Photo: Sam Fulbright

Photo: Sam Fulbright

By Sam Fulbright

The ICF Canoe Freestyle World Championships will hit the United States this Sept. 2-8 in Bryson City, NC. This is only the second time the Freestyle Worlds have come to the United States. More than 200 of the world's best freestyle paddlers are heading to North Carolina to compete for the tile of World Champion. Here’s a primer on what to expect and who to watch.

What is Freestyle Kayaking?

Freestyle kayaking is a type of whitewater kayaking in which paddlers surf waves or holes and perform tricks. Since the sport takes place on rivers, where no two features are the same, there are a whole host of styles and tricks that vary depending on the characteristics of the river. All in all, it's an impressive display of athletic precision and creative expression.

Who to Watch

There will be an amazing line up of the world's finest, but here are few folks to keep an eye out for. James Bebbington is the current World Champion from England, and he's keen to hold on to the title. Claire O'Hara is the current women's World Champ, and she also is determined to defend her championship. Dane Jackson, 20, is competing in the senior men's class for the first time, and just recently won the U.S. National Championships. While it's his first worlds as a senior, he enters as a favorite. Keep an eye out for his dad, 4-time world champion Eric Jackson. The ageless EJ (49 if you’re counting) can never be ruled out of contention. Finally, cheer on the local girl: Rowan Stuart is born and raised on the Nantahala River, and she'll be looking to score her first Jr. Women's title on her home turf.

Tricks to Look For

Understanding the basic tricks is the easiest place to start. The most basic tricks are spins, cartwheels, and loops. Most advanced tricks are variations or combinations of these few building blocks. A spin is just a flat 360-degree rotation while surfing on a feature. Cartwheels are spins with at least 45 degrees of elevated angle. Loops are front flips in a kayak. These are really just the tip of the iceberg, but most tricks are variations from these.

What Else is Happening That Week?

It won't just be all freestyle kayaking all week. There are tons of auxiliary events happening for crowd participation and entertainment. High on the list of events to check out between competitions includes the Wave Sport Extreme Race, Bomber Gear SUP race and the Dagger Dash Attainment Race. There will also be nightly bands to keep the crowd active until late in the night.

Stay Tuned

Be sure to check back at as we cover the event with results and wrap-ups.
You can also keep up with all the action via official updates on facebook (/NantahalaGorge), Twitter (@2013kayakworlds), instagram (@2013KayakWorlds), and the Nantahala Gorge blog (