Canoeing can be traced back several thousand years as one of the oldest forms of human transport. Thousands of years ago, man sat astride a log and paddled it down a river. Whether that was initially to travel or to transport, to fish or to fight, or simply for fun it doesn't matter, he started canoeing. And today there are millions of others who canoe around the world every day of every week.
The earliest canoes were constructed from animal skins and tree bark, with modern designs the descendants of those used by North American indigenous cultures.
"Kayak" is the Canadian Inuit word for a sealskin-decked canoe, while "canoe" comes from the Canadian Indian birch-bark vessel.
Today's sport is a product of 19th century Britain, with Scottish barrister John MacGregor introducing the modern decked kayak to London's River Thames in the late 1850s and early 1860s. Between 1849 and 1869, MacGregor wrote a number of popular books describing his experiences on long canoe trips throughout Europe.
McGregor founded the Royal Canoe Club, England in 1866 and the first competitions were held in the same year. Canoeing today is multi disciplinary with many opportunities for participation at all levels and all abilities. The types of canoeing one can do ranges from recreational paddling to Olympic slalom and sprint racing with a huge variety of others such as canoe sailing and freestyle in between.
Rivers provide tranquil spots and canoeing offers a sport from which escape from the hustle and bustle of daily life is possible. Canoeing can take place all year round. From the canoe one can watch the seasons quietly change, the birds migrate and return and the amazing circle of life. Different times of the day bring a variety of things to enjoy for example at dusk, as summer turns to autumn; the river is often at its best with a willow tree silhouetting a yellow sky.
The World of Canoeing
‘Something for everyone’ might be an overused phrase but it couldn’t be more aptly used to describe canoeing. Paddling can be relaxing. It can be adventurous. It can be a trip or expedition on the thousands of miles of waterways in the United Kingdom or worldwide!! Paddling can be competitive with the thrill of your nerves of the start line. There is so much to choose from ... the possibilities are almost endless.
Choose the level of challenge to suit. Paddle for enjoyment, to keep fit or, if you have children, paddle as a family and enjoy the experience together.
An interest in canoeing can be an all-consuming hobby, exciting, challenging and testing, on white water, on the sea or through the numerous competitive disciplines.
Canoe v Kayak
From a beginning almost as old as mankind, when the kayak or canoe was part of the process of survival, to the present day, when boundaries of exploration are being rolled back, canoeing is a sport rich in potential for young and old , the adventurous and the less adventurous, able and disabled alike.
Canoe or kayak? Yet another of the sport’s versatility. Here in Britain the word "canoeing” has always been used as an umbrella term for our sport, regardless of boat style. However; a ‘kayak’ generally has a closed deck, save for a cockpit in which the paddler sits and uses a double bladed paddle. A canoe is paddled with a single ended paddle.
Collectively the myriad of activities that take place on the water and where the means of propulsion is predominantly the ‘paddlers’ themselves by means of a paddle are now referred to as paddlesports.
Not everyone views paddlesport as a "wet” sport. Not for them, the closed deck and low water line of the kayak. Not everyone hopes to progress to whitewater or choppy seas. What better way to appreciate the slow pace of placid water touring, taking in the scenery and wildlife than in an open canoe?
Paddlesport activity can be divided into three areas: ‘placid water’, ‘white water’, and ‘sea and surf’. These three areas of the sport overlap in many ways. They are more similar than they are different, involve the same fundamental skills and provide the same fundamental pleasures.
Placid Water – day tripping or short trips and touring on lakes, canals and low gradient rivers, or even self-supported multi-day trips. For some the challenge of competition is met by an interest in sprint or marathon racing. For those enthused by a team sport environment canoe polo offers a game as fast, technical and physical as football.
White Water – running higher gradient rivers and rapids. Rapids are graded according to difficulty from Grade 1 to Grade 6. Grade 1 being the easiest level while Grade 6 is the most difficult and only for those pushing the edge of possibility. For those with an interest in playing the river, white water opportunities can lead to a competitive interest in slalom and freestyle or simply in white water river-running.
Sea and Surf – day tripping, touring and expeditions on the sea. This can involve additional skills and knowledge specific to navigation, tides and the weather. Also included in this area is the thrill of surfing on wave skis and composite surf kayaks, whether competitively or for fun.