Canoeing offers a fantastic variety of ways to get out and about on the water. Take your pick from a tranquil paddle on calm waters, to high speed competitive racing or more technically challenging white water.
The best way to get involved in canoeing is to join a club or take a course. As with all watersports there are inherent dangers involved with being on the water, which means it is essential that you are a confident swimmer as you may well capsize as you learn the basics.
Once you have learned the basic skills, you can apply these to a vast range of activities.
Types of canoeing
Flat water canoeing is really accessible due to the vast numbers of canals, lakes and rivers in the UK, so there are many opportunities to give it a go.
At entry level this can be enjoyed by simply hiring, or buying, a stable recreational boat and heading off to explore; or at the competitive end you can compete in sprint or marathon events.
Sprint racing is one of two Olympic events. Racing takes place in lanes over distances of 200, 500 and 1000 metres on a straight course. There are events for singles, doubles and four man boats, all of which have to conform to minimum weight and specified standards.
Marathon racing is not, as its name suggests, a 26.2 mile event, but anything from four miles upwards with the upper distances reaching as far as 125 miles in the famous Devizes to Westminster canoe race. Races take place all year round and are classed by ability.
As you improve you simply move up the classes, and there are events for single or double canoes so you can build up your confidence in a double boat to start with.
Wild water racing means a flat-out time trial down stretches of the water that are fast moving and include rapids and weirs. Due to the nature of this type of canoeing, the events generally take place in the hills and mountains during the winter to take advantage of the fast flowing conditions.
Races take place on grade II to IV water – the exact difficulty depending on water levels.
Canoe Slalom takes place on fast moving white water in a small, stable kayak. The idea is to complete a set course by negotiating a series of gates – if you hit one you incur penalty seconds which are then added to your overall time.
Canoe Polo is a teamsport where two teams of five paddlers compete to score goals in their opponents net, which is suspended two metres above the water. The ball can be thrown by hand, or flicked with the paddle.
The game requires excellent teamwork and promotes both general canoeing skills as well as a range of other techniques unique to the sport. Canoe Polo pitches can be set up in swimming pools or any stretch of flat water.
Freestyle paddlers use white water waves to perform surf and gymnastic-style maneuvers and tricks. The sport uses short kayaks or canoes designed to surf and spin across the water surface, and release up into the air.
In competitions, freestyle kayakers gain points for every different trick they perform, with bonus points awarded if they can get their boat out of the water and up into the air.
Squirt Boating is a slower, smoother and more elegant version of freestyle where kayakers perform fluid and graceful moves above and below the water surface.
In competitions squirt boat kayakers gain points for smooth control during their 60 second choreographed routines.
Surf canoeing takes place in the sea, and as its name suggests out in the surf. If you’ve been surfing, then chances are you will have seen the odd surf canoe.
The benefits over surfing are that you can go exploring along the coast if the waves are flat. There is also a thriving surf canoeing competition scene too.
Sea kayaking has gained in popularity over the past few years as it provides a fantastic opportunity to get away from the crowds and explore the coastline from a different viewpoint.
As a recreational activity it is a popular holiday choice for spotting wildlife and amazing scenery. And, if you really get into sea kayaking then there’s the opportunity to race over distances of up to 12 miles.
Give it a go courses!
1. Nomads Coaching offer excellent introductory and 1* courses in Clevedon, North Somerset. Sportsister recommends the special women-only dates run by Lindsey Bishop.
Cost: From £95
More info: www.nomadscoaching.co.uk
2. Sea Kayaking Cornwall offer day, evening and residential courses for all levels.
Cost: From £80
More info: www.seakayakingcornwall.com
3. Wilderness Scotland combine learning essential sea kayaking skills with the opportunity to experience some of the best sea kayaking in Scotland.
Cost: From £495
More info: www.wildernessscotland.com
Club and canoe centres nationwide: www.bcu.org.uk
Don’t miss our feature with international sprint kayaker and ocean paddler Jenna Hawkey as she talks to us about canoeing at London 2012 and who she think are the ones to watch!
The Women’s Sports Magazine