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Claudia Van Wijk nominated for World Paddle Awards

By Celina Ip

Claudia Van Wijk at the Madawaska Kanu Centre.

Claudia Van Wijk at the Madawaska Kanu Centre.

OTTAWA VALLEY – An integral member of the Canadian whitewater paddling community, the Ottawa Valley’s Claudia Van Wijk has been nominated for the World Paddle Awards (WPA) Lifetime Achievement Award.


Held annually since 2013, the WPA celebrates the most remarkable men and women from the world of paddlesports along with their achievements from the previous calendar year.

The awards recognize success in all 15-plus paddlesport disciplines, with seven categories that honour athletes as well as coaches, volunteers, media and event organizers.

The winners of the awards are presented with a Golden Paddle that symbolizes how each discipline, even though different in sensation to many, requires a paddle used from a boat on water.

With only six nominees vying for the Golden Paddle in each category, being nominated is a significant honour, with only the top contenders selected from a large pool of paddlers around the world.

This year’s WPA welcomes Quebec’s Laurence Vincent-Lapointe who has been nominated for Sportswoman of the Year and Ottawa Valley’s Claudia Van Wijk has been nominated for the Lifetime Achievement Award.

Here in the Ottawa Valley, few people are as deeply involved in whitewater paddling as Van Wijk.

It was in 1972 that her parents developed the Madawaska Kanu Centre on the Madawaska River, the world’s first commercial paddling school for both kayak and open canoe, which started the whitewater paddling revolution in the Ottawa Valley.

By 1974, Van Wijk and her father became the first to discover and descend the massive rapids of the Ottawa River.

“In 1974 there was no recreational paddling or anything happening on the Ottawa River because nobody knew about it. Nobody knew there were rapids, they only knew the Ottawa River was damned up and it's a big river that flows through our nation's capital,” said Van Wijk. “So I was 14 years old and my dad and I went up and were the first to paddle and discover the whitewater on the Ottawa River and transformed that whole industry into what you know it is today.

Years later, she took over the family business and grew the whitewater movement by founding OWL Rafting with her husband Dirk.

“If you are into the sport of rafting or whitewater kayaking or canoeing, paddling the Ottawa River is on your must-do bucket list. We've helped bring this internationally to the foreground and this all started with Madawaska Kanu Centre and now OWL Rafting as well,” she said.

Along with her pivotal role in popularizing whitewater paddling in the Ottawa Valley area, Van Wijk achieved significant success throughout her years of competitive paddling.

At the age of seven she helped build her first kayak in the family basement and at the age of 13 won her first Canadian championship in both Slalom and Wildwater.

Van Wijk went on to compete at an international level for over a decade where she won 10 Canadian Slalom Championships (1974 – 1985), six Canadian Wildwater Championships (1975 – 1980) as well as becoming the 1976 Pan American champion and winning a bronze medal at the 1982 World Championships. The renowned paddler also played an instrumental role in securing the sport of Canoe Slalom into the 2015 Toronto Pan AM Games.

“Canoe Slalom became an Olympic sport in 1992 but it has never been in the Pan-Am Games. So when Toronto got the Pan-Am games in 2015, I worked towards getting the sport into the Games and I was successful,” she said.

Now, more than 50 years since she was first introduced to the whitewater world, Van Wijk’s decorated and illustrious paddling career earned her a shot at the Lifetime Achievement Award.

“It's a huge honour as paddling is my life and I feel very fortunate to have transferred my athletic career into a business and made a huge impact not only locally but nationally and internationally by inspiring people to get into the sport of whitewater paddling,” said Van Wijk.

She’s up against five other paddlers who hail from Hungary, South Africa, Czech Republic, Denmark and Australia. Voting will be open until Nov. 19 and the winners will be publicly announced soon afterwards. For more information on the World Paddle Awards and to view all of the nominees, visit


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