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My top 6 freestyle kayaking spots: 3 favorite holes and 3 favorite waves

Here is a summary list of my favorite hole and wave spots for freestyle kayaking. If you want more details continue reading the rest of the blog.

My top 3 freestyle kayaking spots for hole boating:
Z Dam, James River, Richmond, Virginia
Inlet Gate, HPP Whitewater Course, Nottingham, England
NOC, Bryson City, North Carolina

My top 3 freestyle kayaking spots for wave boating:
The Ottawa River, Canada
The New River Dries, West Virginia
Good Wave, Columbus, Georgia

Freestyle kayaking is a discipline where kayakers use whitewater features like waves and holes to perform a variety of tricks. Tricks can range from smaller moves like spins to bigger arial tricks like space godzilla’s or blunts depending what feature, with lots of opportunities to turn tricks into combo’s. The fun part of freestyle is it allows you to use your imagination to come up with any variety of sequences forming rides or combination of tricks by linking them together. Freestyle competitions add another dimension to the sport, requiring paddlers to showcase their skills and creativity under pressure. In a freestyle competition, each of the paddlers have a set time to perform as many different tricks and combos as possible, however, you can only score each trick once per ride.

Most of my life I have enjoyed adventure sports like skateboarding, surfing, and snowboarding seeking out the best spots and learning tricks in each discipline. Since learning to kayak, I have had my eye on freestyle and in the summer of 2018 I went on a week long trip with a bunch of friends to the Ottawa river, Canada. That trip introduced me to the world of possibilities and fueled my fire to learn as many tricks as I can and venture into the competitive side of the sport. My fire to excel in freestyle kayaking pushes me to actively seek out training opportunities on various features, in turn leading me to explore numerous locations all over the world to train on to be as competitive as I can be. I am a full time analytical chemist at a water treatment plant, so I am a bit limited each year traveling because of my job and I typically burn out all my work PTO pretty quickly on kayaking trips. Here are my favorite spots for hole boating and wave boating below.

My top 3 freestyle kayaking spots for hole boating:

Z Dam, James River, Richmond, Virginia: This spot is hands down my overall favorite freestyle kayaking spot and also hang out spot with incredible wildlife ranging from bald eagles, osprey, and blue heron perched in the trees. I could do without the massive amount of snakes hanging out around the take out for this spot but if I could be stuck in one spot for the rest of time it would be this location. Z Dam is considered to be one of the best play spots on the East Coast, USA when it is at prime levels, allowing almost every trick and combo to be thrown. It is a steep feature that is moderately powerful handing out beatdowns at stickier levels. Z Dam is good between the levels of 5.0 feet to 5.9 feet on the James River at Richmond-Westham gauge. Z Dam at these specific levels is safe and the dam is not in play as long as you are in the notch region. HOWEVER, always pay attention when you are kayaking at this spot and do not stray too close the dam itself. For more information check out my blog on Z Dam here:

Z Dam

Inlet Gate, HPP Whitewater Course, Nottingham, England: This feature had been on my to do list for since the first time I saw kayakers doing freestyle kayaking tricks. It was just as amazing in person as it was watching instagram footage of paddlers from across the globe. I finally got to paddle this spot last year while competing on team USA in the 2022 World Freestyle Kayaking Championships in Nottingham, England. I think this feature is the most perfectly shaped hole I’ve ever been in. It is not that powerful at all and really friendly allowing me to try new tricks without being intimidated like most other hole features. I learned my offside lefty space godzilla trick in this feature. This is located on a man made course that had consistent water every day which was a big positive. There was nothing downstream to be scared of when flushing out or get a beatdown. The only thing I would change at inlet gate is to make the cement walls a little further apart…bro…they kept cramping my style running into them. Three weeks here at this feature was not enough! I can’t wait to get a chance to get back here.

Inlet Gate

Nantahala Outdoor Center feature, Bryson City, North Carolina: The NOC is located in the western part of North Carolina. This is one of my favorite spots to learn hole tricks in and practice competition ride plans. The hole feels just sticky enough to throw tricks and stay in the feature without flushing out but not too intimidating to learn new tricks. The levels have been very consistent every time I have come to train here. I think this kind of balance can be incredibly beneficial for kayakers, especially myself, who are eager to push their limits and expand their bag of tricks. The water levels have always been consistent each visit which is undoubtedly a valuable asset. We are in a sport where water levels are completely out of our control and can greatly influence the quality of training sessions and having reliable conditions can make a significant difference. Many whitewater features are indeed level-dependent and subject to unpredictable changes, which can sometimes complicate training and skill development. I found learning back tricks at this spot was much easier and less intimidating than other holes. It was also easy to learn combo tricks: I learned my space godzilla loop combo here. Easy spot to get to with great eddy access. The NOC has also hosted several kayak events including US Freestyle kayaking trials to qualify for world championships and was the host of the 2013 World Freestyle Kayaking Championships. The NOC also is one of the biggest outfitters out there with any gear related needs or things you didn’t even know you needed for whatever your adventure may be. There are also some good food spots. The NOC provides diverse activities beyond kayaking such as whitewater rafting and zip lining. This multifaceted approach to adventure and recreation makes the NOC an attractive destination for individuals seeking both kayaking essentials and thrilling outdoor pursuits.


My top 3 freestyle kayaking spots for wave boating:

The Ottawa River, Canada: The Ottawa river is one of the best and favorite paddle destinations in the world for whitewater kayakers as it is known for its big water and numerous world class waves. This is one of my favorite rivers I have ever paddled in my entire life. There are so many options for wave boating on this river. The levels vary throughout the year with spring typically having higher flows producing some of the most famous big waves: Bus Eater and Mini Bus. During the summer months at lower flows there are smaller waves: Garb, Baby face, Pushbutton, and loads more. When I have been here, I have hit a few different waves but Pushbutton and Corner wave were my favorite. Corner was hard to catch but it was really good. I am sure I would love it even more today with my progressing wave boating skillset I have today. Pushbutton was also really good. Unfortunately Covid hit halting travel and then my trip to the Ottawa and Montreal this past July had to be canceled due to my appendix bursting….how inconvenient of my appendix. LOL. These setbacks have been frustrating so I have to remember that there will be more opportunities for kayaking adventures in the future. So I am hoping it’s sooner than later.


The New River Dries, West Virginia: The New River Dries is a section of the New River located in West Virginia. When the river is high, water overwhelms an upstream dam and pours into the Dries, forming big waves and making the it a freestyle kayaker’s paradise. There are several different waves depending on the levels but my favorite wave is known as the Dries Wave located in the middle of the river and one of the biggest waves I have surfed. The wave is fast and steep but I have time to move around and get a bounce for bigger tricks without being stuck in the foam. It is slightly retentive letting me stick tricks and not flush, but it is not “scary retentive”— you can flush off the wave when you want to. I am able to throw several tricks and put together some solid rides consisting of spins, roundhouses, blunts, and back blunts. It is an ideal wave to help me train for wave competitions except it is tricky because they don’t come in very often and are very level dependent. I always have the gauge for the Dries levels because when its in you gotta go. For more information on the Dries, check out my blog:

New River Dries

Good Wave, Columbus,Georgia: Good Wave is located in Columbus, Georgia in the South East on the Chattahoochee river which flows through the center of the city and is a part of RushSouth WhiteWater Park. This has become known to many as “The Wintering Grounds” : a place where kayakers flock to during the winter months. I have taken 9 or 10 trips down here over the past couple years to get out of the freezing cold water of Richmond, Virginia and for guaranteed wave time on Good Wave to train, but HONESTLY to feed the addiction for figuring more things out on this fun wave. Every time it is time for me to leave, I constantly debate rebooking my flight so I can stay one extra day. I have done it a few times and its totally worth it. Over the years, there have been tons of freestyle competitions held here on Good Wave but they currently are prepping to host the ICF Kayak Freestyle World Championships in just a few weeks in October 2023. This event is the equivalent to our sports olympics where 300 plus top paddlers from all over the world will congregate to compete at the highest level in search of making the podium and going for gold. This is a great opportunity to watch elite athletes showcase their skills and creativity on the water. So mark your calendars for October 9th to October 14, 2023. This wave is a favorite of mine because it is a medium to larger sized wave that is powerful and allows for big tricks, however it takes time to figure out where to set up which is a bit tricky to figure out but once you do you can unlock some big tricks. The water levels change frequently, so it feels like every session is figuring out different things which I like to keep myself on my toes. The wave is a little intimidating at first to start throwing tricks and get comfortable due to its powerfulness but the beatdowns are not TOO terrible. There is calm downstream section when you come off the wave or swim, in fact there are a couple smaller waves that are extremely fun as well followed by flat water. I personally find the water below the feature with low consequences as a bonus and helps me learn new tricks without fear. Depending on water levels there is eddy service to Good Wave but if not you just get out at the island and run back up. During team trials this past March, I didn’t have the rides I was hoping for, however, I got to throw in a couple big tricks each ride. I am not as comfortable with my wave tricks as I am with hole tricks. **I would classify my talents as more of a hole boater due to accessibility issues…however, I always have in the back of my mind a question Seth Ashworth asked on his podcast: “do you prefer small holes or big waves?” I think my answer will always be big waves and one day that can become a geographically reality for me, until then I will continue progress on whatever my options are for freestyle kayaking.** Aside from the kayaking, the area in general is great with most everything in walking distance. I always fly down so I am able to walk to tons of different restaurants. I like to go to different ones with Clay and do the restaurant tour. There are great coffee shops and Whitewater Express has everything you could possibly need. Shoutout to Daniel Gilbert with Whitewater Express and “Mayor of the Wintering Grounds“ Stephen Wright for being so helpful and accommodating with all my needs and hospitality every time I am down there. I can’t wait to get back down there.

Good Wave

These are my top 3 hole freestyle kayaking locations and my top 3 wave freestyle kayaking locations with a little bit of information added to each spot. There are so many more freestyle spots on my kayaking list to check off but some of my bigger pressing ones are: Mini Bus on the Ottawa, Lachine Rapids in Montreal (preferably w jet skis rides), and BV and Salida holes in Colorado. Each of the locations listed above, coupled with my goals, has served as a unique chapter along my freestyle kayaking path. They have presented a range of challenges that, as I overcame them, yielded valuable gains earned through putting in the time training. These diverse experiences have played a pivotal role in my ongoing growth over the years as a competitive kayaker and continue to fuel my fire to keep learning and progressing as far as I can in the sport. Give it a try!

Catch you on the river!