Canoe Ocean Racing consists of long distance surfski, sea kayak and sea touring races. A surfski is the fastest boat over long distances on ocean swells, with the only flatwater boat able to go faster being an Olympic-standard canoe sprint boat. The challenges canoe ocean racing can face include large waves driven by the wind, hurricane generated ground swells and paddling in wind speeds of more than 20 knots.
Surfskis originated in Australia in the 1900s when two brothers, Harry and Jack McLaren, used them around their family’s oyster beds on Lake Innes in New South Wales. They would also use their custom-made boats to surf the beaches at nearby Port Macquarie. The speed and versatility of the boats made them ideal for lifesaving, and in 1946 surfski became a part of the lifesaving competition programme.
Surfskis were initially similar to surfboards, laminated in light wood and sometimes covered in fabric, but modern, lighter versions can be made from composite layers of epoxy or polyester resin-bonded cloth such as fibreglass, Kevlar, carbon fibre or a mixture. As races have got longer, boats have become longer with sharply pointed bows and under stern foot pedal controlled rudders. They are usually five to six-and-a-half metres long and only 40 to 50 centimetres wide.
Canoe ocean racing initially started with short races of about 700m, but as these boat designs developed races would begin to go further out to sea. The first canoe ocean racing event took place in South Africa in 1958, with the 46km Scottburgh to Brighton race. Other famous events include the Southern Shamaal, also in South Africa, a 240km race from Port Elizabeth to East London that began in 1972, and four years later the inaugural Molokai Race was held in Hawaii. Canoe ocean racing was the most recent discipline to be recognised by the International Canoe Federation (ICF) and a surfski world series began in 2010.
Canoe ocean racing can vary from 10km to multi-day races over large distances. Races are contested in single and double surfskis, sea kayaks, and in single or six-person outriggers. The most recent world championships were held in Tahiti in 2015, and featured single surfski events in men’s and women’s senior and U23, and men’s juniors. The senior men’s race was dominated by Australia and South Africa, who occupied 10 of the top 11 places, with only France’s Yannick Laousse in seventh the exception. In contrast, the top four of the senior women’s race was filled by paddlers from New Zealand and United States of America.
Canoe ocean racing often features athletes from canoe sprint and canoe marathon. The 2015 women’s world champion Teneale Hatton is also a double world champion in canoe sprint.