The International Canoe Federation (ICF) has confirmed dates for its 2022 Stand Up Paddling World Championships to be held in Gdynia, Poland. The “ICF Worlds” are slated for September 7-11 and will feature the usual disciplines of sprints, course race and marathon across junior, open and masters divisions.
We even got a beach.
Poland as host isn’t news: Gdynia was already announced during the 2021 ICF Worlds in Hungary back in September though dates weren’t locked in until last Friday. The full announcement hasn’t dropped yet but the basic details are already up on the official site.
September is a busy month for international racing, however the fact this event is being hosted in central Europe and has “world championship” in the title (and the fact Hungary was so well-rated by athletes) suggests the ICF will attract most of the world’s best paddlers to Poland (we might even get a few Aussies over there now that flying is a thing again).
The dates also create an interesting double-header with the classic SUP11-City Tour in Holland (Sept 14-18 and driving distance from Gdynia), which I have a good feeling we’ll be hearing more about in the coming weeks…
Just as it was this year, I expect the 2022 ICF Worlds to be the most competitive event of the season. Standout performers at the 2021 Championships were Fiona Wylde (2x gold), Noic Garioud (2x gold and a silver), Titouan Puyo (marathon gold), Elena Prokhorova (sprint gold) and Connor Baxter (2x silver). Spain swept the junior podiums and we also witnessed the emergence of nations to the east after Russia and Ukraine put on medal-winning performances.
I don’t know a whole lot about Gdynia (or even how to pronounce it) but the basic geography is easy enough: The port city lies in the Gulf of Gdańsk on the Baltic Sea about half an hour north of Gdańsk city (Poland’s fourth-largest). There’s very little chance of waves but we do have a nice beach to add some atmosphere to proceedings (the shot below shows the actual event site). Gdynia’s weather in early September seems to average around 20°C, which isn’t exactly peak summer but should be rather pleasant for competitors.
Poland may seem an odd choice in general but in the world of canoeing it’s a well-known destination. The city of Poznań is a regular ICF host, while the country has won the sixth-most canoeing medals out of all nations at the Olympics. In other words, expect Gdynia to be a similar type of event to what we saw in paddling-powerhouse Hungary this year.
The ICF Worlds probably won’t be the only SUP event the International Canoe Federation sanctions next year. I heard a lot of chatter from athletes after Hungary about an expanded schedule, and I’ve had a few conversations myself with the ICF about their plans for the future. I’ll respectfully stay tight-lipped on that for now but suffice it to say the ICF is very bullish on SUP (I even heard a new rumour yesterday that they’ve already got a host set for 2023).
We also have a new President at the ICF after Germany’s Thomas Konietzko was elected at the federation’s biennial congress a few weeks ago. Konietzko, previously an ICF Vice-President, is known to be in favour of stand up.
It’s all happening, folks. Tear up the history books, the canoe boys are here; get ready for paddling and pierogi in Poland next year.
It’s hard to look at the ICF Worlds without considering the ISA Worlds (and vice versa). The tug-of-war between the two Olympic federations over who might get to “own” the Olympic version of stand up paddling one day seems to have no end in sight (despite a court case in Switzerland last year that was supposed to provide some finality–it didn’t). The 2022 ISA Worlds were announced just last week for the surf-friendly island of Puerto Rico in a move that gives the International Surfing Federation some momentum after two very quiet years (Puerto Rico dates and location won’t be known until the new year but it’ll be November).
The obvious criticism of the ICF is that they’re an old, “boring,” flat-water-only federation, which would kill the excitement and aspirational appeal of surf racing (in fairness, surf racing was dying long before the ICF came along, and the federation does actually sanction a few ocean paddling events). The other obvious criticism of the canoe boys is they were very late to the party–Gdynia will be just the third edition ICF Worlds following the inaugural event in Qingdao, China back in 2019 and the hit-out on Lake Balaton in Hungary 10 weeks ago. By contrast, the ISA Worlds in Puerto Rico will be the 9th edition.
But the past is exactly that, and both the federations (and our tribal SUP community itself) need to focus more on the future. “Who wants to stand up and be a proactive leader in this sport?” is the question I’m most interested in.
Perhaps a more serious issue for the ICF is the fact they have so many disciplines to juggle (canoe, kayak, SUP, etc; at least half a dozen different sports), which is something Prez Konietzko raised in his victory speech. I quote the man as he spoke to attended ICF delegates in Rome earlier this month:
“The diversity of our disciplines is our greatest strength. But our diversity is also our biggest challenge, because so many different interests have to be taken into account, and that is why we all have to stand united. My vision for the future of our federation is to achieve together the best for our sport, united in our vision. For this we need all our stakeholders, we need all of you. We don’t need a revolution to make our federation fit for the future, but we need evolution.”
Indeed, I’ve heard some grumbles from sprint canoe/kayak paddlers who view SUP as the pretty new girl on the scene stealing the ICF’s attention. There’s probably some truth in that but we’ll have to wait and see how it plays out. And as our buddy from Germany said, “evolution” is necessary. The ICF certainly has more ammunition than the ISA so perhaps they can handle this multi-disciplined circus act. And it goes both ways anyway: The ISA was heavily criticised for putting all its eggs in the Olympic surfing basket over the past 18 months and seemingly forgetting about SUP.
While paddletics can be draining (great for pageviews though, amiright?), I take a half-glass-full approach to this whole saga these days: it’s better having two federations involved in our sport than none. Even the most devout cynic would surely recognise this as a win, because at the very least the ISA and ICF will keep pushing each other in an Olympic-sized pissing contest and that should produce a net positive for the wider sport. And hey, one of them might just emerge as a trustworthy leader and partner to the core SUP community as we all work to move the sport forward. Wouldn’t that be something?
Big September (or SUPtember)
Speculating a little further, September 7-11 sets up an interesting double-header with the longest-running race in the world (and one of the longest races full stop), the classic SUP11-City Tour in the Dutch province of Friesland. The fact it’s a relatively easy drive between Gdynia and Friesland means we should see a bit of spillover for paddlers wanting to maximise their time in Europe in September. It also allows us to view the full spectrum of the sport within the span of 10 days (everything from 200 metres to 200 kilometres). I’ve long said the ultras are a legitimate race format in their own right and I think this will give that hypothesis a boost.
I know I’ll be in Gdynia and then head straight to the five-day version of the 11 Cities (Sept 14-18), and I suspect a few of the top athletes will be joining me on the road. That could give the already-popular 11 Cities the elite spice it needs to become the “Tour de France on water.”
The SUP racing calendar is always crowded in September and 2022 will be on different. I just heard the ever-fledgling APP world tour is trying to get two events off the ground that month, one in Europe and one in Japan–dates for which may be complicated by the ICF confirmation (which would be a funny twist considering the APP is part-owned by the ISA). I’m also hearing of a revived European Championships (“The Euros” as we used to call them), an event that ran for a few years several years ago as some sort of European version of the ISA Worlds. Apparently the European Surfing Federation is working with the Danish crew that hosted ISA 2017 to produce something on the West Coast of Denmark in the first week of September 2022. The Euros never lived up to the hype back in ~2016, but the Danish crew know how to put on an event so it might be something cool (perhaps even the unofficial warm-up race for the ICF Worlds in an ironic blending of federations).
Throw in the traditional Euro Tour, a few more ultras and the usual array of regional races around the place and next September is going to be a bloody busy month in Europe (Omicron be damned). Season 2021 isn’t even over and I’m already getting excited about ’22.