What’s New in Canoe?

Canoes are often depicted with the open canoe, the calm, tranquil water surrounding reflecting the beauty of the surrounding wilderness. Yet canoes may just be the most versatile craft in paddlesports.

“Canoes, especially for touring and family recreation, have always been perfect tools to fulfill the search for freedom, tranquility and action,” states Olaf Gatz, the founder of Gatz Canoes. Gatz is not alone in this belief. This year at the 2017 Paddle Expo, it was evident that canoes are experiencing a resurgence in popularity, from the recreational family user to the more extreme. But why? Or has canoeing quietly been here all along?

Perhaps one reason for canoeing’s revived popularity is the sheer versatility the sport offers. While the sport has long been recognized for its ability to enable families and kids of any age to enjoy nature in a way that can be easy, educational, enjoyable and not dangerous, today, canoeing has even more to offer. “Open canoeing, C1, and whitewater OC1 have been growing since the 1990’s,” says Peet Reid. Reid’s company, Freefall Paddles, manufactures custom wooden canoe paddles for all styles of canoeing.

Canoeing is no longer just about long, large boats around 17 feet long. “On the market there are new, short, whitewater boats opening up a whole new revolution in paddlesport,” claims Peet. And indeed, companies are starting to produce new, versatile designs capable of going beyond lakes, to running grade I to grade V whitewater.

Steve Childs owns and runs Silverbirch Canoes, who design and manufacture in the United Kingdom. For the 2018 season, Silverbirch have expanded their range of specialist whitewater canoes with four new models. They also have several more models in the development pipeline.

Childs, a longtime kayaker, was as surprised as anyone to fall in love with a sport that uses “half a paddle.” When asked what led to his inspiration and commitment to developing “commercially questionable specialist canoes,” Childs replied: “It’s fun, and enjoyment is a pretty big part of paddling for us!” Childs and his business partner James faced the dilemma many former die-hard paddlers do. “Because we are no longer paddling 5-6 times a week, the skill and fitness levels are not what they once were…. This led to a situation where almost all river trips were either frustrating or terrifying, rather than enjoyable,” explained Child.

It took a while, but Childs realized that the fun of whitewater came from doing new things, be it a new skill, a new move, a new river, a new rapid, a new line, or a new toy. “Canoeing has given us this newness again, and best of all in places we know and love inside out,” says Childs. “We found ourselves paddling little local weirs, easy grade 2-3 rivers, even training on the flats. With canoes, we were paddling places we’d stopped paddling years ago due to snobbery, and doing it with that same vacant grin we’d lost.”

“As enthusiastic paddlers, we know canoeing and kayaking are not just great sports, but the most versatile sports,” says Graham McKereth, Pyranha, Venture and P&H owner. “Skills are transferrable, and no matter where you want to paddle or explore there is a great canoe or kayak that will fit your purpose.”

The most versatile of all is the open canoe, which, is “going through a resurgence in popularity,” believes McKereth. McKereth is certain that this rise in popularity has brought a whole new generation of paddlers to the paddlesports world, allowing for new designs and growth in canoeing. While many newcomers originate in the vastly different world of the double-bladed paddle, others are completely new to paddlesports. “Both are unencumbered by any pre-conceptions of what canoeing should be,” says McKereth. “This is incredibly exciting for us as designers, as their fresh attitude brings new inspiration, and new concepts to explore, that we can blend with our knowledge of beautiful canoes that goes back to the 1880s.” Venture Canoes brand is responding to the rise in popularity with more lightweight options and designs to ensure users have the very best time on the water.

Through canoeing, “people (re)discover that being on the water has many positive effects on them,” claims Olaf Gatz. “The GATZ-KANUS philosophy always was and will be to provide a perfect, long lasting, high quality, reliable and perfect performance canoe to enable people to discover places you can only reach by canoe.”

However you choose to enjoy the outdoors there is a canoe for you, and no shortage of places to go or people to paddle with.

By: Anna Bruno, Kayak Session, Paddle World and Sup World Mag editor