Paddlers competing at the 2019 ICF Ocean Racing World Championships in France – the last time the event was held.


It’s been clouded by uncertainty, but organisers of the ICF Ocean Racing World Championships in Lanzarote insist the race will go ahead with official ‘World Championship’ status.

The committee has been faced with the unenviable task of ensuring the showpiece race goes ahead as planned on July 4.

National federations from Oceania, lead by surfski powerhouses Australia, have withdrawn their teams from international racing this year.

The loss of an associated ‘competitive integrity’ that has occurred as a result has lead to calls for the 2021 titles to be cancelled.

However, now three weeks out, it will proceed.

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“There have been a huge number of limitations caused by many parties, but we will get there.” Lanzarote Organising Committee communications manager Ignacio Soler Fabre says.

“We will work to deliver a top-tier event under safe conditions.

“For the Canary Islands, it truly means a lot to host an ICF World Champs – even if it is under these circumstances.”

“We’re still pushing onwards.”

The major logistical hurdle for event organisers has been maintaining its World Championship status.

Under International Canoe Federation legislation, a World Championship event must have competitors from three continents and boast five nations within each age group.

Organisers are adamant they will meet these requirements, with athletes from Europe, Africa, North America and South America booked all committed to attending.

In total, there will be more than 20 countries represented.

“I think a lot of Cory Hill, Mackenzie Hynard, Georgia Laird and Danielle McKenzie… some of the stars who will not be able to be here,” Soler Fabre says.

“I know it will be tough to see an event where Australia is not represented… but we have to think of this event as something that will keep the industry moving.

“It’s not just about the athletes getting a medal… it’s also about all parties involved in the sport.”

It’s a view that’s widespread across the international paddling community – but one that has been met with some resistance.

Several notable decision-makers from federations that are unable to attend have publicly stated their disapproval that the event has maintained its World Championship status.

“In the end, everything that contributes to the growth of the sport – in my view – should be going ahead.”

“Whether that’s a private firm that wants to invest in the sport or a club that wants to organize a race… everything that keeps the sport going forward and bringing more people to paddling is something positive.

“If there’s anyone who thinks otherwise, they should reconsider their role in the sport.”

The Perfect Boat for any Paddler

South Africa has been at the centre of this discussion.

As the most successful nation since the ICF began holding Ocean Racing World Championships in 2013, their attendance carries plenty of weight within the surfski community.

But the emergence of a South African COVID strain, on top of the routine travel issues faced by its citizens, means this is no easy task.

As it stands, South Africans are banned from travelling to Spain – although there are slim hopes that exemptions will be granted to allow the team to travel and race.

Regardless, several athletes hold dual passports and are will utilise this to make the trip.

Canoeing South Africa Secretary General Colin Simpkins maintains a diplomatic view of the event, telling The Paddler his opinion holds “no consequence” as to whether the 2021 race should maintain its World Championship status.

“This is determined by the number of countries and the number of continents,” he says. “There is no stipulation of which countries and which continents.”

“If we want these statutes changed, any national federation is at liberty to make a proposal.

“If the event does go ahead without the majority of the world’s best paddlers, all who attend will appreciate this.

“The title will be somewhat watered down… [but] would it be worse to deny those who have the opportunity?”

Sean Rice celebrating his 2019 ICF Ocean Racing World Championship win.

For the South African team members who hold dual passports, they are seizing their opportunity.

At least eight athletes are still planning to make the trip, including Michelle Burn – who is one of the standout contenders to claim the women’s title.

“What I’ve been saying to a lot of people is no, of course it won’t be one of those World Titles where if I won I would claim being the best in the world,” she tells The Paddler.

“But at the same time, I think it’s so important for the sport and ourselves as athletes.

“It’s almost like holding a sport ransom by two countries that are not deciding to go… [and for] how long will that be?”

“We can’t let other people dictate what we’re able to carry on with or not.

“If the Olympics go ahead, but there are a couple of countries that are unable to attend, no one is going to say, ‘You didn’t really win the Olympics’… it’s not fair on the people that are able to go.”

The Perfect Boat for any Paddler

This commitment doesn’t come lightly for Burn.

A mother of two young children, she’ll be making the trip on her own.

“It’s unfortunate and it’s not great and it is what it is,” Burn says.

“But it’s for the sake of the sport… it’s so great that we’re able to have a World Championships and if we can help them to have it, then it’s important to try and get there.”

Michelle Burn on her way to the beach to claim the 2021 South African national title. PHOTOGRAPH: © Anthony Grote.

Nick Notten is another of the high-profile South African paddlers who are eligible to travel for the race.

He admits it’s been a disrupted preparation.

After competing in South Africa’s marathon kayaking championships at the start of the month, Notten says he’s been able to squeeze “a few good sessions” in around his work and Masters studies into sports science.

“Having said that, that would probably be my response coming up to any World Champs… there’s very few races that you get to saying, ‘I have prepared 100% for this race and I am completely satisfied.’” He laughs.

Nick Notten has cemented his status as one of the world’s leading paddlers. PHOTOGRAPH: © Anthony Grote.

“I think given the circumstances I have done enough to be alright.

“It’s so exciting to ever be able to race on the world stage… so any opportunity that you get to do that, I always jump for.

“If COVID-19 has taught us anything, it’s that we’ll never know when the next race that we’re allowed to do is.

“Even if there’s a small chance that you can do some race, an international race or just compete… it’s almost a bit of a no-brainer.”

The Perfect Boat for any Paddler

Competition at the 2021 Ocean Racing World Championships will be held within a race window from July 4 to 7.

The Paddler will provide detailed updates and reporting on the event, so follow us on Facebook by clicking here or on Instagram