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This article discusses competitive forms canoe and kayak racing, most of which are governed by the International Canoe Federation (ICF). Canoe and kayak events have been part of Olympic competition since 1936.
The International Canoe Federation is the world wide canoeing organization and creates the standard rules for the different disciplines of canoe/kayak competition. The ICF recognizes several competitive and non-competitive disciplines of canoeing, of which Sprint and Slalom are the only two competing in the Olympic games. The United States Canoe Association is widely considered the American authority in sport and recreational canoeing, and recognizes many ICF classes. Other national competition rules are usually based on the rules of the ICF.
Marathon racing is not an Olympic sport. The main events are the annual World Championships.
Marathons are long distance races on rivers, lakes, estuaria or open sea. The course may include obstacles such as shallows, rocks and portages. Under ICF rules, the minimum distances for international races are 20 kilometres (12 mi) for men, and 15 kilometres (9.3 mi) for women. The races may be divided in several parts and/or several days. World Cup and World Championship races normally are about 35 to 40 kilometres (22 to 25 mi) long.
As there are no maximum distances, marathon racing has its extremes, such as Dipole Challenge 170 kilometres (110 mi) non-stop down the Neris River through the night in November, Lithuania: Dipolio iššūkis. the Classique international de canots in Quebec Canada, (120 mile, 3 day, three stage event) Hawkesbury Canoe Classic in New South Wales, Australia, Devizes to Westminster Marathon in England 125 miles (201 km), the Tour de Gudenå in Denmark 120 kilometres (75 mi), the Texas Water Safari 262 miles (422 km), the Missouri River 340 (nonstop 340 miles (550 km)), the Au Sable River Canoe Marathon (nonstop 120 miles (190 km)), the Berg River Canoe Marathon (248 kilometres (154 mi)), Fish River Canoe Marathon (81 kilometres (50 mi)), Dusi Canoe Marathon (125 kilometres (78 mi)), Vaal River Marathon, in South Africa, the YMCA (formerly Red Cross) Murray Marathon, 404 kilometres (251 mi) down the Murray River in Australia, the Yukon River Quest (715 kilometres (444 mi)) from Whitehorse to Dawson on the Yukon River, and the longest canoe and kayak race, the Yukon 1000 (1,000 miles (1,600 km)) on the Yukon River from Whitehorse to the last road access point on the river in Alaska. A documentary was made about the race. Many of these races have been formed into the Canoe Marathon [World Classics http://www.canoeicf.com/icf/NewsGallery/News-Archive/January-2011/Canoe-Marathon-Classic-World-Series.htmlSeries World Classics Series] by the ICF.
Some famous kayak marathon racers are Ivan Lawler, a seven-time world champion, and Anna Hemmings, a three-time world champion.
The oldest discipline of ICF canoeing, sometimes referred to as "Flatwater Racing", races are typically held for single, double and four-person sprint canoes and kayaks.
Canoe sprint takes place on a straight course divided in lanes, on calm water. The distances recognised by the ICF for international races are 200 m, 500 m, and 1000 m. Each boat has its own designated lane, except for races over more than 1000 m, where there also may be turning points. ICF recognised races over 1000m include the 5000m and 10000m events. Above 10 km is considered marathon distance. Men race in canoes and in kayaks, women in kayaks except in Canada and the United States where women's canoe is an event raced at both Canada Games and National Championships. For each race a number of heats, semi-finals and a final may be necessary, depending on the number of competitors. Women's canoe debuted at the 2010 championships in Poznań, Poland.
Slalom racers are timed in completing a descent down the rapids of a whitewater course, in the process steering their canoes or kayaks through "gates" (a pair of suspended poles about 1 m apart), including going up against the flow, across the flow, and surfing the standing waves of the rapids. Classes include K1, C1, and C2.
Other forms of racing
The official boats recognised by the ICF as 'International Boats' are: K1, K2, K4, C1, C2 and C4, where the number indicates the number of paddlers, “K” stands for kayak and “C” for Canadian or canoe, depending on location. Kayaks have a rudder, which is operated by the feet of the frontmost paddler. The ICF rules for these boats define, among others, the maximum length, the minimum weight and the shape of the boats. For example, by ICF rules, a K1 is at most 520 cm long, and weighs at least 8 kg for marathons or 12 kg for sprints. In 2000, after the Olympic Games in Sydney, the ICF withdrew width restrictions on all boats, spurring a flurry of innovations in boat designs. Modern boats are usually made of carbon fiber and/or aramid fiber (e.g., Kevlar) with epoxy resin.
In Canada, a racing class exists for the C-15 or WC or "War Canoe", as well as a similarly designed C-4 (which is much shorter and more squat than an 'International' C-4). An antiquated boat class is the C-7, resembling a large C4 which was debuted by the ICF with little success.
Paddles for propelling are double-bladed for kayaks, and single-bladed for canoes, and are usually made of carbon fiber with epoxy. For kayaks so-called wing paddles are generally used, the blades of which are shaped to resemble a wing or spoon. The wing blade has undergone many evolutions in the past two decades, evolving from a flatter blade to one with a more pronounced curve to better catch the water. For racing canoes, the blade is typically short and broad, with a 'power face' on one side that is either flat or scalloped out. The shaft will typically be longer than a tripping canoe paddle, because the kneeling position puts the paddler higher above the surface of the water. More recent designs of canoe racing paddles often have a slight bent shaft (a concept of Gene Jensen in the 1950s) but not to the degree used in marathon paddles. Many high-performance canoe paddlers prefer the feel of a carbon-fibre shaft mated to a wooden blade, while nearly all high-performance kayak paddlers use paddles made completely of carbon fiber.
- Watch a short video summarizing the 2010 Yukon River Quest from the ``Globe & Mail`` newspaper in Canada
- Yukon River Quest 2010
- International Marathon Paddlers website
- International Canoe Sprint Website