Paddling is similar to rowing, but does not rely on oars and oarlocks.  Instead, paddlers use either single-bladed paddles for canoeing, or double bladed paddles for kayaking.  Several of our paddlers come from a rowing background and are happy to now be able to face the same direction the boat is going!  

There is a great deal of variety in the sport of canoe and kayak.


Over distances up to 1000m on flat conditions, a sprint kayak is the fastest human powered boat on the water.

New fans of the sport watching international competition may wonder why sprint kayak races are labeled as 'canoe' events.  The reason is that most countries outside the US refer to both canoe and kayak as 'canoe' events, with K1, K2, and K4 events referring to 1, 2, or 4 person kayak races, and C1, C2, and C4 events referring to canoe races.

Sprint canoe was a demonstration event in the  first modern Olympiad 1924 Paris Olympics.  It became a full medal event at the 1936 Summer Games in Berlin. 

Early sprint boats were made from hard woods such as mahogany.  Modern elite boats generally contain a fair amount  of carbon fiber and Kevlar.  A modern sprint kayak is about 18 feet long and weighs about 25 pounds.  Over time the boats have become narrower and generally have a very round hull shape to minimize resistance through the water.  The narrow hull design makes the boats quite tippy, and most paddlers start with more stable boats before transitioning to the all out race machines.

At race speeds a sprint kayaker can't generate enough power to make the hull plane, but the hull is not quite a displacement hull either--it's operating in a zone that allows the boat to move at speeds, with enough power applied, significantly faster than the theoretical hull speed.  For the 200m sprint event, world class boats exceed 13 mph which is twice the 6.35 mph theoretical hull speed of an approximately 18 foot sprint kayak. 

Both sprint kayaks and canoes have grown increasingly narrow over the years to reduce hull friction. That’s made them trickier to keep stable, though, making the sport more challenging. Athletes and their coaches may use ballast to for boats under the weight limit to achieve the minimum weight and maximize stability.

Sprint canoes look nothing like the canoes many of us paddled at summer camp.  An elite sprint canoe, seemingly impossibly, is even more unstable than an elite sprint kayak, largely because of the higher position of the paddler in the boat.  A sprint canoe in the right hands is only marginally slower than a sprint kayak.

Many of our junior paddlers aspire to be like SCKC member Greg Barton.  Among many other paddling achievements, Greg won two gold medals,including the 1000m K1 evernt, at the 1984 Olympics.  Greg, who is a great asset to our sport, still competes in and more often than not wins local races, and after paddling at the elite level went on to found Epic Kayaks.  Other sprint kayakers currently at the top tier of their sport  who are great examples include Ed McKeever from the UK and Adam Van Koererden from Canada.

There are 4 active sprint kayak clubs in the Puget Sound area, with more clubs just to the north over the Canadian border, so there are plenty of opportunities for competition.  SCKC has a variety of sprint boats for all abilitities available to members.


World-class marathon paddlers can maintain race speeds of greater than 8 mph for hours.  Marathon kayak races can be held at distances of 5 km up to the 125 mile Devizes to Westminster race, the longest non-stop canoe race in the world, which finishes in the centre of London.  The fastest paddlers complete the 125 mile course in under 18 hours (an average speed of just under 7 mph).  At the World and US Marathon championships the course is made more interesting with a portage every 5 kilometers, for which the paddlers have to carry their boat for approximately 300 meters between laps.  

Marathon boats are very very similar in design to sprint kayaks but are allowed to have lower minimum weights than sprint kayaks.


A surfski is the fastest human-powered boat on the water in open ocean and downwind conditions (a sprint kayak is faster on flat water).

Racing surfskis have evolved from 'spec' skis that are still used for lifesaving in many parts of the world.  A 'spec' ski has specific length and width requirements (19' long and 19" wide).  An elite ski may be greater than 21 feet long, weight less than 25 pounds, and have a beam of less than 17 inches.  

With the introduction of quality intermediate skis from companies such as Epic, Fenn, Huki, and others, the sport has opened up to paddlers without as much experience.  There have been large surfski communities in South Africa, Australia, and not surprisingly, Hawaii, for a while.  The Pacific Northwest has a devoted group of surfski paddlers in the Seattle area, and there are many surfski paddlers to the north in Bellingham.

Surfskis are significantly different than other types of kayaks.  Rather than an enclosed cockpit, they have a 'sit on top' open cockpit that usually has some type of self bailing mechanism.  Surfskis are much easier to remount in the event of a capsize than sprint kayaks, but practice is required especially for rough conditions.  An experienced paddler can handle a surfski in extremely challenging condtions, and Pacific Northwest paddlers regularly do downwind runs in winds in the 20-30 knot range.  These paddlers recognize that it is critically important to recognize the danger posed by frigid Puget Sound water and prepare appropriately.

In the right downwind conditions a surfski is capable of planing down waves and reaching very high speeds, exemplified by this video of a surfski in South Africa hitting (within GPS accuracy) 68.8 km/hr or 42 mph.

SCKC has several surfskis available for member use.

Sea Kayak

Many SCKC members got their previous paddling experience as sea kayakers, with the Pacific Northwest a world-class sea kayaking destination.  Even paddlers who prefer sea kakaying have found that technique gained from practice in other boats can greatly improve their skills and enjoyment of the sport.  SCKC does have a few sea kayaks availble for member use.

Some of our members are avid sea kayakers and have done epic paddling trips.


Paracanoe gives opportunities for paddlers with physical disabilities to train and compete up to an international level.  SCKC has a couple of dedicated and accomplished paracanoe athletes.  More info on paracanoe competition is here.


There are many similarities in the technique for sprint, marathon, and surfski paddling. The main common element (that is missing for most paddlers coming from a sea kayak background) is body rotation and leg drive.  Sprint kayaks and surfskis have a footboard that allows the paddler to rotate on the seat and use leg power to apply a lot more power than in a typical sea kayak.  It is not difficult for a paddler with decent techique (i.e., with enough control and balance to be able to to actually perform a proper stroke) to get a very good, and low-impact, aerobic workout in a sprint kayak/canoe or surfski.

Here's a somewhat dry but informative video that gives an overview of good paddling technique.  The only way to really learn to paddle though is with time on the water, and there's no better way to get started than with an SCKC class!










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