"What the heck is this?" Why Extreme Cross Slalom is turning heads

Type “extreme cross canoe slalom’ into a search engine and you come up with nothing; nought; zilch.

This slalom discipline is so new, not even the internet has caught on yet. Wikipedia hasn’t even heard of it.

But it will, just as soon as people start discovering the thrills, spills, crashes and dashes that make up an event that will have its third official World Cup outing of the season in Markkleeberg this weekend.

In Germany they call it boater-cross. Call it whatever you like, it’s a perfect-for-TV event that is a combination of downhill skiing, demolition derby and ice hockey without the puck.

And a sack full of fun. In an era where the size of an athlete's smile can earn your sport a ticket on the Olympic short-list, Extreme Cross Canoe Slalom ticks all the boxes.

The event was introduced last year, more as a novelty than a serious outing. But this year the competition has stepped up a notch, many of the best paddlers are now taking part, and it will be contested at this year’s World Championships in Pau.

There is still an air of trepidation among a few. Much to the chagrin of some athletes, teams have banned them from competing because it looks, to be honest, bat-poop crazy with just a passing element of risk.

Exactly the reasons lots of the paddlers competing in the much more urbane disciplines of K1, C1 and C2 this weekend were drawn to canoe slalom in the first place.

"It's a nice and interesting part of the World Cup races,” Czech paddler Veronika Vojtova, a winner of the inaugural race last year, fourth in Prague this year, and not the slightest bit bat-poop crazy, said.

“It adds some adrenaline to our blood. Maybe it's a little dangerous, but it's another experience of the water."

So why does it add adrenaline to the blood?

Picture the start. Four athletes, sitting cheek-by-jowl in big plastic whitewater boats on a platform about four metres above the water.

On the starters orders, a ramp lifts up, and the four paddlers plummet into the water with an almighty splash. With water in their eyes, the first couple of metres of the race is certainly being contested by four athletes armed with paddles who cannot see where they are going.

From there it really is every man or woman for themselves. Each paddler has to charge around a handful of obstacles, and do a mandatory eskimo roll, which can be thrilling enough on its own without throwing three other athletes doing exactly the same thing at the same time into the mix.

The course is lined with emergency personnel ready to jump in and save anyone who gets into trouble. This year the only injuries have been to the pride of one or two athletes.

So what is the key to becoming a world-class extreme canoe/boater-cross athlete? Without wanting to give too much away, here are some insights from Germany’s Jasmin Schornberg, winner of the women’s title in Augsburg.

PLANET CANOE: Jasmin congratulations on the gold medal. What are the tactics you use in a race like this?

JASMIN SCHORNBERG: I had no tactics. I just tried to fight and push the boat forward, and hopefully don’t hit anyone. And have fun.

PLANET CANOE: How much do you train for this event?

SCHORNBERG: Not at all. This was the first time this year I was in a plastic boat. I think I was lucky I won today.

Surely it can’t be that easy? Let’s check in with men’s winner, Boris Neveu of France.

PLANET CANOE: Boris, congratulations on your gold medal. What is the special tactic you have to win a race like this?

BORIS NEVEU: I don’t have any tactics or strategy. It’s just one big fight and very much fun.

PLANET CANOE: How often do you train for this event?

NEVEU: Never. Only during World Cups. It’s a lot of fun.

So to sum up, it sounds like the ultimate sport for slackers. No training required, no need to get bogged down in pesky pre-race strategy planning, and so much fun that surely it must be illegal.

Except these athletes are all incredibly proficient at their day jobs, which gives them a pretty decent leg-up into extreme slalom. And at the end of this year a handful of them will have a World Championship medal hanging around their neck.

If the size of the crowds and the growing list of athletes wanting to take part are any measure, extreme slalom is here to stay.

Extreme Cross Canoe Slalom, or Boater-Cross, will be contested on Saturday and Sunday afternoon during this weekend’s ICF Canoe Slalom World Cup 3 in Markkleeberg.

Canoe Slalom
#ICFslalom #canoeslalom