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Canoeing vs Rowing: Top 5 Things No One Told You!

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Top 5 Things No One Told You about Canoeing vs Rowing

Hi friends! Are you thinking about taking up a new sport?

Maybe you’ve done a little rowing or canoeing with some friends last summer, and now you’re considering making one of these a full-time adventure.

Are you totally confused as to which one is better? Is there even a “better” option between these two? Perhaps they are simply different.

My name is Petra, and I’ve done my share of both canoeing and rowing. While I have far more experience rowing, I feel qualified to tell you things that no one ever mentions when they talk about these two on-the-water sports.

Are you ready to talk turkey? Or paddling as the case may be? Get ready for the wow factor because I’m going to tell it like it is.

Is Rowing Like Canoeing? Or Is Canoeing Like Rowing?

Slnava Piestany Rowing Club - Training on Water

No matter how you look at it, these two sports are very similar but at the same time very different.

If you’ve done one but not the other, you might think that they are the same, but hold on to your oars, folks, this is like saying sunrise is the same as sunset.

First, let’s look at how these two sports are the same. 

two people canoeing

How Are Canoeing and Rowing the Same?

Some things are obvious, well, until someone points out something you hadn’t noticed before.

The things that these two sports share in common are:

  • They both use boats. Not the same type of boat, but they are boats all the same.
  • They are both water sports. The type of water that you might seek out is very different, but actually, you can canoe on any water that a row boat can use but not the reverse.
  • Both use oars. Again, different types of oars, but they are oars with blades that go in the water.
  • Both sports can be involved in racing, but rowing is considered much more of a racing sport than canoeing.
  • Both canoers and rowers are passionate about their sport.

From a dry-land perspective, you might think that these two sports had more in common, but the truth is that their differences far outweigh their similarities.

How Do Canoeing and Rowing Differ?

comparing canoeing and rowing side by side

Here is where we get into the nitty-gritty of these sports.

There are more differences between rowing and canoeing than you shake an oar at, including the following:

  • While both use boats, the boats themselves are very, very different. Rowboats are designed for racing, so they are as thin and light as possible. Canoeing uses what you might consider being a typical canoe, with some modern canoes being inflatable! You can sit or kneel in a canoe, but you cannot kneel in a rowboat.
  • Canoes use bench-type seats so you can slide your butt from one side to the other. Rowboats have seats that move forward and back.
  • The direction of travel is completely different. With canoeing, you are moving forward and sit facing forward. Rowing has you sitting so that you can’t see where you are going!
  • Rowing oars are much longer than canoeing oars (frequently called paddles).
  • For canoeing, the oars are also not attached to the boat as they are in rowing.
  • You can go canoeing anywhere there is water. There are almost no limitations, and most canoers love the rapids or small waterfalls. Rowers need flat or almost-flat water, such as lakes.
  • Rowers use arms, legs, and torso to move the boat. Canoers mostly use their arms and torso. The legs are only involved if one should decide to kneel.

Wow. That’s a long list of differences, isn’t it?

What Are the Advantages of Canoeing Vs Rowing?

Advantages of Canoeing Vs Rowing

You should always consider the advantages and disadvantages of any given sport before you invest too much time or money. Let’s look at rowing first.

Advantages of Rowing

  • Rowing makes it easy to move the boat quickly.
  • To improve your skills and strengthen your body, you can always train by rowing on dry land on an indoor rowing machine called an erg.
  • Rowing boats are easy to control.
  • You can have 8 people in a row boat, or 9 if you have a coxswain, which makes moving the boat easier.
  • Rowing is super fast compared to canoeing.

This isn’t to say that canoeing doesn’t have its advantages.

Advantages of Canoeing

  • The canoe can be used in almost all waterways.
  • Most canoes have space for storage, and the weight of the boat doesn’t matter.
  • You can canoe with a buddy or canoe alone.
  • The canoes are easy to get in and out of.
  • You don’t need any special training or special equipment to canoe.
  • You can go as fast or as slow as you like.

No list of pros would be complete without a comparison, right?

What Are the Disadvantages of Canoeing Vs Rowing?

Again, we will start with rowing first.

Disadvantages of Rowing

Women's 8 Training session with a coxswain

Here are some of the major disadvantages of rowing:

  • The boats are expensive. Even a single scull will set you back at least $5,000, and that probably doesn’t include the oars.
  • Rowing boats are more delicate than a canoe.
  • You won’t see anyone in a rowing boat doing any sightseeing. These are for racing.
  • You need to learn how to do the strokes properly and know the duties of your position.
  • Rowing is really, really hard work.
  • You can’t take a rowboat on river rapids, waterfalls, or any type of white water.

When you read that list, it makes canoeing sound pretty good, right? Well, there are plenty of drawbacks to canoeing as well.

Disadvantages of Canoeing

friends paddling a wooden canoe

  • If the canoe tips over, you will probably lose all your gear, possibly your paddle, and in some instances, even the canoe itself if it gets damaged on the rocks.
  • While people do race canoes, it isn’t nearly as common.
  • If you don’t have a partner, you will end up moving from side to side (or at least stretching from side to side depending on the size of your canoe), which can be really tiring.
  • The wind is a canoeist’s biggest enemy and can really cause you serious problems, especially if you are alone. The wind can push the front of your canoe in the direction opposite to your course or even cause the canoe to tip over.
  • Canoes need more water to get started. Rowing boats are quite flat and light, but a canoe is taller and heavier.

I’m sure I’m forgetting something, but you get the picture.

I think the main problem with a canoe is that while sightseeing is really cool, if you hit some unexpected white water or rock hidden in the water, you can easily get dumped in the drink.

The 5 Things No One Tells You About Canoeing Vs Rowing

family canoeing at a lake

Before you decide to take up either sport, let me fill you in on some of the details that I’ve never seen anyone mention about either rowing or canoeing.

  1. You will lose all sense of proportion. In rowing, a person who is 6 foot 3 inches tall is considered short. In canoeing, that same 6-foot 3-inch person is a monster.
  2. While paddling slowly down a river in a canoe, everyone will yell at you from passing boats or from the shore, “Where is Daniel Boone?” If you want to have some fun, wear a racoon hat and tell them you’re an ancestor.
  3. Rowing will get you tons of questions from well-meaning people who know nothing about the sport. “Why is the boat so tiny?” “Aren’t you afraid you will fall out?” and my favorite, “Who is that lazy person in the back not rowing, just yelling at you, guys?” This happens every time we go out.
  4. You will hurt. I mean really hurt. I don’t care if you are canoeing or rowing, unless you do it on a regular basis, you are going to have shoulder pain, arm pain, butt pain, knee pain, and callouses that bleed.
  5. If you decide to take up one of these sports, you will eat 6 or more times per day. I’m not kidding. I once logged my husband’s calories while he was training, and he was eating 6,000 or more calories daily. Should I mention that he didn’t have an ounce of extra fat on his body?

Team of rowers training for sweep race

Your upper body muscles will ache, your hands will never be the same again, and you start talking strange lingo at parties, but you won’t wish you were doing anything else once you fall in love with the water.

The Bottom Line

There are a lot of differences between these two sports. I’ve done them both, and they are both fun in different ways.

If you just want to enjoy the water during the summer, and you picture yourself reading a book while munching on a sandwich, paddling canoes is what you are looking for.

If you want to race, if you want to beat the pants off the other boats, if you don’t mind working muscle groups you didn’t know you had, then rowing is what you should choose.

Stay happy, friends, and happy boating, whether it’s a canoe or a row boat!

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