Positive Signs Point Toward Health of Freestyle Kayaking

Tuesday, 21 June 2011
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Plattling, Germany – Freestyle kayaking is alive and well and growing.

Every two years when the World Championships are held, the spotlight shines on the relatively new paddlesports discipline, providing an excellent opportunity to reflect on the progress of the sport.

All signs from this year’s event, about to start here this week, are that freestyle is on a healthy trajectory. From internal affairs and infrastructure to outward participation and attention to the sport, freestyle kayaking shows all the signs of maturing on the global stage.

This year alone, three new countries are making their debut on the freestyle kayaking global stage as canoe and kayak federations in Slovenia, India and Argentina send their first athletes to this World Championships. In all, some 250 athletes representing 30 countries will participate in the event.

ICF Freestyle Kayak Committee Chair Luis Rabaneda of Spain touted a number of other milestones for the sport since the last World Championship in Thun, Switzerland two years ago.

At that time, Rabaneda was immensely pleased and honored when the closing days of Worlds in Thun attracted visits from high-ranking ICF and International Olympic Committee dignitaries including the IOC President himself, Jacques Rogge.

Fast forward to today when Rabaneda said it is no small matter ICF President Jose Perurena has been nominated to a seat on the IOC and that Perurena and the ICF Executive Committee intends to hold one of their regularly scheduled meetings here in Plattling, during the World Championships. Rabaneda explains this gives the ICF’s core leadership team and the freestyle community a chance to deepen connections.

Rabaneda notes that another sure sign of freestyle’s stature is the fact that for the first time in its history, the ICF has helped financially support the event here in Plattling. Another key performance indicator of the integrity of an emerging sport is judging (or officiating). To that end, Rabaneda has entrusted fellow committee member Jon Souillot (FRA) as chief architect for the development of judging standards, training and accreditation. Netherlands-based Head Judge Jasper Polak.has been the man on the ground executing Souillot’s plan.

In the leadup to Thun, the freestyle committee had just begun the work of unifying judging standards that until then, suffered from some discrepancies between European and North American interpretations of the definitions of moves and scoring criteria. Armed with new, consistent rules and norms, Polak trained judges to ICF standards, five of whom passed the rigorous certification process. Since then, Polak has been busy hosting more trainings to cultivate more judges on both sides of the Atlantic. There are now 13 ICF-certified judges, seven of whom will join Polak here in Plattling to judge these Championships.

While Polak said he is satisfied with the pace at which the pool of ICF-certified judges is growing in number and quality, he still has his eye on the future. Polak said the ICF will need more US and Canadian-based judges for the 2012 World Cup and 2013 World Championships that will be held in the southeastern US.

In addition to Rabaneda and Souillot, other members of the ICF Freestyle Kayak Committee include Ingrid Schott (GER), Kristine Jackson (USA), Terry Best (GRB) and Valerie Bertrand (NOR) who serves as assistant to the committee. It’s clear there is one overarching goal of this core leadership team: realizing the dream of freestyle kayaking becoming an official Olympic discipline. Rabaneda explained that the lion’s share of resources within the ICF, as well as national canoe and kayak federations around the globe, are allocated to Olympic disciplines such as sprint and slalom. As is the case with when any fledgling sport, once freestyle kayaking gains Olympic status, more resources will flow toward it, further bolstering freestyle in new countries.
Opening ceremonies for the ICF Freestyle Kayak World Championships kick off this Monday, June 20; the event is scheduled to conclude Saturday, June 25.

For more detailed event information, visit http://www.icf-freestyle.de.

David Johnston

David Johnston

David Johnston has been introducing people to the sport of sea kayaking for the past 15 years. He is a senior instructor trainer with Paddle Canada and teaches for several paddling schools in Ontario, Canada. Full Bio.

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