The Extreme Sport of Ice Canoeing
Words by Mony Sy
Canoe, white water kayak, dragon boat, outrigger. I’ve been an addict of paddle sports for as long as I can remember. One sport that has been on my mind for many years, but I did not dare try it, was ice canoeing.
Living in Quebec, the cold rules many months out of the year, keeping the paddling season short. This is what pushed me one day to give ice canoeing a try. My goal was to stay on the water despite the cold. Not like any other paddling sport I had tried in the past, ice canoeing soon got me hooked, and I’m now in my 4th season.
Ice canoeing was born out of necessity in Quebec. Back in the old days, people braved the mighty Saint-Laurence river in winter to deliver supplies to villages on the other side of its icy waters using their small boats. Over time, this transformed into an extreme sport. Today, a select few crazy athletes venture out all winter on the cold waters. Where the ice is solid, teams push the canoe while running, making their way on the cracked, uneven stretches of ice carried by the current. Navigating around the boulders in search of the easiest route is a mix of strategy and luck. When the ice is slushy, teams revert to pushing the boat in sync, one knee in the boat, the other leg on the slush, so not to risk falling neck-deep into the knife-like cold water. When the slush becomes too thin, paddlers jump on board the canoe and row. Although the boat is a canoe, it is really propelled on the water by rowing, with a steersman directing the canoe.
Photograph by Maxime Riendeau
When I first started ice canoeing, I was struck by the lack of specialized equipment. Paddlers modify existing gear to tailor it to the sport. Metal spikes are added to rugby shoes to provide grip, hockey knee pads protect legs as paddlers jump in and out of the boat, metal spikes are added to the steersman’s paddle to help push off the ice. Wooden canoe paddles were used. Being an outrigger paddler, I’m used to high-tech, low-weight carbon fiber paddles. After a while, I decided to modify my Kialoa outrigger paddle. Drilling holes into its blade was a heartbreak, but after using it in the ice canoe, I was quickly consoled and happy with the decision. Ice canoeing is a very intense sport which involves running, pushing, pulling, and paddling. The steersman is required to manipulate the paddle in many different ways. Having a resistant and low-weight paddle has proven to be make it much less difficult, and I’m sure has been a factor in our improved results.
What next? Our whole team is now looking at specialized outrigger gear, and specifically, at outrigger paddles. For now, Kialoa has been our secret weapon to outrace some of the other teams. Time will tell how long we can keep these paddles as our secret weapon as others discover how advantageous they are.
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