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What’s a Kayak Rodeo?


No, we’re not talking about bull riding and calf roping when we are talking about a kayak rodeo. These events feature super small kayaks designed to surf waves and play with river features. We call these boats, playboats, and this is the X-Games of kayaking. You’ll see paddlers of playboats cartwheeling, spinning and looping their way down the river. Events like the New River Gorge Race and Rodeo bring together professional and amateur paddlers to compete and see who are the best whitewater kayakers.

Freestyle Kayaks

Playboats are the smallest and most dynamic kayaks out there today. These boats are designed to surf waves and implement aerial tricks on the river. The smaller boats allow the paddler more control and the boats can execute a wider range of moves compared to a downriver kayak. Imagine seeing a paddler cartwheeling end to end or looping out of the water. Without the proper skill these boats can feel a bit squirrely but with practice they will take your paddling to the next level.

Surfing 101

Playboating is just like gymnastics in the water. You use the waves, the holes and the water to help you fly in the air and rotate your boat and your body as fast as you can. The aim is to hopefully perform really beautiful tricks that just feel incredible. Learning to surf waves and ride river hydraulics will make you a much better boater as well as increase you confidence on the water. If you’re new to this side of the sport then find a wave and get your surf on.

Scoring and Competitions

Just like gymnastics whitewater kayaking can be competitive and playboating is one of the most exciting sides of the sport. In a typical rodeo competition judges will score participants based on the tricks they are able to do while surfing a particular river feature. It’s the paddler’s goal to link as many tricks together to get the highest score and the best ride. You’ll see rodeo competitions on rivers around the globe and there is even a World Championship hosted by the International Canoe Federation. We have some world-class features available for our New River Gorge Rodeo event happening this May.

Big Air Competition

Every event needs to do something that makes it stand out above the rest, make things a little spicy. At the New River Gorge Race & Rodeo we have built a giant ramp launching kayaks airborne. This kayak ramp definitely ups the ante and makes this event more fun than your typical rodeo competition. Participants will be judged on the best tricks performed from the ramp and this score will be added to the overall score from the rodeo competition. Get some big air on the ramp this spring!

Sign Up Now

Wanna take part in a kayak rodeo? The New River Gorge Race & Rodeo is happening May 10th & 11th and features our rodeo competition as well as a big air ramp contest. We have some incredible prizes for our winners plus it’s going to be an epic competition amongst some talented boaters. Aside from the rodeo event happening on Friday the New River Gorge Race is happening Saturday to crown the fastest paddler. Take part in both events with the combo registration. All participants get a commemorative race bib and access to the afterparty on Saturday night with awards and live music. See you on the river!

BY Chris Colin

Chris Colin is a raft guide, whitewater kayaker, active caver, and as Special Events Coordinator at ACE he manages, promotes, and executes special events like the Mountain Music Festival.