Freestyle Kayaking: Top Playboating Tricks Anyone Can Master
Playboating, also known as freestyle kayaking, is the perfect mix of excitement and technique. A form of whitewater kayaking — the thrill-seeker’s number one hobby — this sport is all about using the water’s waves, holes, eddylines, and power to perform incredible tricks.
Want to push your limits, soar above the water and build up a portfolio of skills? Here at Northshore Watersports, we’ve put together a step-by-step guide on some of the top playboating kayak tricks for you to master. Take a look at our tutorials to see how anyone can be a good freestyle kayaker!
What is freestyle kayaking?
Before we get into the tricks, what exactly is freestyle kayaking?
Freestyle kayaking, or playboating, is a whitewater sport where paddlers perform moves and tricks in one spot – called the playspot. You can practice these tricks at recreational level, or hone your moves and join freestyle kayaking competitions! From spins and surfing to airborne rolls, there are lots of different types of moves and combinations of tricks to master. We’ve broken down a few of the most popular playboating tricks to help you get started!
If you’re just starting out in freestyle kayaking, you want to learn how to do the surf move first. Surfing is the base you need to master all other techniques, and you can achieve it on both holes and waves. The trick is being able to catch the wave in the first place, so if you’re new to playboating, this may take some practice!
- Paddle your playboat kayak onto a river or sea wave and position it parallel to the flow of the current.
- Place your paddle behind you in the water and keep your body turned towards the blade.
- Find the lowest part of the wave and start paddling at speed to get on top.
- Once you’re on the wave, make sure your speed matches the wave’s to help you stay on it for longer.
Wave-holes, which are when the waves have a foam pile at the top, are fantastic for playboat surfing, as the foam makes it simpler to keep your playboat kayak in place to ride the wave. Once you’re confident with this move, you can try back surfing, which is where you do this trick in reverse!
Another basic and essential part of playboating is the spin technique. Spinning, also known as flat spinning, in a playboat kayak is reasonably easy to carry out, and is all about good timing and positioning.
To do a good spin:
- Find a wave hole with a small foam pile that is free of obstructions and reasonably deep.
- Start on the top of the foam pile and accelerate your boat upstream.
- Looking upstream and making sure your body is upright, do a reverse sweep using your left paddle blade to start the spin.
- Keep going until your kayak is almost facing completely downstream.
- A moment before your boat points downstream, flatten your playboat.
- Once your kayak passes the straight downstream point, switch edges by lifting your left knee and doing a forward sweep with your right blade.
Next on our list of playboating tricks is stern squirts. Stern squirts are, essentially, when you force the rear of your playboat underwater. As the first step to cartwheeling is being able to do a stern squirt, this is a good technique to master if you want to advance in freestyle kayaking!
To perform a stern squirt:
- Paddle towards the eddy line.
- Rotate your upper body and look in the direction that you want to pivot.
- Get an anchor point by planting your blade firmly in the water at the stern of your playboat. This should lean your playboat kayak on edge.
- Using a reverse sweep movement and the strength of your torso, pivot and force your boat’s stern into the water.
- Push your paddle blade right down to help lever your turn and force the stern downwards to get the boat as vertical as possible.
- Combining your kayak’s tilt and your body strength, your kayak should start to rotate.
- Take the paddle (your makeshift pivot) out of the water and continue to rotate your torso using the pivot’s momentum and your strength alone.
- Allow your boat to flatten on the water again, keeping your body ahead of the rotation and staying on the blade you used for a pivot.
Although you can do stern squirts in flat water, they’re best performed in eddy lines, as the currents work together to help force the stern down and the bow up.
The blunt freestyle kayaking move is when a paddler does a vertical spin using a very fast edge-to-edge switch.
For a good blunt technique:
- Start on top of a wave.
- Turn your body powerfully into the spin. At the same time, pull your playboat onto its opposite edge while doing a backstroke with your paddle on the upstream side of your kayak.
- Push your weight forwards so that the stern goes upwards into the air. This helps it pivot around the bow when it slices into the water.
- Go as vertical as you like by tilting more or less.
- As the stern lowers, flatten out your edge.
Once you’ve done this, try the backstab move which is the same as this but carried out backwards.
The boof move is a popular one to master in freestyle kayaking. Boof, or boofing, is performed over a drop, rock or waterfall and is essentially the art of keeping the front of your playboat above the water’s surface.
To perform a boof:
- Build up speed as you approach a drop so that you’re sure to clear it. If there’s a rock at the edge of the drop, use it as a launch ramp!
- Now, it’s time to set up your boof stroke. A boof stroke is the last stroke you do before you drop over the hole or waterfall.
- For the perfect timing and power, plant your boof stroke a little over the drop’s edge.
- Get as much power behind your paddle as possible and do a vertical forward stroke that really pushes your playboat forward without turning it too much.
- On landing, bring your body weight forward and help control your kayak by placing a blade in the river.
Out of all our freestyle kayaking tricks, the airscrew is one of our favourites! This aerial barrel roll looks incredible and is nowhere near as hard as you might think to do.
To perform a decent airscrew:
- Start by finding the ideal take-off point from the top of a wave and accelerate down it.
- As you do this, powerfully stamp your feet and pull up on your knees to get the front tip of your playboat as high in the air as possible.
- Now, lean backwards and reach across with your paddle — ‘grabbing’ the water and pushing yourself in the direction you reached to perform a back deck roll.
- Once you’ve done a complete roll, use a power stroke to pull your playboat back to a front-facing position.
The cartwheel is an iconic freestyle kayaking trick that takes you on a 360-degree rotation!
To perform a cartwheel:
Begin by getting your playboat on top of a wave hole.
- Tilt your kayak on its right edge, then do a forward stroke on the righthand side and lift the bow of your playboat out of the water.
- Now, do a reverse stroke to slice the bow downwards.
- Once the front of your boat enters the water, use your body weight to push forward and rotate your shoulders so that they face the direction you’re turning.
- The kayak will follow as your body rotates and releases. Once you see the bow leave the water, make a forward stroke.
- A second before the kayak moves over your head, make another sharp twist and plant another backstroke in the water to bring the bow down again.
Remember, the harder and sharper you twist your torso, the easier you can move the kayak around. If you want help visualising the cartwheel freestyle kayak move, watch the short clip above.
In freestyle kayaking, a loop is when you do a complete front flip in your playboat. The best thing is, there’s no edging your kayak with this one!
For a well-performed loop manoeuvre:
- Find a hole that’s quite deep and get your boat on top of a foam pile.
- Head down the pile and lean forwards, driving the heels of your feet downwards, too.
- Once your bow pierces the water and starts to tilt vertically, look upstream and to the sky.
- Now, stand on your footrests and lift your paddle upwards.
- At the maximum point of your upward momentum, throw your body forward and push your chest towards your sprayskirt. This will loop your kayak in the air.
- Sharply lean back as the back of your playboat lands on the water again for a safe and smooth landing.
Now you know how to do a few popular freestyle kayaking tricks, you can start to practice! These are just a few freestyle kayaking techniques, and there are plenty more to keep you improving your skills once you’ve mastered these. Before you head out on the water, make sure to check out or range of kayaks, paddles and watersports clothing for ideal playboating.