Sun - June 11, 2006

Is Ultra-Marathon Kayak and Canoe Racing Growing?

Brandon and Heather Nelson, well known adventure racers and long distance paddlers, started a blog with a great opening article by Brandon The Essence of Ultra about his Yucon River Quest experience. I hope that they will keep posting.

According to Brandon the interest in ultra-marathon paddling and racing is growing:

Ultra-marathon kayak and canoe racing is one of the fastest growing disciplines in paddlesports. Three years ago, the 460-mile Yukon River Quest had 30-some entries, and had never been won by a kayak. This year's race filled the maximum of 70 slots six months before the event, with a waiting list of teams hoping to still get in. The 2005 Quest saw two tandem kayaks take the overall win, breaking the single-blade tradition of victory and further ramping up the quality of athletes competing in these days-long races.

Is really the ultra-marathon racing growing? I've looked at a number of entries in other two long distance races I am somewhat familiar with: Texas Water Safari (TWS) and WaterTribe Everglades Challenge (EC).

Texas Water Safari

The 260 mile Texas Water Safari from San Marcos to Seadrift is a race with a very long tradition starting in 1960's and with a strong and loyal community of racers. Each team needs a team captain. Multi person boats (currently up to 6 persons) are allowed in the race. So a lot of people, family members, friends, or just spectators are following the racers. The are the entire families of paddlers or "clans" training and entering the race each year. You can often see two or even three generations in a one canoe during the safari.

The last 10 years of TWS show a growing tend with a record number of entries in 2002 and 2003. The next year, 2004, was a flooding year when the race was postponed twice. It explains a low number of entries. However, the number of entries in the next two years didn't return back to a previous level. I know that the race participation was affected by a poor economy situation and several racers serving in Iraq.

WaterTribe Everglades Challenge

Everglades Challenge is not a typical paddling race. It is an expedition style race designed for kayaks, canoes, and small sailboats. I plotted overall number of entries during the 6 six years of that race. It shows some tendency to grow. I also plotted the total number of entries in class 1 and 2 covering boats without any sail or with a small downwind sail only. It seems that paddler's participation is staying at the same level and the growth is due to increasing numbers of sailboats. The 1200 mile Ultimate Florida Challenge around Florida gathered this year only 10 racers in all boat classes.

Open water or coastal races like WaterTribe events are much more expensive due to equipment requirements and do not have a chance for the same popularity as Texas Water Safari.

Colorado River 100

Two years ago, another long distance paddling race was created in Texas: Colorado River 100. This 100 mile race on the Colorado River from Bastrop to Columbus is addressed not only to Texas Water Safari community but also to adventure racers. In its first year, 2004, the race gathered 123 entries in both competitor and adventure divisions. The last year the participation with 117 entries stayed at the same level.

Yucon River Quest

In this context, the Yucon River Quest (YRQ) looks quite unique. The number of entries is growing despite the remote location of the race, but, unfortunately, that trend cannot be generalized. I am sure that ultra-marathon kayak and canoe racing is one of the most expensive disciplines in paddlesports.

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canoe racing fit to paddle forward stroke

Posted at 11:21 AM    

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