Canoe or Kayak, what’s the difference?

Simply put, a canoe paddle has a blade on one end connected by a shaft to a handle on the other end, whereas a kayak paddle has a blade on either end connected by a shaft. 

Flatwater sprint c1 canoe
C1 Canoe Sprint Olympic Champion Sebastian Brendel
Sprint kayak k1
K1 Kayak Sprint Olympic Champion Liam Heath

More specific to paracanoe, the boats are single person kayak, or single person Va’a canoe. The Va’a is much longer than the kayak and has an outrigger (float) traditionally called the ‘ama’ suspended by a rigger or boom known as the ‘aito’.

There are many types of canoe and kayak suitable for the event engaged in. For the moment, Paracanoe events are limited to 200 metres on a flatwater course, so the boats are designed to be as fast as possible in a straight line in calm water. Athletes don’t ‘barrel roll’ or race on fast flowing water, they race for 200 metres in a straight line in the fastest time physically possible. There are two types of paracanoe discipline, Va’a canoe and K1 kayak, and within each discipline there are 3 disability classes, with events matched for male and female.                                                      Kayak: KL1, KL2, KL3                                  Va’a: VL1, VL2, VL3                                      The numbers 1,2, & 3 refer to the severity of impairment according to the international classification rules, and following official classification, the athletes then compete in the category appropriate to their disability, to try to ensure that races are as fair as possible. Historically this has caused conflict at times amongst many athletes and competing nations, but recent changes and advancements in classification testing methods have made the process much more accurate, leading to very close and intense racing throughout. 

The Va’a or outrigger canoe has been around for over 4000 years and used as a means of transport in some areas of the world, but in more recent years, has been used in tahiti and hawaii as a race boat, and as a result, has seen vast improvement in development to improve its performance.

Vintage outrigger canoe on Hawaiian shore
Traditional outrigger canoe on Hawaiian shore.
Va'a Paracanoe
Today’s carbon fibre racing Va’a used in Paracanoe

Within paracanoe racing, there are strict specification rules of which the boats must fit within. For paracanoe kayaks, boats must be no less than 50cm in width and no greater than 520cm in length. Weight is limited to 12kg. The dimensions allow various different brands of boat to be used (many boats advertised as stable kayaks or touring boats fit within the rules). The Va’a is slightly different with no width limit at present, a maximum length of 730cm and a total weight including ama (outrigger) of no less than 13kg.