What is Whitewater Kayaking?

whitewater kayaking

About Whitewater Kayaking

  • Invented: 1842
  • Founded By: Lieutenant John Fremont
  • Highest Governing Body: International Canoe Federation (ICF)
  • Olympic Status: 1972 - Present (Called “Kayak Slalom”)

Whitewater kayaking is an extreme sport in which participants ride kayaks through difficult conditions in whitewater rivers. This can either be done recreationally or as a race, and a kayaking trip can range anywhere from two hours up to a full day. 

Whitewater is formed by air that is trapped within the water. This occurs when a river’s gradient changes drastically. Whitewater causes a very unstable and unreliable current that appears frothy and white. Different whitewater locations are graded based on how difficult they are to kayak down. The grades range from 1, the easiest, to 6, the hardest.

In the Olympics, whitewater kayaking is called “kayak slalom.” In this event, athletes must kayak through a course of 18-24 gates that hang downstream and upstream in the fastest time possible. Penalties are given for touching a gate (two seconds) and missing a gate (50 seconds).


What is whitewater kayaking?

Whitewater kayaking is just that, kayaking in whitewater rivers. This extreme sport involves a person kayaking down rivers of varying difficulty grades. Whitewater kayaking is an extreme sport because of the demanding river conditions and aggressive water pressure. Depending on the location of your whitewater kayaking adventure, there might be an occasional free drop from a waterfall. A kayaking trip can last anywhere from a couple of hours to an entire day.

What are the biggest whitewater kayaking events in the world?

The biggest whitewater kayaking event in the world is the Extreme Kayak World Championship. Other notable competitions include the Ottawa World Freestyle Kayak Championship, the Nielson River Race, and the North Fork Championship. There are also a multitude of kayaking festivals, such as the Nile River Festival, Machu Picchu Kayak Festival, and the Gauley Festival. These are for kayak enthusiasts of any level and usually include food vendors and other activities, along with kayaking. The Olympics also feature a whitewater kayak event called “kayak slalom,” which has been a staple of the Summer Games since 1972.

What equipment do I need to go whitewater kayaking safely?

Whitewater kayaking can be very challenging and dangerous, so it is important to have the right equipment before trying it out. The first things you need are a kayak and a paddle; you cannot go kayaking without these essential pieces of equipment. It is also important to have a helmet, a personal floatation device like a life jacket, and a sprayskirt. The helmet and personal floatation device are the most important things to have because whitewater can be very rough, and these pieces of equipment help protect against head injuries and drowning. The sprayskirt is used to prevent water from entering the kayak.