Canoeing, a history

Canoeing has been around since the pre-historic era as a way of traversing the water, often made from carved out logs, tree bark and animal skins.  In contrast to open top canoes used around the world, kayaks were used by Eskimos and originated in Greenland. They were built with a cover of animal skin stretched over the wooden frame of the boat that prevented water entering. The Inuit Kayak was brought to Europe in the late 19th Century with the first kayak club 'The Royal Canoe Club of London' being established shortly after in 1866. (It is due to this name that the common confusion between kayak and canoes is thought to originate). The first competition was held in 1869 and by the 1890’s canoeing was a popular sport across Europe. The sport made its Olympic debut with the Canoe Sprint at the 1936 Games in Berlin, although it did not become a Paralympic event until Rio 2016.

Canoeing, a competitive sport

Whilst canoeing has a long history as a competitive sport, para-canoeing is a newcomer on the competitive scene and has developed rapidly since the start of the 21st Century due to the efforts of the International Canoe Federation and the International Va’a Federation who pushed for para-canoe to be included in able-bodied competitions. The first World Championships were held in Poznan, Poland in 2009 and the sport later made its debut in the Paralympics in 2016 in Rio.

Canoeing can be contests on either kayaks (propelled by a double blade paddle) or va’as (outrigger canoes propelled with a single blade paddle), however in the 2016 Paralympics only kayak events were held.  

Canoeing, a Paralympic event

Para-canoe appeared for the first time at Rio 2016. There are 6 events, three each for men and women. The events are a 200m kayak sprint race in lanes. Great Britain has become the world’s most successful Paracanoe team, topping the World Championships many times, winning 22 of the 74 world titles and finishing in the top three 41 times. Team GB’s Jeanette Chippington has won 10 of those 22 titles for Britain, the most won by any individual. Funding from UK Sport has enabled a series of improvements and new athletes to take up the sport, with 14 athletes and 4 coaches currently making up the team.

How canoeing has evolved

In order for team GB to have the best chances of winning at the Rio 2016, coaches conducted a search for the best athletes in 2014, selecting some to join the training programme as full time Paralympic athletes. Being a fairly young sport, para-canoe is continuing to evolve in terms of the technology it uses, training techniques and competition.

Rules of Canoeing

In international events all races are individual events competed at a distance of 200m. There are three classes in which athletes are classified depending on their impairment for both kayak (KL1, KL2, KL3) and va’a (VL1, VL2, VL3) and there are no rules regarding adaptations to boats or equipment, allowing those with a wide range of impairments to compete. Men and women compete in separate competitions and the athlete to complete the course in the shortest time wins the race. Only kayaking events have been held at the Paralympics to date, with other international para-canoe competitions including va’a events.

Governing bodies

British Canoeing is the national governing body for canoe and paracanoe in the UK.

At an international level, the International Canoeing Federation (ICF) organises para canoeing events and competitions.

Regional clubs

The BPA have created an online directory, Parasport, where you can search for and find out about sport and physical activity in your area. A list of regional clubs across the UK and further information can also be found on the British Canoeing website here