Types of Paddling

Canoes, Kayaks, Standup Paddleboarding, and Rafting

Paddling refers to the group of watersports that require a paddle to propel and steer a vessel through and across the water. Traditionally, two sports have fallen in the category of paddling, that is canoeing and kayaking. Technically speaking, rafting is also a paddlesport, whether river rafting or whitewater rafting. Also, It truly is amazing that after thousands of years of paddling that a relatively new paddlesport is on the scene. I’m talking about SUP, or standup paddleboarding.

While the above utilitarian definition is accurate it doesn’t even scratch the surface of what paddling is to those of us who find our passion floating just inches above the surface of the water. And, while there are many reasons why people paddle one thing is true of all of us. We love to paddle. We live to paddle. Here are descriptions of the sports that make up the category of watersports known as paddling.

Loxahatchee Canoe
A canoe trip on the Loxahatchee River in Florida. Photo © by George E. Sayour

Generally speaking, canoes are long slender boats that have raised seats in them. The canoeist sits in the canoe with their legs at about a 90 degree angle. Canoes are propelled with a single bladed paddle and can be paddled solo or in tandem. While it is generally thought that canoeing is the most serene paddle sport of the bunch, that is actually a misconception. There are racing canoes and there are whitewater canoes. A whitewater canoe can do anything a whitewater kayak can do however it does require a higher of degree of skill to do it in a canoe given that a canoeist uses a paddle with only one blade.

Canoeing is a paddle sport that is a tried and true favorite among the outdoor community. They are kept on the shores of camps and weekend getaways to use as a form of recreation. Canoes are often combined with camping trips, fishing outings, and even hunting. And, for years canoes were the rental vessel of choice in state and county parks all over this country.

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Kayaking Forward Stroke
A kayaker demonstrates a low angle forward kayak stroke. Photo © by George E. Sayour

While kayaking has as ancient of a past as canoeing it has increased in prominence over the last 20 years. From about the 1990s kayaking has been known as the fast growing watersport. Only recently has this unofficial designation been in question as a new form of paddling has emerged.

Like canoes, kayaks are also long and slender. The seats in kayaks, however, are not raised up as they are in canoes. Instead they are on the floor of the kayak and the legs are out in front. While there are sit-on-top kayaks, most kayaks are sit-in kayaks. This means that the kayaker’s legs actually slide into the kayak. Experienced kayakers use spray skirts that attach them to the kayak and make the inside of the kayak watertight. Among the most popular types of kayaking are sea kayaking, touring kayaking, whitewater kayaking, and recreational or lake kayaking.

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Woman Paddleboarding
Woman Paddleboarding. © by Getty Images / David Olsen

While standup paddleboarding has its foundations in surfing, as it uses a paddle to propel the board it is technically a paddlesport. While standup paddleboarding seems like a new sport, there is some evidence that it has been around for quite some time, particularly in Hawaii where it originated. It is safe to say that relatively speaking in the paddling world SUP is a recent phenomenon.

There are many types of SUP paddling including surfing, touring, racing, fitness paddling, and SUP Yoga. Believe it or not there is even whitewater standup paddleboarding. SUP is the latest craze in watersports and has unofficially overtaken kayaking as the fastest growing water sport out there.

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Cheat Canyon Rafting at the Cheat River Festival
Cheat Canyon Rafting at the Cheat River Festival. Photo © by George E. Sayour

While most people don’t think of rafting as a paddlesport, it most certainly is as paddles are used to steer and propel the raft along on its journey. There are two main types of rafting. There is whitewater rafting which speaks for itself. There is also river rafting which can encompass anything from day float trips to multi-day excursions on flowing rivers.

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