Raw speed on Winnipeg’s Red River

By Estefania Wujkiw

Did you know that paddlers competing in CanoeKayak sprint races can hit rates of up to 180 strokes per minute? That’s three strokes a second! On top of that, they paddle in extremely narrow boats and balancing them on the water requires strength and skill.

Both the canoe and kayak competitors have the same goal: to go straight and as fast as they can to the finish line. We spoke with Joannie Verret, communications coordinator at Canoe Kayak Canada, to help us understand why an athlete may choose one watercraft over the other.

“It's not the same muscles working and their position on the boat is different,” said Joannie. “In a kayak, athletes use their upper body to paddle and legs to push the rudder. In a canoe, they kneel and it’s more of a full body movement.”

Kayakers sit in the boat and paddle on both sides. At their feet is a rudder, a small blade underneath the kayak at the back of the boat. The front paddler in the kayak moves the rudder stick with their feet to steer.

Photo: Ian McCausland

Canoers kneel in the boat, with one bent knee and one knee down. The challenge is to paddle on only one side, called the J-stroke technique, while another teammate paddles on the opposite side. The boat is wider and just a little bit heavier because of its construction. Canoes do not have rudders and are steered entirely by paddle.

Photo: Ian McCausland

Races are organized into distances of 200, 500, 1,000 and 5,000 metres. The heats in canoeing are identified as C1, C2 and C4, and in kayaking by K1, K2 and K4. The numbers specifying how many athletes there are per boat.

Earlier this year, the women's C1 200 metre and C2 500 metre races were officially approved to be an Olympic event. Our female athlete canoers can now aspire to not only compete nationally and internationally, but also on the Olympic stage!

“Women's canoeing has never been in the Olympics before, and it will be for the first time ever in 2020,” said Joannie. “For the first time in their lives, it's their opportunity to get to the Olympics.”