Get Inspired: How to get into canoeing & kayaking

Watch BBC Sport Scotland's Laura McGhie take on the canoe slalom in Glasgow
Fast Answers
Why get into canoeing?It's fun way to explore while keeping your arms and heart pumping.
Who is it for?Canoeing offers something for everyone, young or old.
Is there a cheap option?Some taster sessions are free. You don't have to go out and buy a canoe either because clubs and centres will often have equipment you can use.
What if I want a proper workout?Work on toning and strengthening the arms and legs while paddling.
Can I take it to another level?It's possible to progress to national regattas at junior and senior level.
Is there a disability option?Some clubs and taster sessions can accommodate people with disabilities. GB Canoeing has a Paralympic programme for athletes with physical disabilities.
Is there a family option?Paddle as a family and enjoy the experience together.
Where can I take part?Head over to our club finder page to find canoeing events near you.

The British Isles are made for canoeing!external-link

You can learn the basic skills and build your confidence on calmer, inland waters, like rivers and lakes. To paddle in canals, you'll need a licence.

With the right training, you can enjoy spectacular scenery canoeing on coastal waters. Or if you fancy challenging yourself further, then white-water descents will provide a thrilling experience.

All paddle sports are a great way to improve cardiovascular fitness, muscle strength and flexibility, you can push yourself as hard as you want.

Aspire to be like: David Florence

Aspire to be like Olympic medallist David Florence.

David Florence won a silver in the doubles at London 2012 with partner Richard Hounslow.

Getting started


Canoeing can be recreational or competitive. You can take it up to race and compete or as a hobby to travel an discover the water of Britain.

There are hundreds of clubs all over the UK that encourage participation.

The Canoe Association of Northern Irelandexternal-link, the Scottish Canoe Associationexternal-link, Canoe Walesexternal-link and British Canoeingexternal-link all provide details of local clubs and centres to get you started near you.

What's the difference between a canoe and a Kayak?
Paddlers use a single-bladed, flat paddlePaddlers use a double-bladed, curved paddle
The canoe is open to the elementsPaddlers extend their legs and they may be protected from the elements.
The paddler either kneels one legged or on both legs in the canoeThe paddler sits in the cockpit and might wear a spray deck to keep the water out
Canoes are heavier and have a wider structureKayaks are narrower and lighter
Canoes are pointed at both ends and have greater stabilityKayaks are faster and more agile
Canoes have more contact with the water and sit deeper in the waterKayaks sit lower in the water so there is less wind resistance

For the brave

Helen Reeves who claimed Olympic bronze for Great Britain in the K1 kayak singles in 2004.

There are two canoeing Olympic disciplines; slalom and sprint.

Canoe Slalom is the ultimate challenge as paddlers tackle the excitement of white water rapids, testing speed, agility and precision. Paddlers must navigate a sequence of pairs of poles (gates) set up over rapids, waves, eddies and currents on a 250m stretch of white water.

Entry level to canoe slalom racing are generally held on calm water and the courses will be simple.

British Canoeingexternal-link can help you make the first steps into racing.

Are these our future gold medallists?

Canoe Sprint sees you race on a straight course, each boat in a separate lane, over three different distances: 200m, 500m, 1,000m.

Most paddlers enter sprint racing through a club, racing locally as novices and progressing to national regattas at junior and senior levels, where all paddlers are ranked within their classes.

For those looking to start racing and to find out the location of sprint meets, contact the British Canoeingexternal-link

Canoeing for Pleasure

Men kayaking

Whether you're going down rapids or drifting down a clam river, paddling can be incredibly therapeutic for both mind and body and it doesn't have to be competitive.

Recreational canoeing can be started at an early age, enjoyed by all members of the family, even into retirement.

Go Canoeexternal-link run a range of activities, from starter sessions to guided canoe trails all giving you a good aerobic workout along the way.

Even for the easiest waters however, all canoeists should be able to swim at least 50m in canoeing clothing. For those looking to join a club or begin lessons, visit the British Canoeingexternal-link website for further information.

Kids and young people

girl canoeing

One of the best ways to get your kids canoeingexternal-link is to don the buoyancy aids and head out on a family paddle.

If you want to keep an eye on young children, sharing a boat is a great option - you can fit a family and a picnic in a 16-foot Canadian canoe!

British Canoeing have a number of specially-designed schemes, like Paddlepower,external-link which help children to build up their skills or enter competitions.

While U Canoeexternal-link aims to keep teenagers in the sport and encourage new participants to take up paddling.

Disability Canoeing

Paracanoe champ Dickins targets gold

Able-bodied and disabled participants can share all aspects of the activity, get in touch with your local clubexternal-link as many cater for people with disabilities.

British Canoeing initiative Paddle-Abilityexternal-link focuses on a paddlers ability rather than disability, with starter sessions taking place across the UK, and many clubs hold Paddle-Ability accreditation.

If you want to compete, the British Canoeingexternal-link holds competitive events as part of mainstream programmes, which recognise the needs of disabled competitors.

Coaching and Volunteering

coach and young kayakers

Helping other people to enjoy canoeing or kayaking can be extremely rewarding.

Whether you are already a coach, want to become a coach or are a paddler and looking for coaching, then get in touch with with British Canoeingexternal-link or Englandexternal-link, Northern Irelandexternal-link, Scotlandexternal-link and Wales.external-link You can also try Sports Coach UK.external-link

From coaches to club secretary, clubs and centres are always looking for willing and enthusiastic volunteers who can lend a hand and utilise their skills in their voluntary team.

You can also find out about other volunteering opportunities in canoeing with Volunteer Scotlandexternal-link, Join In UKexternal-link and Volunteer Nowexternal-link in Northern Ireland.

What's next?

1. Find your local canoeing opportunities by using the British Canoeingexternal-link website. The Canoe Association of Northern Ireland,external-link the Scottish Canoe Association,external-link and Canoe Walesexternal-link all provide details of local clubs and centres.

2. Share your storyexternal-link and inspire others

Are you inspired to try canoeing? Or maybe you are a keen enthusiast already? Get in touch and tell us your experience of the sport by tweeting us on @bbcgetinspired,external-link visiting us on Facebookexternal-link or email us on

See our full list of activity guides for more inspiration.