Member of Team USA Competes in Paralympic ParacanoeMember of Team USA Competes in Paralympic Paracanoe


Paralympic canoeing is a fast-paced, short-distance sport dictated by stability and strength. The 200-meter race runs on a straight course with calm waters, helping athletes reach top speeds.

Canoeing as an organized sport has been around since the mid-1800s, and it has been an Olympic sport since 1936. Paracanoeing, on the other hand, was developed in 2009 by the International Canoe Federation (IFC), the group that still governs the sport today. Though athletes have been competing in the world championships since the inception of the sport, Paralympic canoeing made its debut at the 2016 Rio Games.

Paracanoe requires intense upper-body strength and agility. Canoeists swing their double-blade paddles from one side to the other, back and forth, pulling themselves across the water. Though the athletes make their trek look fluid, it takes intense balance and a strong core to operate the boats—especially at such great speeds. The goal of the race is quite simple: be the first canoeist to reach the finish.



Paracanoeing introduced by the International Canoe Federation

International Paralympic Committee (IPC) adds paracanoe to the 2016 Paralympic Games

Paracanoe debuted in the Paralympic Games


Paralympic canoeing consists of a single event: the 200-meter race. Men and women compete separately in each of the three sport class categories in this single-person race.


In other international paracanoe competitions, the sport features two different vessels: kayaks and va’as. In competition involving va’as, or outrigger canoes, the athletes use single-blade paddles in contrast to the kayak’s double-blade paddle. Va’as are not currently used in Paralympic Games competition.

Each Paralympic athlete competes in a customized kayak. A paddler with no trunk or leg function, for example, may use a kayak with a heavier bottom to help lower their center of gravity. Backrests are used in kayaks for those athletes that need more trunk support.

Kayaks weigh at least 12 kilograms (26 pounds), are up to 5.2 meters (17 feet) long, and are minimally 50 centimeters (20 inches) wide. The athletes race down lanes that are 9 meters (30 feet) wide.


Who’s to judge? Electronic sensors mark race starting positions, and judges at the start and finish lines report any irregularities.

At their core: Paracanoeing is essentially the same as Olympic canoeing in terms of training and form, and both are exceptional core and full-body workouts that require balance.

Room for growth: Blind or visually impaired athletes and those with intellectual disabilities are not currently included in paracanoeing—but more races may be added as the sport grows and garners attention.

Get your bearings: Many kayaking terms are familiar to any boater. The deck is the cover or top of the kayak. Paddlers sit inside the cockpit, which is an opening in the deck. The bearing is the direction a paddler wishes to go to reach their destination, and the heading is the direction the bow, or front of the kayak, is pointing.

Athlete Spotlight:

Alana Nichols

Alana Nichols competed in her fifth Paralympic Games as the sport of paracanoe debuted in Rio. A Paralympic gold medalist in both wheelchair basketball and skiing, Alana will stop at nothing to reach her athletic goals.

Nichols grew up in New Mexico and spent winters snowboarding on the slopes of Colorado. At 17 she broke her back in an attempted back-flip, instantly paralyzing her body from the waist down. Two years after the tragedy, Nichols began college at the University of New Mexico. When she saw a group of women in wheelchairs playing basketball, Nichols’ competitive spirit began to burn again. She wanted to take them on, to compete. Thus began her career in adaptive sports.

In 2006, Nichols and the U.S. Women’s Wheelchair Basketball Team won the world championships, and in 2008 the team took gold in Beijing. But after spending so much time on the court, Nichols was missing the snow, so she moved to Colorado and began training for adaptive skiing. Just two years later Nichols became the first U.S. female athlete to win gold in both the winter and summer Paralympics when she joined the U.S. Paralympic Women’s Skiing Team in Vancouver. In 2012 she was back to the summer Paralympic Games in London for wheelchair basketball. And in 2016, she joined the first-ever U.S. Women’s Paracanoe Team as a KL2 athlete.

Althete Spotlight Alana Nichols


Paralympic canoeing competition is open to male and female athletes with physical impairments such as spinal cord injuries or amputationsDefinition: Amputate: to cut (as a limb) from the body..

Note: The models presented below are examples. A classification evaluation must be performed to determine an athlete’s sport class(es).

Physical Impairment

Visual Impairment

Intellectual Impairment

Paracanoe athletes are grouped into three sport classes.





Athletes in this sport class have no leg function and little to no trunk function.

Impairment Severity Scale



KL2 athletes have partial trunk and leg function, which allows them to sit upright in the kayak but have limited leg movement during paddling.

Impairment Severity Scale



Athletes in this sport class have stronger trunk and leg function than athletes in other sport classes. They are able to sit in a forward, flexed position and are able to use at least one leg or prosthesisDefinition: An artificial body part such as a leg or an arm. for movement and support.

Impairment Severity Scale