Whether you opt to canoe, kayak, or SUP board, paddling is a fantastic hobby to participate in. It’s a great way to get some healthy exercise while enjoying the world’s natural splendor. Many people like to keep their paddling hobby leisurely and simple, but others like to push it to the next level by racing. Paddling races exist all over the world. There are so many races out there, and no matter what type of paddling you enjoy, there is an incredible paddling race somewhere in the world perfect for you.
There are many bucket-list-worthy paddling races, including the Yukon River Quest, and Queen Lili'uokalani Canoe Race in North America. If you want to compete in or watch an incredible paddling race in Europe, consider the Paris SUP Open, or the Amsterdam Waterland Marathon. For a truly exotic adventure, consider racing the Nile in Uganda, or the Rio Negro in Patagonia.
Paddling races are a great way to get in shape, as they force you to diligently train, and get out on the water at times when you might prefer to stay on the couch. If you are more of a spectator, there are plenty of races around the world worth traveling for just to see the beauty and enormity of the race itself. If paddling is your passion, consider traveling to one of these 13 unique and iconic bucket-list-worthy paddling races located all around the world.
1. The Yukon River Quest, Yukon CA
The Yukon is one of the world’s most intriguing, wild, and elusive rivers. It should come as no surprise to learn one of the world’s most incredible paddling races takes place on this river. The Yukon River Quest takes place in late June when the daylight is nearly endless.
The reason for this date is that this is the longest annual paddling race in the world - so long days are essential to ensure a fast finish. This 450-mile race takes paddlers to the edge of their physical limits, all while paddling through this historically important, and naturally-stunning river.
Date(s) Of Event: Late June
Race Route And Location: Whitehorse to Dawson City, Yukon
What Makes This Race Iconic: This is considered the longest annual kayak and canoe race in the world. It covers vast areas of Klondike wilderness in this nearly 450-mile endurance race.
2. Dusi Canoe Marathon, South Africa
South Africa is home to several of the world’s top paddling races. Its rugged nature provides challenging rapids and endless waterways that are a dream for adventure paddlers. The pinnacle of these adventure paddling races is the Dusi Canoe Marathon.
This race attracts some of the most talented paddlers on the planet and is the biggest canoe race in the entire African continent. If the race is out of your comfort zone, consider viewing it before heading on a safari for some epic wildlife viewing.
Date(s) Of Event: Mid-February
Race Route And Location: Between Pietermaritzburg and Durban, South Africa
What Makes This Race Iconic: This is the biggest paddling race in Africa and a true test of endurance and skill. It brings out the best paddlers in the world and features incredible landscapes and wildlife.
3. The Green River Narrows Race, North Carolina
If you want to witness a wild adventure paddling race but can’t swing a trip to South Africa, you are in luck. One of the best adventure kayaking races is located in the United States. The Green River Narrows race, located in Ashville North Carolina, features some of the most wild and challenging rapids, and watching professionals navigate this river is a scary and thrilling experience all at once.
Date(s) Of Event: Early November
Race Route And Location: Green River Ranch, Asheville, North Carolina
What Makes This Race Iconic: This race is often dubbed the “most extreme kayak race in the world.” It is covered by international media, and an incredible race to be a spectator at. Best of all, it’s located in the USA.
4. Paris SUP Open, France
If you want to attend or view a SUP race, consider pairing this bucket-list-worthy paddling dream with a trip to the city of love. This race takes place along the River Seine and passes by some of the most iconic monuments in France, including the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame.
This race takes place in frigid December, but even still it draws crowds of over 1,000 paddlers, and it now limits participants due to its popularity.
Date(s) Of Event: Early December
Race Route And Location: Seine River, Paris
What Makes This Race Iconic: A wildly popular SUP race that follows the Seine past quaint countryside, and iconic Parisian monuments.
5. The Nile River Festival, Uganda
There is perhaps no river more famous and historically significant than the Nile. So if historically important paddling rivers are what you are after, look no further than the Nile River Festival. This paddling festival incorporates a variety of races and activities, focusing on the whitewater in Uganda’s portion of the Nile. It is one of the best ways to paddle on the Nile and a great add-on to a trip to Africa.
Date(s) Of Event: Late January
Race Route And Location: Jinja, Uganda
What Makes This Race Iconic: A rare opportunity to race and paddle on the iconic Nile River.
6. Queen Lili'uokalani Canoe Race, Hawaii
Hawaii is a world-famous paddling destination and is known for its outrigger canoe racing. It is a major part of Hawaiian history and culture, and this tradition is as strong as ever in the Aloha state. The Queen Lili’uokalani Canoe Race is Hawaii’s largest paddling event. There are various races, including youth, adult, outrigger, and SUP races. The event takes place on Hawaii’s Big Island each Labor Day weekend and attracts large crowds of spectators.
Date(s) Of Event: Labor Day weekend
Race Route And Location: Kailua-Kona, Hawaii
What Makes This Race Iconic: This is considered the largest outrigger canoe race in the world and honors Hawaii’s former Queen.
7. International Český Krumlov River Marathon
Thinking about visiting Prague or elsewhere in the Czech Republic? Then you might want to consider visiting this European nation while the International Český Krumlov River Marathon is taking place.
Echo October this adventure paddling race, the largest in South Bohemia, attracts hundreds of paddling lovers, and beer lovers alike. This country might have some great rivers for paddling, but it has even better beer. In fact, this race finishes at the embankment of a brewery.
Date(s) Of Event: October
Race Route And Location: Vltava River, Czech Republic
What Makes This Race Iconic: This is a newer race that is growing in popularity thanks to its wide array of racing options, as well as its fun and festive spirit.
8. International Descent Of The Sella
If you are looking for a paddling race that is also part of a lively festival, look no further than the International Descent Of The Sella. This race, located in a quaint seaside region of Asturias, in northern Spain, is arguably a truly one-of-a-kind paddle racing festival. There is a carnival atmosphere, with bands, food, and activities for the entire family, as well as several days of paddle racing. This festival is so major that it is even recognized by UNESCO as a world heritage tourism event.
Date(s) Of Event: The first weekend in August
Race Route And Location: Asturias, Spain
What Makes This Race Iconic: This is a race and fun-filled festival that has deep cultural routes and is even recognized by UNESCO.
9. Amsterdam Waterland Marathon
If you have always dreamed of paddling through Amsterdam’s stunning canals and tranquil waterways of The Netherlands, you should think about registering for the Amsterdam Waterland Marathon. This race will celebrate its 50th year in 2024, this is perhaps the greatest spectacle of paddling in the Netherlands. It has multiple portages, which help guarantee lots of action, and it is a great way to paddle through some of the most beautiful waterways in the Netherlands.
Date(s) Of Event: Late April
Race Route And Location: Amsterdam, The Netherlands
What Makes This Race Iconic: This iconic race has been around for more than 50 years, and is spectator-friendly, in one of the most fabled river and canal cities in the world.
10. Liffey Descent, Ireland
Ireland is known for its pristine green landscapes and picturesque cliffs, but it is also home to one of the biggest and best paddling races in Europe. The Liffey decent features 12 weirs (dams) and one portage, as well as tons of spectator viewing points. It twists and turns through the gorgeous Irish countryside, before ending just outside of Dublin, Ireland’s lively capital.
This is a great race to watch as a spectator, and also a great race to join, as there are multiple racing categories including single kayak, double kayak, and canoe categories. Whether you race or are a spectator, this Irish paddling race is loads of fun to participate in.
Date(s) Of Event: Early May
Race Route And Location: River Liffey, Ireland
What Makes This Race Iconic: The biggest and most popular paddling race in Ireland, with ample spectator viewing opportunities and racing categories.
11. Regatta Del Rio Negro, Argentina
If you are looking for a major challenge and a true wilderness paddling race, then it makes sense to look in the direction of Patagonia. This race is located on the Rio Negro in northern Patagonia and lasts eight days. The race is conducted in six stages, with two breaks.
This is a challenging race and stretches a whopping 405 miles. So it is definitely more for avid paddlers who are looking for a once-in-a-lifetime challenge. But for those up for this challenge, there are few rivers and courses more rewarding than this epic Patagonian river.
Date(s) Of Event: January
Race Route And Location: The Rio Negro, from Neuquén to Viedma, Argentina
What Makes This Race Iconic: This is the longest kayak race in the world and takes place in Patagonia, one of the most stunning paddling regions on Earth.
12. The Hawaiki Nui Va’a, Bora Bora
The world’s longest open-ocean outrigger paddling race in the world is both a terrifying and beautiful spectacle. Located in French Polynesia, this culturally important and death-defying three-day paddling journey is one for the legends.
The Hawaiki Nui Va’a is an 80-mile race connecting three leeward French Polynesian Islands: Huahine, Raiatea, Tahaa, and Bora Bora. It is part cultural in that it honors the outrigger canoe and the ancestors who paddled on the open ocean in search of food and in the spirit of exploration. It is also part of endurance and fearlessness, as this challenging race goes through high seas that can be wild and unpredictable. While registration and participation are difficult to procure, it is a great event to witness, so if you ever plan on visiting this Pacific paradise, consider coming in November, when this race usually takes place.
Date(s) Of Event: November (although dates vary each year)
Race Route And Location: Huahine, Raiatea, Tahaa, and Bora Bora, French Polynesia
What Makes This Race Iconic: It is the longest open-ocean outrigger race and celebrates important Polynesian paddling history and culture.
13. Avon Decent, Australia
No bucket-list-worthy paddling race list is fully complete without including at least one great race in the land down under. While there are many great paddling races in Australia, The Avon Decent is arguably the most famous and noteworthy. While the Murray Marathon is Australia’s longest paddling race, the Avon Decent is a two-day exciting and often-grueling 77-mile paddling race in Western Australia.
If this difficult paddling journey is outside your comfort zone, consider being a spectator. The Avon River and this course specifically travels through some of the most stunning landscapes in Western Australia. While there are some great paddling races in and near Sydney, this is the best way to experience wild Australia through paddling.
Date(s) Of Event: August
Race Route And Location: Northam to Bayswater, Western Australia
What Makes This Race Iconic: This race is celebrating 50 years and is considered a true bucket-list-worthy adventure paddling race in Australia.