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Becoming a Playboater, eh?

Posted: 10.15.2014

Playboater, AT Paddles

I used to think playboating was stupid. “kayaking is about going with the flow, harnessing the power of the river, and traveling with gravity downstream” I said. Then I went to the Ottawa River, and everything changed…



phils left

I’m a creek boater by training, and though I’ve been in many playboats, and can execute your basic surfing and spinning maneuvers, I’ve never devoted myself to building an arsenal of tricks. People have always said to me “playboating is so good for your paddling! It will make you a better all-around kayaker” which I believed, but never took seriously enough to pursue. I can now attest that it is SO true...enough so that everyone should take a trip to Canada and spend time on the Ottawa! Edge control, water reading, vision placement and rolling are just a few of the skills playboating will challenge you to become better at.

Clay Wright (fellow AT team member) told me once that playboating is so valuable because it makes you go into seemingly scary places (like holes) and makes you deal with getting tossed around in a violent place, and learning how to stay calm and deal with it. Eventually, he told me, dropping into big holes, throwing a trick or two or just getting your ass kicked becomes fun! This was good inspiration for me to hear, because that fear is exactly what seems to be my biggest hindrance in the freestyle world – commitment to the feature.

Once I got on some of the bigger features (at the levels I was there for at least) after a few seconds of front surfing, and maybe a spin attempt or two, my creeking instincts kicked in and I would look downstream and almost uncontrollably draw myself off the feature. It was fun going back to the basics, and working on things like looking upstream, edge to edge transitions, and well timed strokes.

corner wave approach

corner wave

Still, I did a lot of flushing off waves...


Charging hard to get back into eddies...


And feeling confused and frustrated, wondering how I can paddle so many class V rapids but can't execute a single wave trick...


While I certainly saw a big improvement in my playboating, one of the best parts of being up there (besides the poutine) was seeing the local freestyle paddlers throw down. I watched some of the world’s best link huge tricks together, on the same feature I was struggling to spin on! Seeing that enormous difference in skill level was one of the most motivational moments of my kayaking career!

Kayaking is such an amazing sport because there are so many disciplines within it. I’ve devoted my life to creeking, one little piece of the greater paddling puzzle. Unfortunately we don’t have anything like the Ottawa features here in North Carolina, but my dreams are now set high, and I am determined to someday call myself a playboater. Back to the Ottawa in 2015!

corner wave landscape

All photos courtesy of Stefi Van Wijk.  Thanks also to Madawaska Kanu Centre for the kayak, and Astral for a new YTV jacket, so I can at least look like a playboater!