USA leads the charge in Freestyle competition


Team USA have proven they’re the ones to beat leading into the international season, after they took out both the Men’s and Women’s Freestyle event at the 2019 Sydney International Whitewater Festival – Oceania Championships over the weekend (22-24 February 2019).

Fresh from a win at last weekend’s Australian Open, 19-year-old Sage Donnelly went into the final looking to secure back to back victories in the women’s division. After a slow start in her first run, where Dutch paddler Martina Wegman posted the highest score, Donnelly threw down some huge moves, with her last one securing her 390 points and first position.

“The feature was a bit fleshier than it was last week so I had to be careful in what tricks I threw, so I just went out there and really made sure I made everything count and it worked out and I took home another win so I’m pretty happy,” Donnelly said.

Freestyle Sage Donnelly

With the Freestyle competition being scheduled for the middle of the day, the sport was put on show with loud music and great commentary all down by the side of the feature.

“I think the event was amazing, I’ve come out here for a couple of years before this for just the slalom and it was really amazing to have both the sports that I love in two weekends and being able to do both of them was just amazing and it was really fun so I hope it can happen again.”

The winner of the men’s event, Tad Dennis, agreed, “I think it’s great racing it in the lunch break time period. Put it right in the middle so that people can watch it and get to know what it is because a lot of people just don’t know anything about it and so it’s nice to learn about it and see how cool it can be and maybe it will get more people into it so I’m excited to see them do it more often.”

Tad Dennis (USA)

Tad was able to throw down some huge moves in the final win with a score of 580, closely followed by Australian Christian Hliounakis (565) and New Zealander Matt Hansen (280).

“Luckily I was the last one to go so I knew the ride I needed to have which was actually a really hard to beat, somebody put down a 565 and I knew I had to beat that and luckily I was able to stick the moves I wanted to stick and I came out with a 580, just barely beat him. It was enough. Had a lot of fun out here, it’s my first time to Australia and I couldn’t ask for anything more,” Dennis said.

Lining up in the men’s division was Penrith local Christian Hliounakis, whose loops are massive and is known to go bigger than almost anyone on the scene at the moment. He most certainly is one to watch leading into the ICF Freestyle World Championships in Spain at the end of June.

Christian Hliounakis

As with many of the Whitewater competitors, these Freestyle athletes compete in other complementary disciplines including Slalom and Wildwater, with both Sage and Tad now heading back to America to compete in their selection trials ahead of the international season.

“I’m here for another two weeks training slalom and then I’ll go home and have US freestyle team trials and then I’ll have US slalom team trials and then Il be going to the North Port Championships. North Port Championships is a really big extreme race, down really big white-water, with three metre waves and bigger stuff like that and we have slalom gates and that but we have plastic boats for that. So I kind of do all of the disciplines where I do the plastic boat racing, the slalom boat racing and the freestyle,” Dennis said.


Sage Donnelly is no different, with the teenager setting her goals high leading into this season and beyond, “This is my first year as a senior women so it’s a little bit scary, but I would love to get a medal at Freestyle worlds, that would be incredible. Then in September I have my first race that will decide if I can go to team trials for the Olympics so I want to do well in that and then hopefully after that make the 2020 Olympic team.”

Find out more about the Freestyle event as part of the Sydney Whitewater Festival here: 

It was the first ever Freestyle Oceania Championships with the event drawing a high-calibre international field to Australian shores. It was also the first time that the best Olympic slalom athletes and a stellar line-up of World Champions and Guinness World Record holders competed alongside each other in the action packed, wet ‘n wild Sydney International Whitewater Festival, showcasing the exciting disciplines of canoe slalom, wildwater and freestyle canoeing, with freestyle adding an extra spectator thrill to the event.


1st – Sage Donnelly (USA) – 390 points
2nd – Martina Wegman (NED) – 165 points
3rd – Yoshiko Suematsu (JPN) – 120 points
4th – Sue Robb (AUS) – 60 points (Oceania Champion)
5th – Em Scott (AUS) – 10 points

1st – Tad Dennis (USA) – 580 points
2nd – Christian Hliounakis (AUS) – 565 points (Oceania Champion)
3rd – Matt Hansen (NZ) – 280 points
4th – Luke Carter (AUS) – 165 points
5th – Richard Cass (AUS) – 95 points

Relive the Australian Open Highlights here:

Previous articleTough Day In the Office For Oceania Champion Fox
Next articleJessica Fox Finishes Canoe Slalom Oceania Championships With A Bang