What is Canoe Ocean Racing?

The discipline of Canoe Ocean Racing involves competitors paddling a predetermined distance, on surfski’s, in the open ocean or on open expanses of water, preferably in downwind conditions.

Modern surfskis are similar to kayaks in design, except that the cockpit is sealed and the competitor sits on top of the craft instead of inside it. A surfski is designed with additional volume to adapt it for use in the ocean.

Surfskis originated in the lifesaving movement, as a means to assist in the rescue of bathers in distress. It was a natural progression for individuals to want to race each other using them, and lifesaving style surfski racing developed in the 1940’s.

Originally, surfski races only took place as an event at lifesaving competitions.

It remained that way until 1957, when members of the Pirates Lifesaving Club, in Durban, South Africa, decided to race a longer distance of approximately 26 kilometres from their clubhouse to the Umhlanga rocks and back. The next year, an even longer race was started from the small town of Scottburgh to Brighton Beach, in Durban. A distance of 46 kilometres. Both races are still in existence.

Other countries soon followed suite and the discipline of Canoe Ocean Racing was born. Races such as the iconic Molokai challenge starting in the mid 70’s.

Initially, these “surfski” races were administered by lifesaving clubs and participation was restricted to qualified lifeguards.

The popularity of the activity soon attracted paddlers from other disciplines and events started around the world, outside of the lifesaving movement. In Ocean Racing, it is not necessarily the fittest or strongest paddler who wins the event. It is the individual who is able to master the prevailing conditions. A skill that takes many years to perfect.

With a desire to have an officially recognised World Championships, some of the leading surfski paddling nations approached the ICF, in 2003 with a request to be incorporated into their structures. After a number of years of negotiation, the first ICF sanctioned World Cup was held in 2006 in Durban, South Africa. In 2010 the ICF Ocean Racing Committee was formed, and the first official World Championships was held in Portugal in 2013.

Since then, there have been seven further World Championships; 2015 in Tahiti, 2017 in Hong Kong, 2019 in France, 2021 in Lanzarote (Spain), 2022 in Portugaland 2023 in Australia.

The seven World Championships held so far have been dominated by paddlers from Australia, South Africa and New Zealand. With the increase in competitiveness in paddlers from other continents, especially Europe, over the past few years, this trend is likely to diminish. This is due to a major increase in popularity of the discipline and some extremely attractive races.

The 2023 World Championships was staged in Australia for the first time, with Perth playing host. In 2024, the Portuguese federation will once again have the responsibility of hosting the event when it moves to the scenic island of Madeira.

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