Wildwater is one of the most physically demanding of the ICF’s Canoe Disciplines. In the Classic Wildwater races, athletes race down a course of four to five miles of class three to four whitewater, yet it also requires strategic insight to balance raw power and speed with considered execution and perfect timing. In other words, athletes need to be strong and fast yet calm and calculating. An athlete’s success depends on their ability to pass over waves, holes and rocks of a natural riverbed while remaining “zen-like”.
Originally, Wildwater Canoeing was concerned with long-distance racing, this is now known as Classic Wildwater Canoeing. In the first World Championships in Treignac, France in 1959, finishing times were around the 48-minute mark. In contrast, Classic races at the 2008 Wildwater Canoeing World Championship were completed in around 20 minutes, in some earlier World Championships even in 12-15 minutes.
By shortening the course, Wildwater Canoeing has followed the trend of introducing “rapid racing” formats. In response to TV audiences, security concerns, growing costs involved with longer races, the ICF Wildwater Canoeing Committee added Sprint races to the competition programmes. The rules governing the four World Cup races were changed, in order to carry out 2 Classic Wildwater races and 2 Sprint Wildwater races each year, the last of each count as the Final. Likewise, the World Championships (which are held every even year) now have both Classic and Sprint races in the programme. In both competitions, the categories are the Men’s and Women’s K1 , C1 and C2 in Individual and Team events.
A widely-followed sport, Wildwater is often used as a gateway to Canoe Sprint and many famous athletes have crossed into the Olympic Discipline via Wildwater, including 2009 World Champion, Max Hoff (GER). The pervading attraction to the sport however has to be its attachment to nature. In no other sport can athletes get so close to the wild as they do on a canoe and the test of skill, strength and agility combined with a foray down a natural and wild river makes Wildwater Canoeing one of the ICF’s most compelling sports.