Wildwater racing is a competitive canoe/kayak discipline whereby the athlete must manoeuvre a 4.5m long and quite unstable craft down a section of river as fast as possible.
The boats are constructed from composite materials such as carbon, kevlar and fibreglass and must weigh a minimum of 10kg including mandatory airbags fitted in the bow and stern. Wildwater racing boats are not permitted to have rudders. Instead, the athlete must tilt the boat to one side, utilising the boat’s curved profile to effect the turn.
The boats must adhere to a minimum width, with the widest part of the boat being on the deck behind the cockpit. This ‘winged’ profile creates good secondary stability when the boat is on edge for turning. Wildwater athletes use ‘wing-blade’ paddles to produce more power and efficiency.
Wildwater courses vary in difficulty and technicality, ranging from class 2-4 whitewater and no two courses are the same. Even the same course can differ from day to day (or even during the same day) due to fluctuations in water level. The athlete must select the fastest route through the rapids whilst avoiding hazards such as rocks, wave trains and powerful river hydraulics which can slow the boat down or even cause a capsize.
Experienced athletes will however use various river features to their advantage to further enhance boat speed beyond physiological limits. Refined technical skills and ‘river reading’ ability are as important as aerobic capacity, endurance and power.
Wildwater racing is a very ‘free and natural’ competitive sport; there are few rules, no whistles, no boundaries, no umpires and virtually no infrastructure. Just the athlete and the river, racing against time.
Every training run and every race is a journey. That is the beauty of wildwater racing.
Thanks to Charlie Collin for producing this content