Play Kayaking’s Lost Move: The Pirouette

Todays play boats are unrecognizable compared to the early days. There are so many different shapes and sizes now, you can literally choose your boats’ specifications based on which wave or hole your surfing that day.

When I started kayaking 30 years ago, I was 13 years old and there weren’t many choices. In fact, my first boat was a handmade fiberglass boat specifically designed for a child. In retrospect, this boat was way ahead of its time; it was short, stubby and had a decent amount of rocker…but I digress.

My first real boat was a black Perception Dancer. This boat was revolutionary in its time, it was considered short even though it was around 13 feet long!

Of course you couldn’t do most of the tricks you can do in todays play boats, but one of the tricks you could do with these long cylindrical boats was the pirouette.

The pirouette along with back-surfing and hole spinning was the pinnacle in play-boating prowess. It was also the most fun of any of the moves.

Since todays shorter boats aren’t conducive for performing a pirouette most kayakers have no idea what the hell I’m talking about, let me explain the technique:

The object was to find a decent pour-over that was strong enough to put these high volume boats into an ender. of course if you’re relatively new to kayaking you may not know what an ender is either, but I think you can figure it out.

Here’s some help, just in case: The nose of the boat is buried into the oncoming water, the nose knifes deep and the tail raises up putting you in a vertical position. If you do that in todays play boats you will immediately end-over and probably perform a loop.

However, the older boats were so long they wouldn’t end-over, they would shoot into the vertical position and basically bob downstream while the kayaker tried to maintain the upright position by leaning back or forward. This was the classic ender and the beginning of the pirouette move.

To perform the pirouette, the kayaker would dive the nose into the pour-over. As the nose started to go down, you reach across the bow of the kayak and perform a cross-bow draw. Basically your paddle is grabbing the water flowing past the pour-over.

If you time it just right the boat will start rolling into the cross-bow draw at the same instant the kayak is launching into a vertical ender. The kayak will be vertical and spinning like a top, or like a ballerina performing a pirouette.

If you had a good ender spot and were good at the maneuver, you could crank off pirouettes with abandon. My record for revolutions was a 1080 or three times around (360 X 3).

The move is full of grace, it relies on the kayakers timing and the flow of the river. There is very little strength involved. To hit a perfect 360 or 720 feels like tapping into the power of the universe; it is truly cosmic.

Back in the day, we’d spend hours performing pirouettes. There are 2 great spots on the Rogue river for doing them. One is on the upper rogue, upstream of  Nugget falls. The better of the two is in the wild and scenic stretch, at a place called Black bar rapid. At the bottom of the rapid there’s a large rock with a nice pour-over on the river right side. The pour-over hasn’t changed a bit from the good old days but the kayaks have.

The last time I stuck my modern 6 foot playboats’ nose into it, I was flipped violently and  immediately. Things happen too quick in these little boats. Someday I’ll find an old dancer and bring it down-stream just to spend the day doing pirouettes at Black bar.

The new play boats have definitely upped the fun factor in kayaking about a thousand times. However, I do miss the good old pirouette move.

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