ICF Freestyle: Rules, Strategy and Competition

Earlier this year, the ICF released an updated version of the Canoe Freestyle Rules Appendices document (the previous 2019 version can be found here). This is the Bible for competitive freestyle kayaking. Essentially, it defines every trick and denotes their points valu e. With only 45 seconds in a freestyle ride, every competitor is looking to design and execute the most efficient ride with the skills they have. Subtle changes to move definitions can have a significant impact on strategy and ultimately the rides that athletes produce on competition day. With the cancellation of all the World Cup and European Championship events in 2020, we have yet to see the new rules in action at the highest levels of our sport. There have been some notable changes in this year’s edition of the rules, but what do they mean for athletes? How will they affect the rides we see on the world stage next year in Nottingham? Here’s an outline of the most significant modifications and their potential impact:

1. Lunar-loops and Tricky-loops

These moves have been around for many years but until 2020, they were considered trophy moves. Specifically, they would be scored as Trophy 2 along with Backloop-Mcnastys, another popular combo. Now, Lunar-loops and Tricky-loops have been recognised as separate tricks worth 170 and 180 points respectively. This is a major development because athletes can now score all 3 of these satisfying combos in both directions in a single ride. This will undoubtedly increase the scores people post at major events and make the elusive 2000-point ride more attainable.

2. The ‘At Least’ Clause

The Lunar Orbit and Tricky Woo definitions have also been updated. They now have an ‘at least’ clause. Traditionally, these moves finish with a bow end into a back-surf position. The new clause means that an additional end can be included in the definition allowing the trick to finish in a front-surf position. This is hugely significant for designing rides that flow well and capitalise on link bonuses. Specifically, it means a Lunar Orbit can be linked directly into a Tricky Woo, and a Tricky Woo into a Tricky-Loop. This was not previously possible with the 2019 rules. It opens the door to new, high-scoring sequences that have never been seen before in ICF competition.

3. Space Godzilla Upgrade

The humble Space Godzilla has increased in value from 90 points to 100 points. While 10 points can absolutely be the difference between winning or losing, this seemingly minor refinement has broader implications. At 100 points, the Space Godzilla now qualifies for the highest tier of bonuses. So, this is where the real impact of this change will be felt. A huge, linked Space Godzilla is much more valuable now and a more attractive option for athlete’s planning their best rides. Combine this with the emerging trend of linking a Space Godzilla to the same move in the other direction (a Space Jam) and it seems likely that a new array combo moves will enter into the competitive arena next year.

4. Restructured Bonuses

Any trick performed in freestyle kayaking can be awarded a number of bonuses; namely clean, superclean, air, huge and link. The bonuses exist to reward technical precision, power and flow. They are arranged into 3 tiers which correlate to basic, intermediate and advanced moves; the more difficult the trick, the more valuable the bonus. This year the value of some bonuses has been adjusted. Clean and superclean remain the same, while air, huge and link have changed. The upper tier of the air bonus has been reduced by ten points to 40, while the upper tier of the huge bonus has increased by the same margin to 50 points. Link bonuses have reduced in value.

Personally, I don’t believe these changes will majorly impact the structure of the rides we see. The reduction of the link bonus will probably be balanced out by the ‘At Least Clause’ which makes linking the most complex tricks more straightforward and perhaps easier to score.

5. Entry Moves

A long-anticipated change, entry moves are now eligible for bonuses. This means they can be linked and will be more heavily rewarded if performed clean or with air. This reflects some of the progression the sport has seen over the last few years. More and more athletes will likely opt to open their rides with an entry move to capitalise on the higher points available. Combos like the Frenchy Entry (Wingover linked to Mcnasty) and spectacular, huge Entry Mcnastys will hopefully become more of a staple in ICF competition.

Having not had the opportunity to properly road-test the 2020 rules this season, it seems unlikely that they will change again before the World Championships next year. Having said that, if I had to speculate, some changes that might appear in future drafts would include:

  • Defining the Backloop-Mcnasty/Backloop-Frontloop

This combo has been around for a long time and yet it is still scored as a Trophy 2. This seems counterintuitive as trophy moves were originally added to the rules to account for novel developments that were right at the frontier of freestyle progression.

  • Addition of a ‘Zilla’ bonus

The existing rules specifically acknowledge that a McNasty can be finished with a Loop or a Space Godzilla. Building on this theme, and with the evolution of ‘triple combos’, more and more athletes are converting ‘loop combos’ into moves with a ‘zilla’ ending. Lunar-Loops have become Lunar-Zillas. Phonics Monkeys have become Phonics Zillas. Such adaptation is driving efforts to link a greater number of more complex tricks into one uninterrupted sequence. It seems possible that this trend could be recognised in the rules in the form of something like a ‘Zilla’ bonus.

  • Extension of the Space Godzilla Definition

This ties into the previous point. The existing definition of a Space Godzilla is sparse on detail when compared to moves like a Shuvit or Tricky Woo. Despite this, among the freestyle community, there is no confusion over what exactly a Space Godzilla should look like. However, for the purposes of judging, it may become necessary for the rules to offer a more specific definition as zilla-style combos become more common.

  • Exit Moves

In squirt boating, Mystery Exits are used to score moves as boats emerge from a Mystery Move. A similar concept could be introduced in the surface boat freestyle classes. Exit loops have been on the scene for a while now and are really fun to do. As of yet, they have not featured in ICF competition. Perhaps this will change going forward.

Regardless of what rules are used, the 2021 season is sure to be an exciting one. It will have been 2 years since a major international freestyle meet – lots of time for progression. There’ll be some new juniors entering the senior class, not least the champ-champ Ottilie Robinson Shaw. I’m sure all the athletes will be eager to compete again in the World Championships in July.

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