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Sprint Canoeing

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Written by
Lauren Hunsberger

Photography by
Darren Hendrix

Despite holding a national championship title at just 12 years old, Dylan Bue doesn’t tell too many people about his accomplishments in sprint canoe racing. He says he chooses to eschew the limelight in part because his sport of choice is a little esoteric, even in the most sports-savvy crowds. 

As the name suggests, the Olympic sport of sprint canoeing consists of a series of boat races in canoes; however, the vessel used is far from your average camper’s canoe. For starters, the boat is extremely narrow and sleek, with virtually no flat surface on the bottom. This makes it much faster in the water, but also more difficult to handle.

“We also use a different stroke,” Dylan says. “I’m on one knee instead of sitting down, which is different, and you only paddle on one side.”

“I’ve watched a lot of people learn the sport, and when you first start you’re just trying to stay upright in the boat,” says Bill, Dylan’s father. “You’re just trying not to tip. The next step is to do a circle, just move around without falling in. Then eventually you try to j-stroke. There’s definitely a learning curve.”

Dylan began learning this technique during a two-week intensive canoe camp when he was just 9 years old. He then joined the Cascade Canoe and Kayak Race Team. After racing in two national championships with that team, he transferred to the Gig Harbor Canoe and Kayak Race Team, which has won the last four team national championships. “My family standup paddle races, and we were in Gig Harbor when I saw the canoes for the first time. And they were going really fast,” Dylan says. “That’s how I got into it.”

Dylan, who racked up a host of individual and team medals at the 2015 USA Sprint Canoe National Championships, held in California, says being able to go fast is the main appeal to him.

In fact, the race in which he took gold, the Bantam C1 200-meter, took all of 56.98 seconds to win. At that meet, his second time at nationals with the Gig Harbor team, he also took bronze in the Bantam C1 1000-meter race. The C1 designation signifies an individual event. Dylan also raced in a team of four, which took a silver medal and a two-man team, which took silver and bronze as well. Dylan says he’s proud of all his accomplishments, but has a slight preference for the individual events.

Traditionally, sprint canoeing has a larger following in Canada and Eastern Europe, but Dylan and Bill agree the Pacific Northwest, and specifically Gig Harbor, is the perfect spot for the sport to gain momentum. Bill says there are several quality teams in the Northwest, but as a group the Gig Harbor coaching staff, athletes and parents are unparalleled. He feels fortunate they welcomed Dylan onto the team and into their community.

“Each year we get five or 10 more kids, and they start with the development team,” Dylan says.

“One of the neat things about being on the team is that a lot of athletes that came before him are now competing on an international level,” Bill says. “It’s nice to see what they’ve been able to do.”

Dylan says he’s unsure at this point if an Olympic attempt is in his future, and he is currently just enjoying the satisfaction of achieving his short-term goals. 

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