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Paddle On!

Get out and enjoy these Heartland-area paddling events for beginners, experts and families.

Floatzilla attempts a Guinness World Record raft-up.

Floatzilla attempts a Guinness World Record raft-up.

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The old images of “paddling” were of fur-trading voyageurs or diehard canoeists grinding it out with the rain and bugs. Things have changed, as paddle-sport participation has exploded.

According to the American Canoe Association, there was a 50-percent percent increase in recreational kayaking participants from 2006 to 2011, with fishing kayak sales leading the way. And first-time stand-up paddleboard (SUP) participation grew by 58 percent last year alone.

Paddlers have lots of choices for guided float trips, kayak fishing tournaments, and a variety of both white and flat-water races. One example is this year’s inaugural Lake Cumberland 101-mile kayak/canoe race ( It’s set for the full moon night of October 19, along with a 12-mile race and 3-mile sprint. Check the websites at the end of this article for more events.

But for folks just beginning or simply looking for an all-around paddling event, here are four of them in the Heartland area that offer something for everyone:

The granddaddy of paddling events is Canoecopia in Madison, Wis. It’s the world’s largest kayak, canoe and outdoor expo. It started in the 1970s as an in-house show and a few vendors at a paddling shop called Rutabaga. Last March, more than 20,000 people attended the three-day show, which now spreads out over 250,000 square feet at the Alliant Energy Center. More than 200 vendors displayed their wares and offered show discounts, with sales topping $1 million.

Over 108 presenters covered more than 115 topics on a first-come, first-seated basis. There were 64 sessions alone on Saturday. For kids in grades 1 to 5, the Kid’s Paddle Fest lets children participate in games, art and nature activities, and on-land paddling while their parents attend the show. There’s also a Paddle Club Rendezvous, where paddlers and paddling clubs meet, greet and network.

Another favorite event is the Aluminum Chef Competition, in which three chefs test their camp culinary skills with camp stoves, cook kits and simple ingredients. Show dates next year are March 7 to 9. First-timers are encouraged to see the FAQ section on the Canoecopia website and visit its Facebook page for updates.

The largest paddling celebration on the Mississippi River is Floatzilla. Scheduled for August 17 in Rock Island, Ill., its aim is to celebrate paddling experiences on that mighty river.

There are activities for all levels of paddlers. The event site is Lake Potter, a calm, off-channel location, where beginners can take lessons from certified instructors. There are also boat, gear and food vendors, along with family friendly music.

A guided paddle for intermediates crosses the river from Davenport, Iowa, to Lake Potter, and advanced paddlers can take a 12-mile downriver paddle that includes going through a lock and free shuttle service. Attendees also receive maps of the 45 miles of local water trails, so they can further explore the area on their own.

The highlight of Floatzilla is an attempt to break the Guinness World Record of the largest raft of canoes and kayaks. Last year, they had more than 1,500 registered participants but fell short of the record of 1,902. But it does provide for a great aerial group photo.


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