Last week, hundreds of paddlers from more than 30 countries gathered at the Nantahala Outdoor Center in Bryson City, NC to compete at the ICF Canoe Freestyle World Championships. The U.S. team dominated, winning six of the eight events.

Canoe & Kayak got a hold of some of the top contenders in the divisions, including 2013 World Champion in Squirt, USA Clay Wright. Here, Wright discusses what makes freestyle unique among major action sports out there, particularly this year’s ICF Freestyle World Championships. What’s it feel like to win squirt at Worlds last week, especially against the young paddlers such as Dane Jackson?
Clay Wright: It feels great of course, but I don’t focus on what others do at least until I’ve gotten what I’m trying under control. So what I was stoked on was the 1300 [point score] … tricky’s, screwing, bandits, and the super-clean split. I’ve got a great flatwater routine but hitting it at NOC involved a lot more control, as the gap between shallow rock and swirly current was about 10′ square. So I would have have been stoked to hit that no matter what Dane and Jeremy did—but of course that gold metal is a lot prettier than silver or bronze!

What does that win say about freestyle that a huge age range can compete and win these events?
Water doesn’t care how old you are, only whether you work well with it. Speed is tough when you are older, for sure, but squirt doesn’t require too much speed. Young paddlers can train longer and harder, but still recover for the next session. Older paddlers must rely on experience and strategy a lot more to make up for that but then again, most of us over-40 paddlers have a whole lot of experience.

What was it like for you to have the Worlds in the U.S.?
Different … I missed the cultural moments and travel and novelty of the whole situation: discos that open at 2 a.m. in Spain, jet boats and meat pies of New Zealand, mini “Octoberfest” of Bavaria, etc., but I think—and I hope—that the NOC provided a big fat dollop of “Southeast” to everyone’s previous impressions of the USA. The Cheoah, Cascades, Green, the boiled peanuts, barbeque, accents, sweet tea etc. I bet we stack up against just about anywhere.

Where does squirt boating fit in the realm surface-dwelling plastic and composite boats in freestyle?
Squirt boating is the roots of freestyle. While Dancers and Jedis were popping enders, paddle twirling, and yelling “Hi Mom” squirt boats were going vertical every eddy line, cartwheeling past vertical in holes, splatting rocks, spinning on waves, and just generally being the badass showboats of the river. As the plastic boats got thinner and smaller the squirt boats did the same, and now the main focus is going deep as long as you can, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still have some fun on the surface in between dives. I like that we get to show off where freestyle actually came from to the kids who keep hearing that an RPM was revolutionary.