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Freewheel 101: How to Easily Freewheel a Whitewater Kayak

Downriver Freestyle is making a comeback.

We’ve covered tailees (aka stern squirts) in a previous newsletter.

And also the mistakes to avoid if you want to nail them.

Now we want to step things up and get into some real freestyle

The kind that makes everyone go DAYYYUM from the bank.

Now this is one of the most requested tutorials, so listen up.

We’re going to break down the freewheel.

The freewheel is in essence a simple trick, but it can be difficult to master.

To really nail the freewheel you need to commit. If you don’t you’re going to end up upside down or just spinning and falling off the edge.

But what is the freewheel?

The freewheel is a downriver freestyle move. As you come off the edge of a drop, you place your kayak on edge and using a back stroke throw the boat over 180° so that your kayak lands flat, upright and backwards. You are effectively cartwheeling off of the drop.

Picking a drop to practice the freewheel

You can throw freewheels off of a lot of different types of drops. But when you are learning, you want to find a drop:

  1. Around 3-6ft tall
  2. Enough water going over the edge that you’re not going to scrape
  3. A clean vertical lip
  4. A friendly hole at the bottom so you don’t get munched
  5. Clear landing zone
  6. A large pool with nothing downstream

You should pick a drop you are happy to run normally and can confidently boof.

Ideally, you will be able to walk back up to try again too.

You want to make sure that there is nothing in the landing zone that might injure you. Watch out for:

  • Logs
  • Rocks
  • Stout holes
  • Your mates beatering…

As long as you are confident on the drop you can try the freewheel but starting out small will help you build the confidence to throw bigger freewheels in the future.

You can also practice by throwing wave wheels on wave trains and on smaller drops/holes, especially if you are in a full slice.

What Boat Should I Freewheel In?

You can freewheel any whitewater kayak, so should pick something you are confident in paddling.

The shorter the kayak, the easier it will be to throw over end. So if you have a smaller drop then a smaller kayak will make it easier.

As long as you are confident in the boat, give a freewheel a go.

For downriver freestyle half slices are most people go too but if you do not have access to one you can throw a freewheel in any boat. Creekboat to Playboat and everything in between.

Maybe don’t try with a carbon slalom boat though…

How to Freewheel

The approach:

Now you have your drop that you are going to try to freestyle you want to approach the drop with some speed as if you were going to boof the drop, with your boat perpendicular to the lip (straight).

You want to find a spot on the lip that has a good amount of flow going over it.

If the drop is too shallow you will lose all of your speed in the approach.

Pick a side that you want to throw the freewheel on. Whatever feels most natural.

You want to time your strokes so that as your bow crosses over the lip, where you would normally take a boof stroke, you are ready to throw the trick with the paddle of the chosen side.

So if you are throwing on your right-hand side, your last stroke should be on the left and your right blade should be ready to throw.

The edge

As your bow goes over the lip, lean onto your chosen side and put a hard edge on.

As your body comes over the lip you should be on a full edge, with your boat at 90°.

Rotate your body from your core, as if you’re going to double pump (like we learnt in the bow stall).

If you are throwing on the right, your right blade wants to be behind you.

Lean over on the blade, with the paddle flat on the water.

The stroke

With your paddle flat on the water, the back of the blade on the water you want to take a big backstroke.

Make sure you keep your edge on and take the stroke as your centre of gravity crosses the lip of the drop. This will be just in front of your hips.

Your paddle blade will be on or just before the lip of the drop.

Take a big backstroke and push your feet down. Rotate from the core and the back of the boat will come round, over your head until it is facing backwards.

You want to keep the reverse stroke for as long as possible to keep the rotation going. This isn’t just a jerky stroke.

Keeping the stoke going will also flatten you out as you rotate so that you don’t land on your side.

As your boat comes around push away from the lip with your paddle.

The landing

As your boat comes around and you lose connection with the lip, you want to take a big reverse stroke on the opposite side.

There are two reasons for this.

  1. For taller drops, this stops the rotation and allows you to land flat
  2. A reverse stroke pushes you away from the hole at the bottom of the drop.

It’s a lot less cool if you land a sick trick and then end up swimming out of the hole at the bottom…

When you land the freewheel you want your boat to be flat.

You want to make sure that you land leaning forwards. This is to soften the blow of the landing and protect your back.

As you take the reverse stroke, lean forward – just as you would with the boof.

This will also act to stop the momentum too.

So that is how to freewheel! Give it a go and tag us in your attempts.

The biggest tip that I can give you with the freewheel is to commit. It can be a scary trick to throw but it is much more achievable than you think.

Just whack that edge on and throw.


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