The first canoes and kayaks were made thousands of years ago by native Americans and Polynesian islanders. They were originally used for hunting, fishing and transport on water.
Racing began in the 19th century, after British travel writer John MacGregor copied the design of the ancient boats, and founded the Royal Canoe Club of England in 1866.
Today, races are held on both flat water and white water courses at sites across the world.
In the Sprint competitions, paddlers race across still water over distances of 500m and 1000m. There are events for single athletes (C1, K1), pairs (C2, K2) and fours (K4) and all competition takes place in nine-abreast racing.
Within canoe racing there are two disciplines, Canoe Sprint and Canoe Slalom. Canoe is a generic term and includes kayaks and canoes. The kayak 'paddler' is in a sitting position with a double-ended paddle and the canoe 'paddler' kneels in the boat using a single-bladed paddle.
Canoe Sprint reached the Olympic Games as a demonstration event in 1924. It became a full medal sport at Berlin 1936, with women first competing (Kayak only) in London 1948.