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!

How To Prepare For Extreme Whitewater Kayaking

Extreme whitewater kayaking is one of the most popular watersports today. Adrenaline junkies often plunge into the fast waters of rapids across the world, so as to challenge themselves and nature as well.

The extreme nature of the whitewater rafting or kayaking causes one to face life-threatening situations. Examples of these are capsizing, drowning, encountering submerged jagged rocks, coming across broken tree trunks, and falling down waterfalls.

hardcore kayaking

Therefore, if you want to engage in extreme kayaking, it is important to properly prepare yourself. This includes attaining the right level of fitness, taking precautions, picking the right kayak and carrying along some safety equipment. Here are some tips on how you can go about this.

Attaining The Right Fitness Level

It is very important to prepare your body physically before engaging in whitewater kayaking. You will need physical strength and stamina to navigate the rapids successfully. There are specific core muscles that need to be stretched and strengthened to make it easier for you to paddle and prevent injury.

Extreme whitewater kayaking requires you to paddle for a long time, hence you need to have the necessary stamina to do this. You can build stamina by improving your cardiovascular health while out of the water. You can do so by engaging in activities such as biking, swimming and running.


It is also important to be strong so you can pull more water with every stroke. You can build your strength by exercising with row machines, free weights, performing pull-ups, bench presses and push-ups. Paddling a kayak requires core strength, so make sure to include planks and squats to make your core stronger.

To survive the rapids and waterfalls that you encounter while whitewater kayaking, you need to get the right gear and build a kit. It should contain your essential equipment and accessories to boost your competitive edge and keep you safe as you kayak. The two most important accessories to have are a PFD and a helmet.

Your Personal Floatation Device (PFD)


Your personal floatation device is one of the most important accessories for whitewater kayaking, helping to keep you afloat and your head above the water in case you fall in. Rapids are well known for being able to pull kayakers underwater, which can lead to drowning.

Therefore, make sure that you invest in a PFD. Pick one that is specifically designed for whitewater, since it has a low profile, increasing your range of motion. Moreover, it has safety features such as a harness for quick-release during water rescues.

A Helmet

helmet for kayaking

You should always wear your helmet while kayaking. If you end up underwater for any reason, your head might hit rocks and debris in the river. Thus, you should have a helmet on to protect yourself from concussions or much worse.

Pick a helmet that is built for paddling since it is made of materials which are non-absorbent. Therefore, it dries out and drains quickly. Also, a whitewater helmet has a brim to protect your eyes from spray and direct sunlight so you can more easily see what’s going on around you.

The Best Type Of Kayak

hull types

There are many types of kayaks. Examples of these are long boats, creek boats, river runners and freestyle boats. Each is built for a specific type of kayaking activity which is descibed in its name. However, they all fall into one of two categories, ones with a planing hull and ones with a displacement hull.

Kayaks that have a planing hull are flat along the bottom, while kayaks that have a displacement hull are curved along the bottom. It’s best to pick one with a planing hull for extreme whitewater kayaking. This is because it can turn quickly and is more maneuverable, so it requires much less effort to navigate.


It is important to have the right accessories so you can successfully navigate whitewater in a kayak. Generally, rivers are fed by snowmelt, a dam or rainwater, which means that they have very cold water that can induce hypothermia and unconsciousness in 30 to 60 minutes.

Therefore, you should wear a dry suit, a one-piece type of clothing that is waterproof yet breathable. It integrates rubber gaskets at the neck and wrists, also having socks and a waterproof zipper. It can keep water out and maintain normal body temperature.

A Throw Bag

kayak throw bag

A throw bag is a bag which contains a rope. It is a must-have accessory for every whitewater kayaker. It works by holding the leading end of the rope and throwing the bag at a kayaker who is in trouble. The rope unravels while airborne and delivers the other end to the kayaker. This helps to fish them out of the water and to safety.


The gear indicated above is ideal to carry along when you go for extreme whitewater kayaking. However, you also need to observe specific precautions. Firstly, always keep your helmet on. Also, ensure that you stay centered, your lower and upper body working in tandem to keep you balanced.

Keep your shoulder and hips aligned so as to control your boat better and your knees pushing on its inner sides to balance your boat. Your knees can also help you to power your strokes better.

The Extreme Dangers Of Whitewater Kayaking

Whitewater kayaking is just one of the extreme sports that you can perform today. It evolved from kayaking, a form of travel that was created by Eskimos. The Eskimos created the kayak for paddling through calm water and sometimes rapids, so as to move from one location to another. Much later, people discovered that kayaking through surging rapids gave them a thrill. Hence, whitewater kayaking was born!

whitewater rafting in rapids


This is where enthusiasts, adrenaline junkies and extreme sport lovers ride rapids in a kayak. They even tackle waterfalls to challenge nature and experience an adrenaline rush. The activity eventually became a sport for those who enjoy pushing themselves and nature to the limits.

As fun as it can be, it can also be quite dangerous, even life threatening. What are the dangers of whitewater kayaking? Read on to learn more.

The Extreme Nature Of Whitewater Kayaking

For us to understand the dangers of this extreme sport, we should first understand the nature of its arena. Whitewater is created in a section of river known as a rapid. This is where the gradient of the river increases to a level where the flow is disturbed and turbulence is created. The water becomes frothy and white in color.

group kayaking

There is an international measuring scale for river activity, known as the International Scale of River Difficulty. It categorizes whitewater rapids from levels 1 to 6. Whitewater at level 1 is calm, slow, easy and safe. On the other hand, level 6 is furious, very fast, highly dangerous and virtually impassable. Whitewater kayaking is performed mostly in level 6 river water, creating the following dangers for kayakers.

Dangers Of Whitewater Kayaking

To get a supreme adrenaline rush, whitewater kayakers tackle furious rapids, narrow river passes and waterfalls. In these natural river features, the water is moving so fast, and at such high volumes, that kayakers lose control of their rafts and simply fight for survival, all the way down the rapid or waterfall.

While riding the rapids, you are faced with the danger of hitting rocks that are huge and emerging out of the water. You can also get hit by underwater rocks as well. Rapids sometimes form water vortexes, which move in a swirling motion and suck kayakers and swimmers down to the bottom of the river. Finding yourself in a vortex can lead to capsizing and drowning because you cannot paddle against the force of it.

river rocks while rafting

If your kayak capsizes and your leg, arm or neck gets stuck between the jagged rocks, you are at a very serious risk of drowning. This often happens to kayakers who tackle rapids which are at level 6 on the ISRD scale. You are also faced with the risk of riding right into broken tree trunks that are either fully or partly submerged in the water. You can easily get impaled on one and bleed to death.

Part of whitewater kayaking involves tackling waterfalls. When you ride under these natural features, you can get crushed at the bottom by the sheer mass of water coming down. Moreover, you can get forced into a flat landing at the bottom and break your back instantly.

This leads to an inability to move, thus leading to an eventual drowning if no one is around to help. If you ever find yourself capsizing, use your paddle to leverage your weight off of any surrounding hard surface to right yourself up immediately. Keep this up until you navigate the rapid and move to calmer water.

kayaker in waterfall

How Can You Keep Yourself Safe When Whitewater Kayaking?

The first thing to do is to pick a river rapid that you can handle. Higher levels of river difficulty such as levels 4 to 6 are for professional whitewater kayakers. Therefore, pick a rapid that is on a level you can handle successfully and safely.

Also, ensure that you are in ideal physical shape to handle the demanding nature of rapids. Work out and achieve good physical fitness before trying to navigate a whitewater river. This allows you to be strong enough to paddle your way through it and survive any flips or jumps along the way.

Safety always comes first. Therefore, make sure that you wear a helmet, use high quality kayaking gear and use a capable kayak. Also, observe the principles of safe kayaking throughout your navigation of the whitewater rapids. It’s best to go with a friend or group so everyone can keep an eye on each other in case an emergency arises.

group kayaking


Whitewater kayaking gives you a strong adrenaline rush. The activity of paddling through charging rapids and plunging hundreds of feet down waterfalls can give you the rush that you need. Despite the excitement it brings, whitewater kayaking is extremely dangerous.

Some of its perils are indicated above. Therefore, wear safety gear and judge the rapids logically to avoid riding into dangerous areas that you cannot handle. This will lead to a fulfilling whitewater kayaking experience.