Putting the Fun back into Freestyle


(Official Event Video by Finn Burrows)

March this year has been the driest since 1953, the Thames slowly dropped and with it Hurley Weir dropped to 1 gate which is sadly not much fun for modern playboats. So with no rain forecasted we were left with the choice, either cancel the 4th Thames Valley Freestyle Birthday Rodeo or find a place to migrate the valley to. Thankfully we found refuge at Cardiff International White Water, who very kindly offered to help us out and even though they weren’t able to offer us exclusive use they we happy for us to arrange our events around the rafting and general public paddlers. So at 5 days notice we moved the event to CIWW and we were very glad to be able to keep it a free event! There were some initial concerns that Cardiff was too shallow to have a freestyle competition on. CIWW have been working very hard to improve the course recently – to make it deeper and make the playspots better, and after a few warm-up rides new paddlers to Cardiff were finding the course plenty deep enough and the play spot capable of almost every freestyle hole move.


This was to be my first visit to CIWW, we were incredibly lucky with the weather for the day which was fantastically sunny and warm all day! I arrived early to set up and was greeted with a warm reception by the staff who were exceptionally helpful with providing a room for registration and briefing and also to mark up the challenges for the extreme slalom with numbered slalom gates.


Within one hour of arriving everything was set up, we had music blasting on the island and paddlers were signing up to all the events. This day was to be a fun event, not too serious ICF-freestyle rules but free rules, everything goes, rewarding those who were perhaps of lesser ability but really stood-out for their class, giving maximum effort and really embracing the spirit of the event. We managed to collar any paddler who hadn’t planned in getting involved and got them bibbed up and soon they were enjoying taking part in something they normally would have assumed to be too inexperienced for.


We started the day with an extreme slalom, with two boof points to impress the judges and a new school and old school freestyle trick spot. There were various forms of boofs: paddle spin boofs, backwards boofs and anti-boofs and a nice selection of freestyle moves both young and old.

Next we had the heats for the Palm Boater X racing a full lap of the course in groups of 4, starting half way down and charging to the bottom, travelling back up the travelator and racing to the start point whilst making a break out after the first drop.


Following on from that we had 3-move-freestyle which was a knock out comp geared at everybody’s personal skill level, at registration each paddler was asked to name 3 moves of various difficulty that they themselves thought they could pull off in competition. For some this meant pulling a loop where for the complete beginner it was simply getting on the feature in control. If the paddler succeeded in scoring their first round move, they moved on to the next round, if not they got another attempt to try and progress. It was really fantastic to see everyone having a go and even in the heat of competition the more experienced paddlers were helping the beginners, pointing out where was best to initiate their loops for example. For the expert paddlers their moves were chosen for them to make it an even bigger challenge. This meant we had a complete mix of abilities in the final.


We then brought back a competition which hadn’t been seen for many years – Tag Team Freestyle, sponsored by FlowFree. In teams of 4 they had 5 minutes on the feature and had to accumulate points by ‘tagging’ another member of their team by either high-fiving or tapping paddles. Points were also awarded for freestyle moves, again beginners could score as many points as the experts through impressive efforts or just generally making the judges laugh. This was thoroughly entertaining, with some impressive carnage in the hole and some interesting new freestyle combos. This event was won by the team from Liverpool University who certainly got in the spirit of things.


After this comp the course was temporarily stopped to allow the staff at CIWW to remove some of the omnifloats and then turn the course up to the full 12 cumecs to create the more powerful play-hole for the freestyle finals and boater X finals. We were extremely grateful to CIWW for giving us some extra pump time especially on the full 12 cumecs and everyone was very impressed with just how good the course became, with the freestyle hole proving to be a match for any feature in the UK.

We had two finals of 10 minutes for the freestyle. Judging was on variety, still with beginners scoring moves for pop-outs and loop attempts. The move of the competition was Dale Mears who styled a Felix to Space Godzila combo move, that was extremely high class. Matty Nicholas stole the show with Dale in second and Ryan Liquorish very impressive in third.


We then had the final of the Boater X with 12 paddlers charging around the course all at once, with Matty Nicholas taking the flag, but later to be disqualified for a jump-start. Youngster Charles Blyth was thus promoted to first, with James Metcalf a close second and Dale Mears coming in third.

Freestyle Slalom was jointly won by George Williams and Ed Harry, Will Eldred in second and James Metcalf in third.


Finally a fun freestyle competition wouldn’t be the same without a King-of-The-Wave event! The hole was quite feisty on 12 cumecs and meant there was some major carnage including Matty Nicholas and Flic Meares, who were the final two paddlers in last years’ King of the Wave at Hurley, both swimming with just moments to spare! Ed Harry was the last one in the hole on the buzzer.


Once the water was turned off and everyone had got changed, we all retired to the cafe at CIWW where we grabbed some curry and all sat down to enjoy the UK premiere of the new Rush Sturges film Frontier. After this we had prize-giving. Plenty of prizes were given out to those who had won events and also those who had impressed the most; either by getting stuck in, or doing very well for their experience level. One of the girls who I bullied into taking part who was on the winning team for Tag-Team, got into the final of the freestyle comp, and despite missing the eddy she paddled hard around the course to get back for the final few minutes. She won a Nookie Paddle Bag for her amazing efforts. Afterwards she said “I really enjoyed it, it really pushed me into things I would have normally chickened out of!”

We really want to encourage more people to get involved with the next event. It’s really not about how good you are, it’s all about getting stuck-in, enjoying the event and having a great time with friends old and new, and hopefully make a few people laugh and smile at the same time.


A massive shout-out to all the supports of the event: Palm Equipment Europe who donated some superb prizes and got fully involved sponsoring the Boater X, SquareRock for some equally as good prizes and Nookie, SystemX, White Water the Canoe Centre, Flow Free Coaching and Sue’s Canoes for all getting involved and supplying prizes and goodies. Thank you to Mandy Chan and Ryan Liquorish for helping out judging, special thanks to Gareth Harvey for supplying music and of course running the TVF website, and Finn Burrows from Palm who was official videographer and is putting together a video of the event.

Finally a massive thank you to Cardiff International White Water and all their staff for helping make the day happen and for being so welcoming.

See you all at the next event… did somebody mention a summer party?

Dave ‘Scout’ Wortley





Photos by: Michael Napier, Dale Mears, Liz Brookes and Miles Jones

Full Prize Winners…

Palm Boater X

DSQ Matty Nicholas – jump start
1st – Charles Blyth
2nd Jamie Metcalf
3rd Dale Mears

Freestyle 3 Move Comp with Variety Jam Session Final
1st – Matty Nicholas
2nd – Dale Mears
3rd – Ryan Regae Regae Fruitpastel Liquorish

Tag Team Freestyle
1st – Liverpool Uni
2nd – Team VE
3rd – Creek Boats/Flic’s Team

Freestyle Slalom
1st – George Williams/Ed Harry
2nd – Will Eldread
3rd – Jamie Metcalf

King of the Wave – Ed Harry

Other Noteable Efforts worthy of Prizes
Will Eldred
Ben colton
Hannah Draper
Myles Jackson
Louis Frost
Time Roper
Jack Gunter