Whitewater Kayaking Competition: The Canoe Slalom

Whitewater kayaking is a diverse sport that ranges from river running to gymnastic playboating, but the style of whitewater slalom has the strongest competitive edge. Whitewater slalom is an event featured at the summer Olympic games, going by the name “Canoe slalom or Kayak slalom“. This exciting event made it’s official debut at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Augsburg, Germany, and is now a regular part of the Summer Olympics.

canoe slalom event

What Is Canoe Slalom AKA Whitewater Slalom?

The best competitors also participate in a World Championships tournament that is held during non-Olympic years. The aim of whitewater or canoe slalom is to paddle the kayak through hanging gates as fast as possible. It is set up just like a ski slalom, but with this canoe slalom (or kayak slalom) version, the course is a treacherous river of whitewater rapids.

The rules of the event vary slightly by competition and skill level, but the course design is standard. It’s set on a class II-IV whitewater river and includes novice, intermediate, and advanced courses, which are chosen based on the level of competition. There are typically 18-25 gates in each course, with 6-7 of these being upstream gates.

canoe slalom competition

The gates are color-coded to indicate if they must be entered downstream or upstream, adding an additional challenge for the fiercest of competitors. The gate locations are carefully chosen by course designers to require technical moves and sharp turns in high-current water. On average, the courses will be completed in about 1 minute and 40 seconds by top performers.

A time penalty of two seconds is given if a competitor’s kayak or body touches the gate, and it’s a 50 second loss if they miss the gate completely or enter it in the wrong order. Expert competitors have studied the course and the river at length to avoid these painful penalties.

The whitewater slalom requires a slightly unique kayak for optimal performance. These new racing boats are designed to be fast, precise, and light. They differ from other whitewater kayaks because the hull is made out of carbon fiber composite to allow for faster speeds. Most major whitewater competitions have minimum kayak weight and lengths, since increasingly light boats unfairly affect race results.

whitewater rafting slalom kayaking competition

Although these minimums vary slightly every year, the kayaks are usually at least 3.5 meters long and 18 lbs when dry. The competitors are typically allowed to use standard double-bladed kayak paddles.

Who Participates in Whitewater Slalom?

Who participates in this exhilarating style of whitewater kayaking? Olympic events are held every four years for men and women, with most countries fielding national slalom teams and a junior slalom team. However, great opportunities are available for whitewater enthusiasts of all abilities. The American Canoe Association holds an open whitewater slalom competition every year to encourage amateur participation in the sport.

olympic event kayaking

Canoe Slalom AKA Kayak Slalom Competitions!

Many states, such as Colorado and California, have a whitewater organization that holds kayak or canoe slalom racing events at whitewater festivals for beginners and intermediate racers.

It is a welcome source of competition for many participants, and it has brought unique publicity and diversity to whitewater kayaking. Look for the whitewater slalom in the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics. It is guaranteed to be an exciting event!