Inside the 2017 Freestyle Worlds with James Mc Beath – #4 Location, Location, Location…
Everyday during the 2017 ICF World Freestyle Championships, Jackson Kayak’s James McBeath is sending us his off beat views on what is going in San Juan where the worlds are taking place this year. Right about now, James McBeath should be sitting uncomfortably on a rock in Argentina covering his 11th World Freestyle Championships. Buuuut he’s not. He’s sitting comfortably in the snow of Eastern Canada watching on from the proverbial online peanut gallery. Follow along each day as he recaps what he sees from a distance. Photography: Peter Holcombe/ famagogo.com
Since the late 80’s and early 90’s freestyle, or “rodeo” back then, started to rear its pretty mug on rivers across the globe. Back in the day (crap that makes me sound old), any old wave or hole that can either side surf you or allow for an ender was your playspot. Note: I think this is the first time the word “ender” has been used on a computer based article. Boats at that time were designed more for running the river, ease of use and comfort but certainly not designed specifically for any play; the moves I just mentioned were a byproduct. Pretty much as soon as that first ender took place lines began forming in the eddies of the world. A cultural divide began to form and rivers were looked at with a new interest in mind, the search for the best freestyle rivers was on.
As rivers were being explored with front surfing and enders (soon to be pirouettes) boats started to quickly evolve as exploration unearthed new funky moves to do on the water. The evolution of kayaks started from those capable of fancy enders (my term) then advanced in to better carving boats; boats that could slice into the water for ‘ends’. Through the early 2000’s it simply didn’t slow down. It seemed that every wave or hole discovered meant a new playboat for that type of feature. If you were to create a timeline for the invention of freestyle moves, the late 90’s through the early 2000’s saw moves being expanded on exponentially. Indeed the largest historical growth of whitewater kayaking participation occurred as a result. Front surf begat back surf, boats with edge control meant cartwheels, cartwheels slipped into trickywu’s, surf became blunt, boats that skip and pop all of a sudden introduced hole moves like the loop, space godzilla and wave moves like the pan am and helix … and the evolution goes on.
The first World’s I remember was in 1991 with a german taking home top prize, Jan Kelner. As a North Americaner (new word) I remember finding it kind of a weird place to start the “Rodeo” World’s (what it was called back then), but looking at it now you can clearly see evolution of European playboating running just as strong and parallel with North American freestyle. This was all from countrysides of playspots, often artificial slalom courses with good waves or holes on them. Slalom, you see, in many countries is second only to soccer or football or whatever they call it… Slalom stadiums were a big deal and they provided an instant number of park n play destinations.
By the time 1995 rolled around with the World’s in Germany, the rodeo scene showed a few location-based powerhouses starting to dominate: Canada made up 6 (most from the Ottawa) of the top 12 amongst 3 Americans, two Germans and the lone South African; an inadvertent metaphoric map of some of the great locations starting to show up for global playboating prowess. The top 30 that year was crowded with mostly Europeans who were starting to catch the bug due to having playspots nearby. That German event of course was held on yet another artificial course designed for slalom racing; a sign of things to come.
The Ottawa River stepped into the forefront of the freestyle scene as the location that playboating dreams were made of. In 1997 the next world’s were hosted there. The Ottawa boasts of at least one feature per rapid at most levels; it’s a natural river base but a dam controlled river with reservoirs of water available 24/7 providing LOTS of continual water. Those worlds spearheaded a massive youth movement of local kids getting into kayaking. To this day much of the Canadian team either comes from the area or paddles there more than any other Canadian river. Ironically new artificial whitewater play parks out west are changing that a bit now. The bottom line is that many rivers of the world have water during a short period of time; many are simply creek runs with limited playspots and many rivers simply don’t have the water depth to provide decent playspots. For playboating to progress in these regions, more and more river manipulation had to take place. As a result, in the middle stage of freestyle evolution we saw hundreds of awesome playspots showing up where they didn’t exist before; and playboating communities, around the world, growing as a result.
As we watch today’s men’s prelims on the manipulated San Juan river (dam only yards upstream) we pay witness to incredible technical prowess. We see paddlers in the top 20 from the US, Great Britain, France, Spain, Poland, Canada and a new friend from Argentina, Maximiliano Montoya. The most awesomest name in history! “Muy name, is Maximiliano Montoya, you killed my father… prepare to die…” (Princess Bride rip off). Maximi… Max… Mr Montoya now plays on an artificial feature built in the past few years that rivals most around the world. He and his Argentinian friends will quickly become yet another uber competitive nation right up there with the Yanks, Canucks and Brits. His performance along side legends like Dane, EJ, Devred, Czaplicki this week and hosting of the worlds will surely sponsor a new increase in interest in playboating in Argentina…
… its all about location, location, location.