way out. For a small niche this became fun. The boats got shorter, and designs started showing a lot more edge. Freestyle competitions became popular and an established discipline.
It was just a matter of time before the river dogs started looking into the opportunities that were already created from the ancient Hawaiian pastimes. A few more tweaks to the river playboat, and a new discipline was born! Freestyle kayaking in the ocean is now a fast growing discipline, and is already receiving international attention.
On 13 July 2013 the third South African Freestyle Kayak Championships were held at North Beach, Durban as part of the greater annual Durban Wave Action event which covers various events including surfing, waveski and the freestyle kayaks.
Kayakers from all over the country competed, with the Free State Province refusing to back down to the Kwa-Zulu Natal(KZN) locals that have easy access to the beach. Competition was fierce with Denzil Smith, an experienced Surfski competitor from KZN refusing to allow anyone to get a free ride. The upcoming Josh Cawood (KZN) showed a combination of psyche and skill that demanded respect from more experienced competitors.
Nino Cloete, an experienced freestyle kayaker organised the kayaking event under the auspices of the Wave Action organiser Darryl Moodie. Judging was done by Hannes Pienaar who could not compete due to a shoulder injury, and his team. Points were scored for each move, but also for the variety of moves displayed by the competitor, in a system aligned with conventional surf competitions. Competition was fierce, and the judges had their hands full with rolls, spins and a myriad of tricks flowing onto their logsheets like a river in flood!
Jonathan Pienaar (Free State) took third place in the final event. Watch out for this upcoming talent – you will be seeing a lot more of him in the future.
Twenty kayakers competed this year, and the top two positions were taken by Denzil Smith (KZN) and Phillip Claasens (Freestate). These guys were gunning it hard and fast, popping moves like machine gunners on steroids. They dominated the competition and it is clear why they took the top two positions. In the end Phillip came out on top, but he better watch out – next year may not be so easy, with Denzil showing that his transition from surfski to freestyle kayak is nearing completion.
The South African Freestyle Kayak Championships has established itself as a set feature for the annual Durban Wave Action event, and is set to grow in popularity over time. With Phillip Claassens proving that river play waves are more than suitable preparation for a surf freestyle event this discipline distinguishes itself from other surf sports where inland surfers can never get enough water time to establish themselves in competition.
Watch out universe, South Africa is coming!
by Franz Fuls. 21 July 2013. Copyright applies.
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Music: Heartbeat Dub by Juanitos. Please support them at: http://freemusicarchive.org/music/Juanitos/
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