When I first started training with Eric Jackson four years ago, I was just an eager, hard-working teen with a desire to learn how to kayak freestyle. EJ was quick to teach me that a few simple steps could transform my paddling into the stuff of freestyle gold. Now I share his wisdom to help other aspiring freestylers who want to gain the inside track.

Follow this six-step program and you’ll be well on your way to winning the next World Championships or just your local hometown throwdown.

Tips on how to kayak freestyle

1) Pick a Partner

Finding a solid training partner is probably the most important thing you can do to improve your kayaking. Your partner should be the same skill level as you, or better. This allows you to learn together, teaching each other what you know and climbing the skills ladder twice as fast. A paddling partner pushes you to go more often and try new things, and lets you know if your freestyle kayak technique is correct.

2) Practice, Practice, Practice

Practice your moves until they become muscle memory. The more you rehearse an air blunt the easier it becomes, until the sequence to the move is instinctive. Work not just on the moves you want to learn, but also on the moves you already know. Try your easiest moves with less of a setup. Work on continuously doing tricks and moving around the feature. To feel confident with a move for competition, I practice until I can complete it successfully four out of five times. Remember that this takes time—don’t get frustrated if your move isn’t dialled after one hour of practicing.

3) Cross-train

The best way to get into shape for kayaking is simply to go kayaking…a lot! However, cross-training with other activities builds all-around fitness and is especially important when you aren’t able to paddle as often. Cross-training can take many different forms. For example, Billy Harris works out at the gym five or six times a week, and Ruth Gordon does Pilates and yoga. Regardless of the activity, the objectives are always the same: maintain or increase strength, stamina and flexibility, and reduce the risk of injury.

4) Plan a Winning Routine

A winning score is different for every freestyle kayak competition. You can figure out a rough target range by looking at each move’s value on the score sheet, then assessing the capabilities of your competitors and planning a ride that you think will beat theirs. To secure a medal at the Worlds, plan to score between 800 and 1,500 points in the men’s division, and 500 to 1,000 points in the women’s.

Start by writing down all of your moves. Your freestyle kayaking routine should begin with the easiest moves, progress to your medium level tricks and finish with your hardest maneuvers. Starting with the moves you are most confident with gives you a better shot at staying on the feature and getting some points on the board. Saving your hardest moves for the final 10 seconds means that if you run out of time or flush, you haven’t wasted your ride. Sticking a spin is worth more than flushing on a helix.

5) Pump Up Your Competitive Edge

Practicing your moves in the order of your routine helps you go faster while competing. Also, allowing yourself only 45 seconds for each ride teaches you to use less set-up time. The more you practice competing, the less nervous or stressed you’ll find yourself before a competition.

6) Program for Success

To succeed in freestyle kayaking, you need to first visualize yourself succeeding. Success doesn’t only mean winning; it means achieving the goals you have set for yourself. Your goal could be completing your routine, doing your first loop in competition or making it to finals. Never let first place be your goal. This puts your objective in the hands of your competitors, and you have no control over the moves or rides of your competitors. To kayak freestyle and compete well, you need to be able to brush off a bad ride. Think back to all your training and preparation for the event; the more you’ve trained the more confident you’ll be. Most importantly, relax and remember that you are competing because it’s fun!

This article was first published in the Spring 2010 issue of Rapid Magazine. Subscribe to Paddling Magazine’s print and digital editions, or browse the archives.

Nick Troutman won the 2009 World Freestyle Championships with a 1,510-point ride.



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