Best Freestyle Kayakers

There’s no harm in taking a nice quiet kayak ride down a lazy river. Unless you’re an Adrenalist, that is. Adrenalists feel the need to traverse the roughest part of any body of water, expending extra effort to get caught up in its vicious waves.

Or, they’ll head over to a local rodeo playspot, where hydraulic pumps manufacture the kind of non-stop aqua-rollercoaster you crave. For an Adrenalist, the mere act of paddling and taking in scenery won’t cut it. They need to flip, twist and jump. To them, a kayak is more than a vessel for transport, it’s a prop used to achieve epic stunts.

Here are some of the world’s best freestyle kayakers.

Rafael Ortiz

Mexican-born Rafael Ortiz is as intense as they come, according to Red Bull. He’s known throughout South America and the world for his take-no-prisoners approach to the sport that frequently has him jettisoning off the tops of waterfalls over 100 feet tall.

In 2005, he became the first Mexican ever to compete at the Freestyle World Championships. Since, Ortiz has been at the helm of Red Bull’s Screaming Falls project, a venture wherein he and other extreme freestylers try their luck against some of the most gnarly waterfalls in the world.

Nick Troutman

24-year-old Canada native, Nick Troutman, has already chalked up quite an impressive freestyle kayaking resume. He was the North American Champion in 2007, three-time Canadian National Champion in 2006, 2007, 2008, and the 2009/10 World Champion.

Nick may be a proven tournament champ, but he doesn’t need a structured event to motivate him. Outside of tournaments, he’s descended the notoriously difficult Rio Alseseca in Vera Cruz Mexico, as well as the Niagara Gorge. In addition to tearing up rapids, he’s a film producer and has been featured on National Geographic TV. In short, there’s not a whole lot this guy can’t do.

Bryan Kirk

Bryan Kirk is a member of Team Wave Sport, a collective of competitive freestyle kayakers sponsored by Wave Sport, one of the premier freestyle kayak manufacturers in the world. Kirk certainly lives up to the expectations set by the high-profile company and the top-tier circles in which he paddles.

We believe he’s one of the most exciting athletes leading the sport’s new vanguard. (Did we mention he manages Team Wavesport? Props to Kirk for being talented and a strong leader). Kirk’s extensive resume includes top-ranking finishes at numerous international competitions like the 2001 World Championship and the 2011 World Championships. He’s also a six-time member of the USA Freestyle Team.

All those accolades aside, one of the most inspiring things about Kirk is his devotion to a pastime that requires all of his body and mind. When asked why he loves his sport, Kirk replied, “kayaking equals absolute focus, which is an amazing feeling.”

Emily Jackson

Many of freestyle kayaking’s extraordinarily-skilled practitioners are female, and few are more talented than Emily Jackson. In addition to multiple glitzy athletic finishes (Jackson was the 2009 Women’s World Freestyle Champion, the 2011 Silver Medalist, ranked #1 Women’s US Slalom in 2009, and has placed in the top three in all freestyle events entered since 2006), she is also an admirable humanitarian.

She raised $30,000 for Soft Power Health, an organization that helps fight malaria in Uganda. Another fun fact about Jackson… she’s married to Nick Troutman. Their kayak trips must be incredible. Emily and Nick, if you’re reading this, maybe throw an invite our way for the next one?