The World Rafting Championship has its origins in the international events of Project RAFT in which up to 50 teams competed in various disciplines including Slalom and Down River on the Chuya River, Siberia (1989), Nanthala river, USA (1990), Reventazón and Pacuare rivers, Costa Rica (1991) and Çoruh river, Turkey (1993). Project RAFT (Russians and Americans for Teamwork) was founded by California river guides Jib Ellison and Mike Grant and the first event, the Chuya Rally, was a collaborative effort between them and the Siberian river explorer, Misha Kolchevnikov.
From 1990 to 1994 the J&B European Rafting Champs, which was R4, was organized by David Goldstrom and was televised on Eurosport. The first was held in Italy and the last three were held in Austria. The format was Time Trial, Head to Head, Slalom and Triple Header.
In 1994 a World Champs was held in Italy on the Dora Baltea River and it was there that many key participants, such as Rafael Gallo and Peter Micheler, saw the need to form an international body to represent all racers, rafters, guides and all aspects of rafting.
It was after the event on the Çoruh River that Tony Hansen tried to get Project Raft 1994 to the Zambezi River, where he was Event Director for an annual fun festival. Unfortunately Project Raft stopped after the Turkey event and so Tony went ahead and found his own sponsor for the event in the form of Camel. He also designed the event along slightly more competitive lines, streamlining the events to Time Trial, Sprint, Slalom and Downriver and were the basis of the IRF Race Rules. This was the birth of the Camel White Water Challenge (CWWC) which then took place on the Zambezi River, Zimbabwe/Zambia (1995–1997 and 2001), Reventazón and Pacuare Rivers, Costa Rica (1998), Orange River, South Africa (1999) and Futalefu River, Chile (2000).
The last three CWWC events were given the status of World Championships and for this reason the teams had to qualify through selection events at the national and continental levels in coordination with the International Rafting Federation (IRF). In the year 2000 the IRF resolved to hold the World Rafting Championships every 2 years and eliminate the selection events at the continental level to facilitate the development of the sport at the international level.
Consequentially the World Rafting Championships have been held on the Reventazón and Pacuare rivers, Costa Rica (1998), Orange river in South Africa (1999), Futalefu River in Chile (2000), Gauley River in USA (2001), Vlatava River in Czech Republic (2003), Quijos River in Ecuador (2005), Naerinchon River in South Korea (2007) and Vrbas and Tara Rivers in Bosnia & Herzegovina (2009).
In 2010 the IRF held their first ever R4 (4-man raft) World Champs which would now alternate yearly with the R6 World Champs. This first R4 event was hosted by Dutch Water Dreams on the artificial course in Zoetermeer, Netherlands (2010) and was also the first time the Youth WRC were held. 2011 saw a return to a different section of the Pacuare River in Costa Rica. 2012 was the Youth & Masters WRC (first Masters WRC ever) in the Czech Republic on the revamped Ceske Budejovice artificial course and Vltava River.
From 2013 onwards all 4 divisions of Open, Masters, U23 and U19 competed at the IRF WRC. They were held in Rotorua, New Zealand (2013), Foz do Iguaçu in Brasil (2014), Citarik River in Indonesia (2015), Wadi Adventure in Al Ain, in the United Arab Emirates (2016), Koboke section of Yoshino River, Japan (2017).
2018 to the Alumine River in Argentina and 2019 to the Tully River in Australia.
The teams that attend the WRC are selected by their national federations through fair and credible selections. The top men’s and top women’s team from each member federation is eligible to attend. Teams consist of 6 paddlers and 1 reserve for R6 and 4 paddlers and 1 reserve for R4.
Rafting competitions consist of 4 disciplines – Sprint, Head-to-Head (H2H), Slalom and Downriver. The points earned in each discipline are added to determine the Overall winner and final positions. Each team has 6 members with the option to have a reserve.
The Sprint is a hard, fast, short burst of speed for the teams. It is ideally over a fairly short distance and is about 2 to 3 minutes of hard paddling for 10% ofthe overall points. It is always done first, cannot be on a Class 5 rapid and teams are set off one by one, hence racing the clock and not each other.
The H2H is without doubt the most visually exciting discipline as it is pitting two teams together in a fast paced sprint for the finish line. It is ideally over a shortish distance but must be through a rapid, normally taking teams about 2 to 3 minutes to run the course. The two teams are set off together with the team having the best time in the Sprint being given lane choice. They have to negotiate 1 left hand buoy and one right hand buoy from a minimum 2 buoys on each side. This leads to tactics being played and so is not all down to strength and speed. It counts for 20% of the total points and is an elimination. The winner of each heat proceeds to the next round and eventually just 2 teams will remain for the Final.
The Slalom is the most technically challenging event and counts for 30% percent of the total points. This event demands a high level of technique and teamwork to negotiate the rafts through 12 downriver and upriver gates in powerful rapids. Touching, failing to pass or intentionally moving a gate results in a penalty. Each team runs the course twice and their best time is used to determine the results.
The Downriver is the star event and is worth 40% of the total score. The race is close to an hour of racing along of a section of continuous and powerful rapids. Technical ability and endurance are essential elements to ensuring a good position in this event which is crucial for the teams that aspire to win the Championship. The points earned by the teams in the previous events determine their position in the starting line-up in groups up to 5 rafts.