It has been suggested that canoe/kayak orienteering (CKO) is the same as Foot Orienteering with the exception of an added boat for travel.

But you need to think of CK Orienteering as more like a BOAT race, that just so happens to have Orienteering in it.

Nuance matters when attracting paddlers
It is a subtle yet important difference that will drastically impact your race turnout.

Canoe/Kayak Orienteering and Foot Orienteering seem to “at-a-glance” be similar.

However, their cultures are very different.

Just because you have the same essential mechanics does not make you alike.

Are Baseball and Cricket alike? They both have bats, balls, and bases.

Yet to ignore this difference is to alienate your potential participant and cause them to go elsewhere.

That is no way to build a sport!

And it is a certain recipe for poor race day turnout.

Consider the following for a moment:

Size Matters: Canoers/Kayakers (Paddlers) versus Orienteers
The Canoe/Kayak community has over 1-million enthusiast nation wide (and growing) — out of which hundreds of thousands participate in canoe/kayak races every year.

Orienteering could only WISH to touch those numbers!

Stability Matters: Traditional versus Niche Markets
Organizing CKO event on the same day as a major Adventure Race, Boat Race, Crew Regatta, or even Boy Scout event nearby is a massive task.

Chances are, if a paddlers have a choice, the market trends show that they will choose an ordinary boating event over the orienteering one.


Boating events are better funded, better sponsored, and probably has pizza too!

Ever been to an orienteering race with pizza?

Me neither.

This makes a CKO race the odd-man when a Foot Orienteering style of race production is used.

A CKO event just cannot go head-to-head with a boating event.

It needs its own space and its own time to become familiar to potential racers if it is to succeed.

Simply put, a CKO race needs to be on a non-boat race day to even get a shot at a decent turnout.

Organization Matters: Consistency versus Ad Hoc
Boating races are advertised months in advance.

This means they’ve not only had the benefit of last year’s advertising, but the garden variety paddler has most likely been aware of that race since before the season even started.

So when Orienteering clubs try to throw something together at the last minute, they tend to forget to consider the market influences that will impact their event — that is if they follow through and hold the CKO race in the first place.

Several clubs last year planned CKO events but then either never advertised them successfully or just couldn’t get the event off the water to being with.

If a boating event organizer ever announced an event and then pulled out, you could beat real money that boat racers would steer clear of that race in following years.

This means that Orienteering Clubs and CKO Event Organizers need to plan their events months in advance and then actually hold the event.

Rain or shine.

Be it 15 or 150 racers.

And then try it again in the following year.

This is how boating events built their market base — one race at a time.

CKO needs to do the same thing only not on the fly and not 2-weeks before the event.

If your race is not getting to the riders at least 6-months in advance, your are already loosing the fight.

Turn to the back of any kayaking magazine — see any CKO races advertised there?

No? Why not?

The unmistakable popularity of canoe and kayak racing is the draw CKO event organizers need to use to increase turnout.

By going after the paddling market above and beyond the orienteering market, you not only expand your exposure to potential racers, but you just might help CKO take off in America after all.

So break yourself of this paradigm that Canoe/Kayak Orienteering is Orienteering with boats.


Canoe/Kayak Orienteering is Boat Racing WITH Orienteering.

Once you and others begin to embrace that subtle difference — that is not all that subtle when you start to unravel it — it is then that CKO will begin to flourish in America.

Posted by Kyle Bondo

Kyle started Reckoneer with the simple mission of helping those who want to become race directors and learn the mechanics of outdoor recreation engineering. Kyle demystifies outdoor racing with over 20 years of endurance and outdoor industry business knowledge. Combined with his top-rated podcast Merchants of Dirt, dozens of articles, lessons, and infographics, Kyle has made Reckoneer the premier educator in outdoor event management. Build better races today!