The Covid pandemic has presented opportunities to attract new paddlers to canoe sports, a panel session at the International Canoe Federation Congress in Pattaya, Thailand, heard on Wednesday.

British Canoeing CEO Ashley Metcalfe and Canoe Kayak Canada CEO Casey Wade both told the workshop audience how Covid, lockdowns and long-term concerns about health had presented opportunities for paddle sports.

The workshop was focused on alternative sources of income, growing memberships and how to successfully hold a major canoeing event.

In the case of British Canoeing, paddle sports were among just a handful of activities permitted during Covid lockdowns, which drove a large spike in membership numbers for the sport’s governing body in the UK.

“During Covid the Government was still encouraging people to exercise, and one of the few things that could be done was going out on the water,” Mr Metcalfe said.

“This was crucial for us. Our Go Paddling website was the catalyst for our growth.”

Mr Wade told the audience that Canoe Kayak Canada was looking to capitalise on the renewed focus on long-term health following the pandemic.

“We want to tap into the health benefits that come with paddling, especially for older people,” Mr Wade said.

Mr Metcalfe said British Canoeing has set a goal to reach 120,000 members by 2026. In 2021 there were 93,000 members, up from 62,000 in 2020 and 42,000 in 2019. As a flow on, earned income for British Canoeing had grown from 17 per cent in 2016 to 38 per cent in 2021, built off commercial partnerships, increased memberships and education initiatives.

The Covid spike came from people in lockdowns looking to try paddling sports.

“People realised that if they want to go out on the water, they needed a licence,” Mr Metcalfe said.

“The cheapest and easiest way was through British Canoeing.”

Mr Wade reflected on the successful ICF Canoe Sprint and Paracanoe World Championships his federation hosted in Halifax this year. He said the success of an event should not just be measured by the money made, but also the benefits it brings.

“We got a chance to showcase our sport, and provide great opportunities for elite athletes, and especially our own team,” Mr Wade said.

“We drew in more than 60,000 spectators over the five days, because we focused on making the event an experience for the crowds.”

The ICF Executive Committee and ICF Board held their pre-Congress meetings on Wednesday morning. The full Congress begins on Thursday, with more than 100 National Federations registed both in person and online.