Like many Olympic sports with ancient roots, canoe and kayak racing evolved from the great and proud history of boats propelled with paddles dating back to the Stone Age, from Samaria to the Americas, Greenland, Australia and Oceania. These craft were used as a mode of transport, fishing and battle. The original kayak was developed by indigenous cultures in the northern Arctic regions, which kept the frigid Arctic waters from entering the boat. The kayaks were made by stretching animal skins over a frame of wood.
As societies developed and leisure time became more available, canoe and kayaking became a popular recreational activity. Competition in canoes began in the mid-19th century. The Royal Canoe Club of London was founded in 1866 by Captain John MacGregor whose touring exploits in the original Rob Roy established canoeing as a sport. In 1871 the New York Canoe Club was founded. The first women’s competition was organised in Russia. The International Canoe Federation (“ICF”) was founded on the 19th of January 1924 in Copenhagen, Denmark, and in 2002 the ICF designated the second Sunday in June as World Canoeing Day.
At Paris in 1924 Flatwater Racing was introduced to the Olympic programme as a demonstration sport. It became a full medal sport at Berlin in 1936 with both canoe and kayak events. Women began Olympic canoeing, competing only in kayaks at London in 1948. In 1938 the 1st ICF Flatwater Racing World Championships were held at Vaxholm in Sweden.
In New Zealand, Maori canoe races or Kaipara waka hoehoe were, in the earliest years of European settlement, a common feature at local sports meetings. When the annual regatta was held at Port Nicholson a canoe race was usually featured. The earliest recorded canoe race was between two waka taua (war canoes) which were paddled by full crews from Te Aro beach to Nga Uranga, round a flag boat and back to the starting point. One canoe was under the command of Wi Tako, the eventual winner, and the other that of Honiana Te Puni. A regatta organised by Wanganui settlers on 27 February 1843 featured waka races in which Maori and Europeans competed.
The first club in New Zealand was the Tainui Canoe Club established in Wellington in 1881 as a branch of the Royal Canoe Club of London. Prior to Word War II clubs did not collaborate and soon after the war the last of them wound up. In 1950 a group of 23 Aucklanders, mainly university students, formed the New Zealand Canoeing Association which became incorporated in 1958 and reconstituted as a federation in 1991. The foundation President from 1950-59 was J D Mason. The first National Championships were held in 1955 at the Aramoho course in Wanganui and slalom events were contested in the Manawatu Gorge.
Crews from Auckland, Wanganui, Te Awamutu, Palmerston North and Wellington took part.
New Zealand has a proud Olympic Canoe Racing history which began at Munich in 1972 when Donald Cooper and Tom Dooney became the sport’s first Olympians and Stan Robinson its first Olympic Official. At Los Angeles in 1984 New Zealand’s Ian Ferguson, Paul MacDonald, Alan Thompson and Grant Bramwell won four gold medals between them in the K1 500, K1 1000, K2 500 and K4 1000 – the only New Zealand Sport ever to achieve such an accomplishment at a single Games.
In the 1982 World Championships Alan Thompson became the first New Zealand athlete to win a World Championship medal. Ian Ferguson, Paul MacDonald, Grant Bramwell and Ben Fouhy have also won World Championship medals with Ian Ferguson, Paul Macdonald and Ben Fouhy having won World Championship titles.
At Seoul in 1988, Ferguson and MacDonald again won a gold, silver and bronze medal between them and Ferguson was honoured as Flag Bearer of the New Zealand Olympic Team at the Opening Ceremony.
In 2004 Ben Fouhy became New Zealand’s 5th Olympic medal winner when he won a silver medal at the Athens Games.
In 2012 a team of six athletes competed at the London Olympics – Steven Ferguson, Darryl Fitzgerald, Lisa Carrington, Erin Taylor, Ben Fouhy and Teneale Hatton. Lisa Carrington was the most successful of the team winning the womens K1 200m race and bringing home the coveted gold medal making her the 6th Olympic medal winner in New Zealand’s canoe sprint racing history.
Lisa Carrington then topped that performance at the 2016 Olympics in Rio making history to be the first NZ woman to win multiple medals in the same Olympic Games. She won gold in the K1 200m and then bronze in the K1 500m. The fledgling womens K4 crew placed 5th in the 500m event making this the most successful women’s team in Canoe Racing NZ’s Olympic history. Lisa now holds the most individual World Championship titles in NZ Canoe Sprint’s history.
The 2020 Olympics in Tokyo were delayed due to the Covid 19 Pandemic, being held a year later in August 2021 but this did not deter the kiwi kayakers. Lisa Carrington achieved the incredible K1 200m and K1 500m double, winning her 3rd and 4th gold medals, including her 3rd consecutive in the K1 200m. Lisa paired up with Caitlin Regal (nee Ryan) in the K2 500m and together they claimed gold in a world-best time. This 3rd gold medal of the games made Lisa Carrington the most successful NZ Olympian of all time (6 medals- 5 gold and 1 bronze). Lisa and Caitlin teamed up with Alicia Hoskin and Teneale Hatton in the K4 500m and finished in 4th place. A standout performance of the games was the mens K2 pair, Kurtis Imrie and Max Brown, who powered to a stunning 5th place in the final, well exceeding expectations.
In the 2020 Paralympics, Scott Martlew and Corbin Hart proudly represented NZ, finishing 4th and 13th in their respective kayaking events.
Donald Cooper 1972
Thomas Dooney 1972
Ian Ferguson 1976, 1980, 1984, 1988, 1992; 4 gold, 1 silver
Rodney Gavin 1976
John Leonard 1976
Alan Thompson 1980, 1984, 1988; 2 gold
Geoffrey Walker 1980
Grant Bramwell 1984, 1988; 1 gold
Robert Jenkinson 1984
Paul MacDonald 1984, 1988, 1992; 3 gold, 1 silver
Edwin Richards 1984
Brent Clode 1988
John MacDonald 1988, 1992
Stephen Richards 1988, 1992
Richard Boyle 1992
Finn O’Connor 1992
Mark Scheib 1992
Steven Ferguson 2004, 2008, 2012
Ben Fouhy 2004, 2008, 2012; 1 silver
Mike Walker 2008
Erin Taylor 2008, 2012
Lisa Carrington 2012, 2016, 2020; 5 gold, 1 bronze
Teneale Hatton 2012, 2020
Darryl Fitzgerald 2012
Marty McDowell 2016
Jaimee Lovett 2016
Kayla Imrie 2016
Caitlin Ryan 2016, 2020; 1 gold
Aimee Fisher 2016
Scott Martlew 2016, 2020 (Paralympian)
Alicia Hoskin 2020
Kurtis Imrie 2020
Max Brown 2020
Corbin Hart 2020 (Paralympian)
In 1985 Ian Ferguson was made a Member Of The British Empire in the New Year Honours for his services and achievements in canoeing. Paul MacDonald has also been awarded an MBE.
In 2005 Ben Fouhy was made a member of the New Zealand Order of Merit
In 2013 Lisa Carrington was awarded a New Years Honour and was appointed to the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to kayaking. In the 2022 New Year Honours, Carrington was promoted to Dame Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit.
Ian Ferguson, 2 gold, 1 silver
Alan Thompson, 1 gold, 2 silver, 1 bronze
Paul MacDonald, 3 gold, 3 silver
Ben Fouhy, 1 gold
Lisa Carrington, 10 gold, 5 silver, 2 bronze
Caitlin Ryan, 1 gold, 2 silver, 1 bronze
Aimee Fisher, 1 gold, 2 silver, 1 bronze
Kayla Imrie, 2 silver, 1 bronze
Scott Martlew, 1 silver, 1 bronze
In 1984 Ian Ferguson was honoured as the Halberg Award recipient. In 2003 Ben Fouhy was New Zealand Sports Man of the Year and at the 2004 Halbergs Ian Ferguson received the SPARC Leadership award.
In 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2021 Lisa Carrington won the Sportswoman of the Year and in 2016 and 2021 she also won the Supreme Award. Coach Gordon Walker won Coach of the year for 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2021.
In 2020, Lisa Carrington won Sportswoman of the Decade and Gordon Walker was awarded Coach of the Decade.
New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame
In 2003 Ian Ferguson, Paul MacDonald and Alan Thompson were inducted into the New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame
In 1979 and 1984 Ian Ferguson was awarded the New Zealand Olympic Committee’s Lonsdale Cup. In 1985 he and Paul MacDonald received the award. Paul MacDonald again received the award in 1987. In 2016 Lisa Carrington was the first female kayaker to receive this award.
IOC Annual Trophy
In 1996 Ian Ferguson was awarded the IOC’s Centennial Olympic Games Trophy.