Nothing beats the feeling of shooting through the water, propelled by the power of your own paddle. Whether you crave the all-natural workout of flat-water canoeing or the adrenaline-packed thrills of river canoeing, this is a sport that can please everyone. You'll get a serious upper body workout, develop skills and knowledge, and have a great time out on the water.
Flat VS. White Water
The sport of canoeing varies dramatically depending on the type of water you choose. Flat-water canoeing is about peace and quiet, plus the challenge of moving your canoe by your own power alone. Keep in mind that "flat" water isn't always flat -- wind and squalls can whip up waves that can be just as challenging as any river spray. In windy conditions, it takes skill to keep the canoe pointed into the waves so you don't capsize.
River or white-water canoeing, by contrast, is more about timing and good steering than about steady power. A good river canoeing team can explode in strong, powerful bursts to carry themselves around holes and bends. Skill is needed to keep the canoe pointed in the right direction, even when the water is white and frothy.
Types of Canoe
Canoes come in hundreds of types and styles, from very flat-bottomed (but stable) touring canoes to sharper keeled, faster boats. Canoes can be made of cedar strips, wood and canvas, aluminum, fiberglass, Kevlar carbon fiber, and other man-made substances.
How do you know what canoe is right for you? Consider what you want to use it for and how many people will typically be paddling (and hauling) your canoe. Solo-paddlers may prefer a lighter-weight boat that's easy to transport, while families will enjoy the stability of a heavier wooden or fiberglass canoe. If you can, test as many different types of canoe as possible before you buy one, so you can get a feel for what different types have to offer.
How to Get Started
If you're just beginning, it's smart to sign up for a canoeing class with your local parks district or community college. You'll learn the basic strokes: the J- and C-strokes for steering, the power stroke, and the draw and pry for pivoting the canoe. You'll also learn how to feather your paddle, how to keep your weight along the centerline of the canoe (particularly important for entry and exit of the canoe), and how to work with a partner.
If you already know these basics and are interested in learning how to race, contact the United States Canoe Association or your state or local canoeing club. They can help you get started in competitive canoeing.
Canoe racing has been a popular sport for years. It's been an Olympic sport since 1936 with two disciplines, the slalom and sprint, represented. Across the United States, clubs and regions hold their own canoe races, usually with different events for solo canoers and pairs. The United States Canoe Association regulates competitions all over the country, including youth events and a national championship.