Generals about Wildwater Canoeing

The object, simply stated, is to go from point A to point B on a river as quickly as possible. Typical wildwater venues consist of Class II - IV whitewater, in contrast to extreme racing, which takes place on more difficult streams. Match competitions generally consist of a classic and a sprint race. A classic course is 3–6 miles (4–10 km) in length or 10 to 35 minutes in duration, while the Sprint is between 200 and 600 meters and lasts around 1 minutes. Although there is some specialization, the vast majority of racers compete in both classic and sprint.

Competitors are placed in classes based on gender and boat type as follows:

  • K1 - individual kayak, male
  • K1W - individual kayak, female
  • C1 - individual canoe, male
  • C1W - individual canoe, female
  • C2 - two-man canoe,
  • C2W - two-woman canoe

They are numbered within their class based on results from previous races and compete in reverse order (best paddler last), usually at one-minute intervals. To race successfully, paddlers must possess refined technical skill, as well as strength, endurance, aerobic capacity, and the ability to "read" whitewater.

Whitewater racing is also practiced by competing teams; each team is made by a group of three competitors belonging to the same class.

Whitewater racing started in Europe with the International Canoe Federation being formed and having the first World Championships in France in 1959. Since then, there has been a World Championships every two years. Since 2011 there is a sprint only world championships, with sprint and classic being contested every other (even) year.

Boat design and helmets

Wildwater kayaks and canoes are long (4.5 m/14 ft 9 in) and narrow (60 cm/23.6 in), with a rounded hull profile, making them fast but unstable and hard to turn. Wildwater solo canoes (C-1) are 4.3 m (14 ft 1 in) long and 70 cm (27.5 in) wide; 2-person whitewater canoes (C-2) are 5 m (16 ft 5 in) long and 80 cm (31.5 in) wide.

Rather than using wide sweep strokes to turn the boat, the paddler tilts the boat to one side, utilizing its curved profile to effect the turn in a manner similar to "carving a turn" in skiing. Two "wings" (flaring protrusions near the stern hull) meet the minimum width required by racing rules and add secondary stability, as well as enhancing the effect of carving a turn. When the boat is under way, most of each wing will be above the waterline so as to minimize drag. The use of kevlar, carbon fiber, and glass-reinforced plastic construction has substantially reduced the weight of wildwater boats, while improving stiffness. The top part (the deck) and the bottom (the hull) are molded separately and then bonded together using kevlar or glass cloth strips and epoxy or polyester resin. A boat can be made in 2 to 3 days, but without an oven can take weeks to cure fully.

Before glass-reinforced plastic boats, the common racing craft was the folding kayak, usually composed of a wooden frame covered with canvas.

Competitors are also required to wear an appropriate whitewater helmet and PFD and River shoes or booties and floatation bags for their boats.

Training and racing

Racers paddle down a course along the fastest jets of water. In order to go fast, they follow the edges of wave trains and hold as straight a line as possible down the river. If it is unclear which line is fastest, two paddlers simultaneously float the different options and see which boat moves ahead. Because of the high speeds, racers frequently run a river two or three times a day when training for a race.

Some racers practice on rivers if they are lucky to live near one. Usually they will paddle 5–10 miles a day, five to six days a week. Others practice on lakes or flatwater rivers. In northern areas rivers and lakes freeze, so racers sometimes train in an indoor pool, lift weights, run or do Cross-country skiing. When the rivers and lakes become free of ice then training is resumed outdoors.