Get Inspired: How to get into Canoe Slalom

Some 60,000 spectators packed the new Lee Valley White Water Centre to witness the Olympic canoe slalom events at London 2012.

The sport provides a real test of speed and strength and is visually spectacular too.

An estimated 13,000 litres of water a second powers down the course - enough to fill 75 bath tubs every second while negotiating up to 25 gates on the 300m course. It is a totally different sport to canoe sprint, where pure speed on a flat course is the key.

There are four events in all, the men's canoe single (C1 men), men's canoe double (C2 men), men's kayak single (K1 men) and women's kayak single (K1 women). In canoes, competitors use single-bladed paddles; in kayaks, competitors use paddles with blades at both ends.

Why is it good for you?

Paddling uses most of the muscles in the arms and legs, with an hour's canoeing burning approximately 287 calories.

The strain of fighting against the power of the water leading to an increase in upper arm, forearm and chest circumference and grip strength.

A Manchester Metropolitan University study found that regular canoeists possessed superior heart strength enabling them to pump blood around the body more efficiently.

As several canoeing disciplines are carried out in pairs, it is an excellent way to develop communication skills and learn to work effectively with other people. Clubs also offer a variety of social events beyond simply taking part in the sport.

Get involved

If you haven't canoed before, a starter course is a good idea. There are clubs and watersports centres all over the United Kingdom, with some offering slalom teaching for mixed groups or for novices.

For those looking to join a club or begin lessons, visit the British Canoe Union  website for further information.

London 2012: Canoe slalom at the Olympics explained (Part one)

If you are new to canoeing and kayaking,  it is not necessary to purchase equipment straight away. Very often clubs and centres will have equipment that you can use, under supervision.

After you begin to paddle more regularly you may then wish to purchase some of your own equipment such as a helmet, spray deck, buoyancy aid, paddle and even a canoe.

There are approximately 4,500km of navigations and canals in the UK that can be paddled on with the appropriate licence.  White-water centres also offer a variety of exciting sporting and team-building activities.

Go to the Canoe England,  Scottish Canoe Association,  Canoe Wales  and Canoe Association of Northern Ireland  websites for more information on how and where to try out or watch the sport.

More on the GB Canoeing website 


Did you know?

Boats used in canoe sprint events are long and streamlined, while canoe slalom boats are small, light and agile.

Canoe Slalom began in Switzerland in 1932 and was first performed on flat water before later switching to white-water rapids.

The first known competition took place in 1933 but, although canoe and kayak racing became full medal sports at the 1936 Berlin Games, canoe slalom only made its debut at the 1972 Munich Games and was then dropped until returning in 1992.

More on the IOC website 

Are you inspired to try Canoe Slalom? Or maybe you are an enthusiast already? Get in touch and tell us your experience of the activity by tweeting us on @bbcgetinspired  or email us on

See our full list of activity guides for more inspiration.