Canoeing currently has just two Olympic disciplines – slalom and sprint racing – but a third emerging sport is capturing public attention and offers an insight into how the sport’s future on the world stage might evolve.
Speaking at the World Wildwater Canoeing Championships in the remote Swiss mountain town of Muotathal, Jose Perurena, President of the International Canoe Federation, said he saw the development of kayak cross as a particularly exciting sign of how the sport is innovating.
“Look at what young people are doing in other sports, it’s about seeing head-to-head racing, amid much excitement and pace. Skiing has added ski cross to its Olympic repertoire with great success, I see kayak cross as an equally exciting development for wildwater canoeing,” Perurena said.
In kayak cross four paddlers in short, stubby kayaks drop into the river from a steep artificial slide built on the bank. They then race head-to-head down a fast-flowing course, navigating obstacles and trying not to lose time by spinning out of the current or colliding with their fellow competitors. It’s a highly televisual, adrenaline-fueled discipline with paddlers’ blades whirling around furiously and boats bashing against each other in the rapids.
“The challenge for canoeing, as it is for other sports, is to continue attracting young people,” said Perurena. “Slalom and wildwater are exciting for those who know these sports, but for newcomers the sight of four people racing at the same time has great appeal and that is key to growing our sport is enhancing that appeal.”
Perurena was speaking just ahead of the Swiss kayak cross competition, held during a break in the World Championship programme. He paid tribute to the Swiss organisers in Muotathal, describing it as a great example of how a small rural community could nevertheless pull off a world-class event.
“There’s always pressure to hold competitions in urban areas, but in wildwater that isn’t possible. In any case, the organising committee here in Muotathal have shown what can be done with a modest budget and a small army of highly motivated volunteers. It’s been a terrific few days of competition,” Perurena added.
The 2018 event is the first canoeing World Championships to be held in Switzerland since 1973. Xaver Schuler, mayor of the town of Schwyz said the canton had been delighted to welcome the event.
“We have had a dedicated organising team hard at work for over a year,” he said. “The town of Muotathal, Schwyz, and the neighbouring areas have thrown themselves into this event and are excited to welcome world-championship canoeing back to the canton for the first time in 45 years.”
Heinz Wyss, one of the Muota 2018 organizing committee and himself a member of the Swiss team that competed in Muotathal back in 1973, said the return of the World Championships was a day many locals had anticipated for years.
“This is a great day for Swiss canoeing, to see world-class action back on the Muota River,” Wyss said. “We have had great weather, amazing competition and some incredible performances. What more could one wish for?”
More than 300 competitors from 23 countries are attending the 2018 World Wildwater Canoeing Championships in Muotathal, Switzerland. The competitions run until Sunday 3 June.
The event website is here and it can also be followed on Facebook and Twitter.