Articles - How to Get Started in Canoe Slalom

Canoe Slalom C2 Crew David Florence & Richard Hounslow - Image courtesy of British Canoeing
Canoe Slalom C2 Crew David Florence & Richard Hounslow - Image courtesy of British Canoeing
Canoe & Kayak Editorial - Images courtesy of British Canoeing - Posted on 09 Jun 2016
Canoe Slalom racers combines fitness, skill and competitive drive to negotiate a course of upstream and downstream gates as fast and as cleanly as possible. It’s great for learning and sharpening skills and lots of fun too. Here’s the low down on this dynamic competitive discipline and a few pointers on how you can get involved…Canoe Slalom Racing - Image courtesey of British Canoeing

Canoe slalom grew out of the desire by river canoeists & kayakers to test their skills against the river's features over a predestined course and eventually against each other. From those humble beginnings it has grown in to a world- wide sport with divisions, local, national, European and World Championships and, as one of only two Olympic paddlesport events, the ultimate accolade of Olympic gold medal glory.

Modelled on the same format as slalom skiing, the first ever canoe slalom race was held in Switzerland in 1932.  In the early stages of its development races were held on flat water but as boats and skills improved this was later switched to moving water and finally whitewater rapids.
These days it sits alongside Sprint Racing as an Olympic discipline, making its Olympic debut at the Barcelona Games in 1992. The UK has a strong history in canoe slalom and during that time GB team have claimed three Olympic silver medals, C1 paddler Gareth Marriot at Barcelona, K1 paddler Paul Ratcliffe in Sydney in 2000 and C1 paddler David Florence in Beijing in 2008; and a bronze by Helen Reeves at Athens in 2004. That elusive gold still eludes them but with the team training hard for the forthcoming London Olympic Games next year, and with a brand new whitewater facility at Lea Valley Park and a talented and motivated GB squad who knows what can happen?

What is Canoe Slalom?
Canoe Slalom competitions consist of timed runs down a marked course, which contains up to 25 gates (made from poles suspended over the water on wires). Touching a gate adds a two-second time penalty to your run, and missing a gate completely costs the racer a 50-second penalty! The time taken to run the course is then added to any penalty seconds incurred to give the racers overall time. The racer with the fastest time over all wins!

Divisions
Although at its pinnacle slalom racers are full time athletes it’s a fun sport to get in to and you don’t necessarily have to have aspirations of Olympic glory to enjoy the challenges and fun of taking part. To keep things fun and to help you develop canoe slalom paddlers are grouped so that they can race other paddlers of a similar ability, and on the type of water that is best suited to their skill level. There are five divisions in total. Premier and Divisions 1 to 4. As a beginner in the sport you’ll start off in Division 4. When you do well, you’ll then get promoted up to Division 3. From this point promotion is decided on points that are determined by how many races you attend and where you come in the rankings. The more you race and the better you do will dictate on getting promoted to Division 2, Div 1 and ultimately Premier. The warder you race on will become harder too, with fast jets, strong eddies and full-blown rapids to manoeuvre your boat across as you strive to make all the gates.

Canoes, Kayaks and Classes
Although you don’t need a specific boat to get started, any river or whitewater boat will do, if you want to race properly you’ll need a slalom boat. These are designed to be fast and manoeuvrable. There are some very good plastic slalom kayaks now available but generally race boats are constructed from composite materials to make them light and stiff, but they must also adhere to some strict restrictions on length, width, weight and radius.
There are three types of slalom boat. A K1, which means a single seated kayak that is sat in and paddled with a double bladed paddle. A C1, although these look fairly similar to the kayaks they are in fact a form of canoe. The paddler kneels in them and uses a single bladed paddle. The final class is the C2 a tandem racing canoe. There are classes for men, women and juniors for both K1 and C1 but in C2 women and men compete on equal terms.

Getting Started
The best way to get started in canoe slalom is to find your nearest club and go along, alternatively find a local race and go along and watch. It’s an exciting spectacle and you’ll meet lots of people who can help get involved.
Whatever your level of competitive aspirations canoe slalom is a fun and rewarding paddlesport discipline and is a fantastic way of really perfecting skills that you can then transfer in to recreational paddling too. The feeling that you get from completing a tricky canoe slalom course and knowing you went fast and clean is brilliant and once you’ve achieved it you’ll be keen to go racing as often as possible.

Useful Info:
Canoe Slalom UK
British Canoeing

The 2016 ICF World Canoe Slalom Championships takes place in the UK this September so there's a fantastic oppurtunity to watch the world's best slalom canoeists compete on a challenging course at the Lee Valley Whitewater Centre. There's loads of other family friendly activities too, including the chance to meet Team GB's gold medal winning Olympic heroes. Click here to book tickets or find out more!



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