By Cole Jacobsen & Pat Peckham with Dawn Bugni
Initially making its name with slalom racing events, Wausau Whitewater now hosts many freestyle events too. The popularity of playing in freestyle holes, also known as rodeo, has grown dramatically in the past few years.
Most freestyle action takes place in the freestyle “holes” or playspots. The standing wave in the middle of the channel allows talented paddlers to avoid being swept downstream while performing showy moves. Paddlers in this event have 60 seconds to amass as many points as they can. If they’re swept out of the “hole,” they paddle madly back into position because the judge only awards points for moves done in that spot.
Paddlers switch to short playboats for freestyle since shorter kayaks and canoes turn more quickly and enable continually evolving and changing moves. The river becomes their stage. Watch for Cartwheels, Phonics Monkeys (bow 360-degree rotation to front flip), Space Godzillas (past vertical aerial cartwheel), Split Wheels (two vertical ends with a 180-degree vertical direction change in between ends), Loops (front aerial somersault), Back Loops (an aerial backwards somersault), 360-Degree spin’s, and many more during these exhilarating events.
Freestyle competitions use one very experienced judge, selected for his knowledge of the sport, to award points. For Wausau Whitewater, that judge is Chad Kehn from Minnesota – freestyle judge since 2006 and returning for the 2009 season. One or more scribes support the judge during freestyle events. As the paddler scores points, the judge calls out point values to the scribe and they record them on scoring sheet for each competitor. With the help of the scribes, the judge never looks away from the paddler.
The buzzer sounds and the judge reviews the paddler’s score. When he’s finished, the next competitor gets the green flag to enter the hole starting the excitement starts all over again.