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A kayak is a type of canoe, made of fibreglass or sometimes plastic. This is an activity which is participated in both for fun and sport. For more on the various types of competitive kayaking, see relevant section below.

Marathon racing
Rodeo kayaking
Sprint racing
Surf kayaking
Wild-water racing


Marathon racing

This is open to anyone regardless of age or sex. It is an endurance event. The marathon kayaking system has nine divisions, which allows competitors to progress to longer races as their capability improves. Races can vary from 9.65 kilometres (6 miles) to 193 kilometres (120 miles). Races take place on flat water rivers and estuaries.


Two teams of five compete in a pool or on a stretch of flat water to score goals against each other. The game lasts for two 10 minute halves with a 3 minute break at half time. Extra time is in two halves of 3 minutes.

At the start of each half, all the players will line up with the backs of their kayaks on their own goal line (the line at their end of the area) and the referee will throw the ball into the middle of the water. Only one player from each team may try to take possession of the ball.

The ball is thrown from player to player into a net, sized 1.5 metres (4 feet 11 inches) wide, and 1 metre (3 feet 3 inches) high, which is suspended 2 metres (6.56 feet) above the water at each opponents end.

Each player has a double bladed paddle, which can be used to stop the ball in the air, or move it in the water, but cannot be used to strike the ball.

When a player has the ball, they must pass or shoot within 5 seconds. After a goal is scored, the team conceding the goal will take the restart throw from the centre of the playing area. All players of both teams must be in their own half of the area.

There are two types of tackle permitted in canoe polo; a hand tackle, where a player with an open hand pushes an opponent's side or arm, and a kayak tackle, where a player pushes their kayak against the opponent's kayak. A kayak tackle must not make contact with the tackled player's body. For a kayak tackle, the player must be competing for the ball and be within 3 metres (10 feet) of it. For a hand tackle, the player being tackled must have possession of the ball.

If the ball goes out over the side line, end line, or any overhead obstacle, the team which did not have the last possession is awarded, respectively, a side throw (the ball must not be thrown in the direction of attack), a goal line throw (taken anywhere along the goal line), or a corner throw.

The type of throw given depend on whether the last player to touch the ball was attacking or defending. A free throw must not be directly at goal.

Fouls include obstruction, holding, illegal possession, dangerous use of the paddle, illegal tackles, and unsporting conduct. A foul may be result in a free throw, free shot, goal penalty, a player sent off for two minutes, or sent off for the rest of the game. The advantage rule can also be applied, where play will continue after a foul if the referee decides that the non-offending can gain or keep the advantage.

Rodeo kayaking

This is generally a more light-hearted event. Competitors perform tricks and stunts on short section of white water, and are marked by judges. The heats whittle down the highest scorers, until the final. The object is to link the best series of smooth, stylish movements, such as cartwheels and spins.


Canoes must be guided through a series of gates, which are pairs of poles hanging over the river. The gates must be passed through in order, on a course up to 600 metres in length, and graded from I (1) to VI (6) in difficulty. The minimum depth must be 40 centimetres (16 inches), and the water flow should be at least 2 metres per second.

Courses will have twenty to twenty-five gates, with at least six being upstream. Gates are numbered in order, and have green poles for downstream gates, and red poles for upstream gates. The bottom of the gate poles must hang about 15 centimetres (6 inches) above the water.

Competitors must go through the gates in the set order. They must go between the poles without either pole being touched by the boat, the paddle, or the rider's body. In team events, each teams boats must cross the finish line within 15 seconds of each other.

Penalties for slalom racing are as follows:

5 points - correct negotiation of the gate, but touching one or both poles. Touching the same pole more than once only counts as one penalty

50 points - touch of a gate without correct negotiation, (for example, touching the second gate without going through the first)

50 points - pushing a gate

50 points - going through a gate while the rider is upside down

50 points - going through a gate in the wrong direction

50 points - missing a gate

50 points - a team failing to get across the finish line within 15 seconds

The results are calculated by the time taken to get from start to finish, with any penalty points added, so the winner would have the lowest score.

Sprint racing

Canoe sprint races are held on still water courses over 500, 1000, and 10,000 metres for men, and 500 and 5000 metres for women. The courses are marked with buoys with flags.

Courses for 500 and 1000 metre races are straight, and raced through once only, and are usually marked from start to finish. Courses of more than 1000 metres may be divided into straights and turns (marked by red and yellow flags). Courses with turns are raced in an anti-clockwise direction.

Surf kayaking

A competition against other kakayers, and the surf waves. The kayaks are specially designed. The competitors perform tricks on the waves during 20-minute heats. Runs are scored by judges, and the best three scores are compared with other competitors to determine progress to the next round, and ultimately to the final.

Wild-water racing

Specially designed boats race against the clock through white-water rivers which are rated above Grade III (3). Races are often longer than 3 kilometres (1.86 miles), and involve the competitors picking their way through waves and boulders. There is a three division system for harder races, with competitors rising up divisions as their capability improves.


Flat water - calm, still water for less demanding events.

Grade - rivers are graded by an international system from 1 to 6. The higher the grade, the more challenging the river.

White water - white water is rougher, more turbulent water, for more challenging events.

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