Types of Canoeing - Disciplines

Touring, Polo, Sprint, Slalom, Wildwater Racing, Sea Kayaking, Canoe Sailing, and Marathon are all under the one umbrella of Australian Canoeing. Instructors should be aware of the different disciplines as students may want information on a particular discipline which interests them.

River Touring

Although Australia does not have the reliable rivers flowing from glaciers that some countries enjoy, it does have a huge diversity of rivers. As a result of generally old geology, many of Australia''s wilder rivers have eroded to bed rock, giving rise to excellent white water features and spectacular scenery. River guide books are available for all states with canoeable rivers, providing essential information about access, gradings, and ideal river flows. Most states have a good range of rivers from the pleasant easy Grade 1 and 2 rivers through to advanced Grade 4 and 5 rivers.

The invention of roto-moulded plastic boats has had a huge impact on this part of the sport. Frantic Friday night glass fibre repairs have ended. The tough plastic boats come in a variety of designs ranging from slalom based boats through to extreme waterfall shooting designs. But there has been a price for this development. Newcomers to the sport may begin to paddle more difficult rivers earlier as they can get away with less boat control no worries paddling over some rocks in plastic. The danger comes when paddlers believe they are paddling at a certain standard but have actually been given a false sense of security by the resilience of the plastic.

Canoe Sailing

Although canoe sailing does not have a large following in Australia, enthusiasts exist and at the time of writing were preparing to hold the World Canoe Sailing Championships. The 5.2 metre long canoes are propelled by a 10 m sail and are the fastest sailing dinghy with a single helmsman. Referred to as the IC 10, it requires immense skill, fitness and agility. The force on the sail is counteracted by means of a sliding seat for the helmsman. Speeds over 30 km/h are possible in an IC 10.

Sea Touring

Although Sea Touring had been practised for many years, and had its own awards in Australian Canoeings first national award scheme, a separate committee was not formed until 1980. Now Sea Kayaking has a large number of enthusiasts Australia wide and like other facets of the sport, has become highly specialised. The variety of Sea Kayaking available throughout Australia is enormous.

Canoe Surfing

Although Canoe Surfing was originally done with normal touring designs, more specific designs have evolved to get more enjoyment out of the surf. The surf ''slipper as it is often called, is short with a flat bottom and low rails. Many people also use a fin of some sort to prevent side slip, thus enabling a longer ride across the wave. Generally speaking, the waveski has now replaced the surf kayak for popular use.

Flatwater Canoeing

Flatwater (Sprint) Canoeing is probably one of the best known competitive canoeing disciplines in Australia. This is probably due to its inclusion in the Olympics since 1936, including the 1956 Melbourne Olympics. Australia has had good Olympic results in more recent Games. Flatwater canoeing is all about speed on flat water over distances of 200, 500 and 1000 metres. The craft that have developed are sleek and fast but unstable. Sprint Kayakers (and Wildwater Racers) use specially designed wing paddles for extra power and efficiency. K1, K2, and K4, are the most popular classes of sprint kayaking but there are also canoe classes, C1 and C2.

Canoe Polo

Canoe Polo is a fast exciting team sport which has also developed kayaks specifically designed for the discipline. The kayaks used are around 3 metres long with rounded ends and are referred to as polo BAT''s (Baths Advanced Trainer). Bumpers bow and stern protect the players and their boats.

This sport can be crudely described as being like basketball on water. It involves two teams of five, each aiming for a 1 metre square goal suspended 2 metres above the water at either end of a 25 metre-square area. A water polo ball is used and may be thrown by hand, blocked with the paddle and pushed with the paddle blade, but for safety reasons may never be hit with

the paddle. Paddles are designed with rounded ends and must meet certain thickness, radius and construction specifications to ensure the safety of participants. Helmets with face guards are required, and PFD''s must protect the torso.

Due to the low cost of polo BAT''s and the availability of swimming pools in urban areas, Canoe Polo has become a large part of competitive canoeing within AC and is becoming increasingly popular worldwide. In Australia''s colder states, Canoe Polo is often played through winter in indoor pools but is by no means confined to them. Polo BAT''s are also good for children to learn basic skills and rolling in. Canoe Polo helps develop boat control and is a lot of fun for children and adults alike.

Canoe Slalom

Canoe Slalom originated in Europe. Although not a large part of competitive canoeing in Australia, slalom has reached a good standard. Australian Championships are held in a different state every year on a cyclic basis, with the exception of South Australia due to its lack of whitewater. The inclusion of slalom in the Barcelona and Atlanta Olympics has had a considerable influence on the development of slalom and has help lift the standard in Australia.

Slalom courses are typically around 500 metres long and consist of good white water with 25 gates suspended from wires across the river. A gate is a pair of poles hanging about 1 metre apart and must be negotiated in either the upstream or downstream direction depending on the colour of the poles. Upstream gates have red and white poles, whereas downstream gates have green and white poles.

Each competitor''s time is recorded for the course and 5 second penalties are added to the time for each gate which was hit by the paddler, and 50 seconds added for each gate missed or incorrectly negotiated. Thus the essence of the sport is to negotiate the course of gates in the correct sequence without hitting the poles as fast as possible. This requires a great degree of skill and fitness.

The kayaks and canoes which have evolved for canoe slalom are very manoeuvrable, and are low in profile. This allows the end of the boat to pass under the poles with less chance of striking the pole and incurring a penalty.

Wildwater Racing

Wildwater racing is an exciting competitive discipline where individuals race down a section of white water in super sleek, high volume boats designed to cut through waves and stoppers. Typical lengths of Wildwater racing courses range from five to ten kilometres of river. Manoeuvring boats designed for speed in Whitewater requires exceptional skill. To be fast also requires excellent physical fitness. This facet of the sport is relatively small in Australia.


Australia has many long rivers well suited for Marathon canoeing. The Murray River is host to probably the most famous Australian marathon event. Every year, funds are raised for the Red Cross by the Murray Marathon. Australia is at the forefront in competitive marathon and was host to the highly successful 1992 World Marathon Championships.