Paddling your arms off, the feeling of dropping into the wave and a second of panic builds up to a feeling of achievement, freedom, pure joy - Man it's awesome, technically it's 'White Water Freestyle Kayaking'.
It’s a sport not known to many and if you look at the size of white water kayaking in South African and the World, 'White Water Kayakers' are a serious minority and 'White Water Freestyle Kayaking' is even smaller. What started by chance of a kayaker getting stuck in a ‘hole’ on some big river has now become a fully-fledged sport on its own.
What is White Water Freestyle Kayaking or ‘Playboating’ as it is casually known?
It’s where kayakers paddle in a single spot (Playspot, hole or wave) and surf the current while facing up stream. While on the wave we (if you have enough skill) perform various tricks and literally… surf.
Basically kayakers sit in a still pool of water known as an eddy; when it is their turn, they paddle upstream towards the hole and drop in the rapid and surf. By now you are thinking that it can’t be all too hard…. You’re wrong.
Unlike conventional surfing where you have muscles from your toes to your core supporting and working together, in a ‘playboat’ you are sitting and using nothing but your core for balance and your arms to paddle to keep your in place. As you move from side to side, you must lean downstream to keep the edge of the boat from catching the fast moving water. When the edge catches, you rely on a little known skill called an ‘eskimo roll’ to keep you from exiting the boat which in turn allows you to keep surfing. Once out of the wave and you have righted your boat, you join the queue and hit it again all to improve and feel the rush of surfing once again.
It’s a tough sport, not only do you need to have the right gear to participate, but having the right skill set would make your life easier. While learning, it’s a lot of work for what seems like little reward until you get the right set of moves and then it is just feels like magic!
Each year, a group of people organise a very informal ‘Freestyle Kayaking National Championships’ where we get to see the best go at it and preform loops (front somersault) and Space Godzilla (Front Somersault with a twist).
We have to all start somewhere – Here I am on the Klip River just outside Meyerton.
Here is pro Kayaker, Nic Troutman tearing it up in Uganda.
How do you get into Playboating?
That’s the challenge… there are no clubs or teams you can start with… I started when I made friends with a Kayaker, I asked about it, he put me in his boat and after purchasing my own gear, and I haven’t looked back.
Images and Words: Terence ’ActionMan’ Vrugtman| AdventureLife.co.za