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Calling All Wildwater Canoeists

Come out and Play

by John Pinyerd
USA Canoe/Kayak
Wildwater Chairman

December 1, 2004 -- Atlanta, GA

North America has a very rich history in canoeing, more so than any other region of the world. Native North Americans may have invented the canoe and certainly popularized the craft as integral part of their transportation. Explorers, voyagers and settlers eventually capitalized on the idea. Elegant log canoes ultimately became molds for a wood plank and wood strip canoes. By the 1870's these smooth-skinned craft were being turned out in numbers in boat building shops of central Canada. Canoes were the essential craft for anyone who wished to experience travel in the Canadian and North American wilderness.

The impact of the North American canoe eventually spilled over to modern canoe and kayak racing, even to the way that the race classes are designated. The International Canoe Federation (ICF) designation for the “C” in C-1 and C-2 stands for Canadian canoe just as the “K” in designates kayak. In addition, in Wildwater and Slalom, the majority of the racers needed to fill the ICF Classes are canoeist. For example, in Wildwater a full World Championships team consists of four K-1s, four K-1W’s, four C-1’s, and four C-2’s (for a total of twelve canoeist and only four men’s kayaks and four woman’s kayaks).

From the very beginning, North American’s have played a huge role in the canoe racing over the years. Perhaps the most noteworthy accomplishment was America’s two decade dominance in Slalom canoeing. It began with Jamie McEwans’s bronze medal win in the 1972 Olympics and perhaps culminated with the Gold Medal earned by Scott Strausbaugh/Joe Jacobi in the 1992 Olympics or Davey Hern’s Gold Medal at the 1995 Worlds. During this time period, Jon Lugbill, Davey Hearn, Jamie McEwan, Marietta Gilman/Chuck Lyda, Bob Robinson, Kent Ford, and Fritz and Lecky Haller racked up dozens of medals in international competition and also changed the design of the modern slalom canoe. For a complete list of slalom medalists please see

(Picture: Veteran USA Wildwater Racers Chuck Lyda (stern) and Dan Schnurrenberger (bow) show their skills at the 2003 World Cups in Kernville CA. Chuck Lyda won his first Gold in C-2 at the 75 Worlds.)

The Americans have also been successful in Wildwater canoeing at the international level. Perhaps our greatest single achievement was the “perfect run” at the 1981 Worlds at Bala (GBR) in the C-2 Mixed class that earned Mike Hipsher and Bunny Johns the Gold medal. In addition, John Butler proved that we could also compete in C-1 by winning the Bronze at the 1985 Worlds in Garmisch (GER). Our team strength in canoe also showed at the 88 Pre-Worlds when the Americans earned medals in the team runs. Ultimately, Andy Bridge was our most dominate Wildwater canoeist on the international scene. Bridge won a plethora of World Cups as well as the overall World Cup Champions in 1990. His style of switching sides to match the river conditions was widely adopted by Wildwater canoeist shortly afterwards.

But if you looked at this years race results for the Canadian and US National Wildwater Championships (aka the CAN-AMs) , as well as this years international results, you would never know of our proud North American history in canoeing excellence. Our rich heritage and the huge participation we once experienced dwindled significantly over the past two decades. Ironically, there was only one C-boat from Canada (the C-2 team of Winacott/VanWinssen). In short, there is a huge opportunity for Canadian and US Wildwater canoeist who are willing to train hard to do well in national competition and to compete in international competition.

There is a much bigger story here than a lack of participation in canoe classes at the CAN-AM Wildwater Championships. We are experiencing a similar, although perhaps less drastic drop in canoeing participation at the international level as well. Perhaps this is the result of a change in demographics, buying patterns, and outdoor hobbies. And unlike in years past, when many of us learned to canoe at summer camp and then gradually migrated into racing canoes, today’s kids are all learning to paddle in kayaks. Not only does this mean that we need to continue to develop racers from an even smaller pool of canoeist, it means that we also need to recruit kayakers into racing canoes.

This is a great time to get into Wildwater. The ICF has designated 2005 as an international development year. All of the ‘05 World Cup Races are being held in the UK and Ireland, on class II-III rivers that are favorable for growing Wildwater participation. In addition, Pre-World's organizers will also host a Masters Pre-World Championships in conjunction with the 2005 World Cups 5-6 in Bala (GBR). The US Wildwater Team Trials will be held March 5-6 on the class 2-3 Nantahala, and is perfect venue choice for a development year (please visit

In the Eighties, we used to dream of winning medals in canoe in the team runs at the World Championships. We came close to realizing the dream when we took home several team medals at the ’88 Pre-Words. Out of our team strength in the 80’s Andy Bridge emerged as a force in international Wildwater. We could do again!

I’m calling all able-bodied, athletic canoeists to come out and play. Come out and train and race wildwater! Now is a great time get back into the sport, or to get started. Let us know how we can help you get started. For more information, contacts, and the 2005 Race Schedule, please visit

John Pinyerd
Chairman - USA Wildwater

John Pinyerd is a 9-time USA Wildwater Team member, a Bronze Medalist in International Competition, and has won dozens of medals in Wildwater at the National level.