The sound of flooding whitewater may be enough to get your heart rate going. Add to that a few slalom paddlers determined to clock the fastest time to the finish line and you’ve got yourself a fierce competition. Slalom athletes plummet down drops, pivot around turns and battle enormous currents to complete the slalom course as quickly as possible. A standard course has about twenty gates in total, including green downstream gates and six red upstream gates. The paddler must strategize to find the fastest lines and a variety of strokes and maneuvers are used to turn the boat quickly. Slalom requires tremendous fitness, agility and technical skill. The athletes’ boat, body and head must clear every gate so they will duck and stretch to wrap around tight turns to conserve as much time as possible.
Adrenaline, agility, strength and strategy
Three types of boats are used in slalom racing – the single kayak (K1), the single canoe (C1) and the two-person canoe (C2). Slalom boats do not have rudders and are steered with the paddle and by the athlete shifting their weight to edge the boat and carve through the water. Kayakers use a double-bladed paddle and canoers use a single blade. In slalom, all paddlers are enclosed by a water-tight skirt. Kayakers are seated in the boat while canoers kneel on both knees. Helmets and lifejackets are important safety equipment.
In the qualifying round, athletes have two runs and their best time is used. The semi-final and final results are based on a single run time. Touching a gate with the boat or body constitutes a two-second penalty while a missed gate is fifty seconds. To be counted an athlete’s entire head must pass through the gate.
*denotes Olympic Event
Women’s K1 *
Men’s C-1 *
Related to Slalom
50 – A fifty second penalty for missing a gate.
Fast and clean – The expression for a good run – a fast time and clean with no touches or penalties.
Downstream/upstream gates – downstream gates are green and the paddler goes through them with the flow of the river. Upstream gates are red and the paddler must come back against the flow of the river to go through the gate in the opposite direction. Gates are numbered so the athlete must do them in order. A red slash on one side of the number indicates not to enter from this direction.
Eddy – the calm pool of water where a paddler can rest. This is usually on the side of the river or sheltered by a rock or solid structure upstream. The expression “Eddy out” means to exit the flowing water for a rest.
Edging – slalom athletes use their lower body to roll the boat. The boat’s edges help to steer through the whitewater in much the same ways as ski or snowboard edges steer in the snow.
Forerunner – In competition slalom athletes do not have the chance to test the course once it’s been set. Forerunner boats go down to demonstrate the course so athletes can watch and strategize with their coaches.
PAT – Power, angle, tilt. The technique for crossing an eddy line involves powerful strokes, angling the boat upstream and titling the boat to raise high side toward the oncoming current.
Punt – a move where an athlete will use his or her paddle to push off a rock or the side of the course. A punt can be a planned strategy for turning the boat quickly or an on-the-fly tactic if an athlete gets too close to the side.
Roll – the skill of flipping the overturned boat back upright while staying in the boat using the paddle and lower body.
Spray skirt – made of water resistant fabric or another material. In the slalom boat, the skirt does not come off when a paddler overturns unless the paddler intentionally pulls the skirt.
Spin vs Direct – depending on where the paddler needs to get to after a gate, he or she may spin the boat and go through the gate backwards to be better positioned to paddle upstream. In most circumstances spinning is considered a more conservative move to avoid the risk of being pushed too far downstream. The other approach is to “go direct” so an athlete can carry more speed by paddling forward through the gate but risks overshooting the next move depending on how fast the course is flowing.
Touch – when the paddler touches a gate with his or her body, paddle or boat they are given a two-second penalty. Only one penalty is given per gate even if the paddler touches the gate multiple times.
Wet exit – when a paddler is unable to roll their boat upright, the other option is to pull the skirt and come out of the boat in the water.