The Very Beginning

Wherever there is water, there is an indigenous watercraft. Mostly, this is in the form of a Canoe. Primitive yet elegantly constructed, ranging from 3m to over 30m in length, Canoes throughout history have been made from logs, animal skins and tree bark and were used for basic transportation, trade, and in some instances, for war.

The design of the original canoe varied, depending on its use and where it was built; it varied between open-topped bark canoes to a dug-out tree to 130ft war canoes. In contrast, kayaks were built to ensure icy Arctic water did not enter the boat. They were made by stretching animal skins over a wooden frame and could generally only carry one man at a time.

The Kayak probably originates from Greenland, where it was used by the Eskimos while the Canoe was used all over the world. The word Kayak (ki ak), meaning “man-boat” in Eskimo, was found predominately in the northern parts of the world, North America, Siberia and Greenland. They were ideal for individual transport and were used primarily for hunting and fishing. The Canoe, on the other hand, was utilised on a much wider scale. From the Native American tribes to the Polynesians, the canoe enjoyed a variety of scales and uses, primarily transport, trade and warfare. Physically the differences between the two boats are that kayaks are closed boats with a cockpit for sitting in. Athletes paddle from a sitting position with a double-blade paddle. Canoes are open boats paddled from a kneeling position with a single-blade paddle.

The Beginnings of the ICF

On 19 January 1924 the Internationale Repräsentantenschaft Kanusport (IRK) was formed in Copenhagen, Denmark, it became the ICF in 1946. The purpose of the organisation was defined as follows:

  1. To form a link between the Canoeing Associations of the various countries.
  2. As far as possible, to organise international competitions in paddling and sailing, once a year, and alternately in the various countries.
  3. To promote and foster foreign touring through production of appropriate river guides, and through the provision of information on accommodation and places of interest.
  4. To introduce internationally recognised symbols for rivers, on maps in order to facilitate touring.
  5. To exchange information by making the various national publications on Canoeing mutually available: through the preparation of lectures and speakers, films and photographs, as well as through correspondence.

The primal nature of the practice of Canoeing and the very image of this basic watercraft, serves as a unifying symbol among cultures and nations whose peoples share a common experience over time as well as space. And it helps to explain the impressive expansion of the International Canoe Federation to over 150 countries within the span of 85 years.