Nathan Benderson Park Awarded 7 National & International Canoe Championships
The continued growth of paddling sports in the United States is further encouraged with the award of four world-championship events and three World Cup events to Nathan Benderson Park, starting in 2024.
The first-ever combined canoe marathon and stand-up paddling world championships will be held at the park in 2026, after the International Canoe Federation (ICF) on April 2 awarded a joint bid by Nathan Benderson Park Conservancy and Visit Sarasota County.
In addition to that event, for the first time ever in the United States, the park will also play host to the:
• 2024 ICF Stand-Up Paddling World Championships;
• 2026 ICF Junior Canoe Sprint World Championships; and
• 2026 Under 23 Canoe Sprint World Championships.
These championship events are four of five that were awarded to the United States. The other award in the United States is to Oklahoma City, which was bestowed the 2026 ICF Canoe and Kayak Slalom World Championships. In total, the ICF awarded 15 significant events to the U.S. in 2022.
In the days after the ICF bids were awarded, three World Cup events were also added for the park:
• 2024 ICF Canoe Sprint World Cup
• 2024 ICF Canoe Marathon World Cup
• 2024 ICF Dragon Boat World Cup
Dates for these events have not yet been finalized.
“We are proud to be part of the American Canoe Assn. effort to bring international paddling competition to the United States and increase awareness of competitive paddle sports,” said Stephen V. Rodriguez, the Conservancy’s chief operating officer and interim CEO. “We are excited to host these international events and we congratulate our friends in Oklahoma City on their award.”
The general manager of high-performance programs for the American Canoe Assn., Rok Sribar, said the association is “thrilled that the Nathan Benderson Park Conservancy and Sarasota County were awarded several large international paddle sports events.”
He said combining canoe marathon and stand-up paddling events will create a festival-like atmosphere that competitors and spectators enjoy.
“The 2026 ICF Canoe Sprint Junior and Under 23 World Championships is the most significant canoe sprint event in the United States in almost two decades,” Sribar said. “We are delighted that our up-and-coming high-performance athletes will have an opportunity to compete in the U.S. just two years before the Los Angeles 2028 Games.”
The four world championships scheduled for NBP, along with one world championship in 2026 scheduled for Oklahoma City, are “an unprecedented number of events to be awarded to North America,” Sribar said. “We believe it signals a significant opportunity for the United States to benefit from the growth in competitive paddle sports that other countries around the globe have already experienced.”
While the United States has more than 24 million canoe/kayak enthusiasts, the majority are involved in the recreational side of the sport. Canoe marathon is a true test of a paddler’s tactics, endurance and athleticism. Both canoes and kayaks are raced, with the standard distances as much as 30 kilometers (18.6 miles), according to the ICF. Stand-up paddling competitions include sprint events more than 200 meters, longer races of 19.5 kilometers (12.1 miles) and technical races of about 3 kilometers (1.8 miles).
Visit Sarasota County Sports Director Shelby Connett said the ICF announcement is another “fantastic win” for the community.
“These events will expose an entirely new audience to Sarasota County, and our residents to another competitive paddling sport,” she said. “We are thrilled at the opportunity this gives us to build upon an additional sport that NBP is so well-equipped to host, and further diversify our sports tourism portfolio. To compliment these anchor world-championship events, we hope to secure even more canoe/kayak and stand-up paddling events over the next 2-5 years.”
Connett said the teams at the Conservancy, Visit Sarasota County and the county government work together daily to maximize the park’s potential.
Sarasota County Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Director Nicole Rissler said the county looks forward to the events.
“As part of Sarasota County’s incredible parks system,” she said, “we are thrilled that Nathan Benderson Park has been selected to host these incredible ICF events. NBP continues to prove itself as a premier destination athletic facility, and we’re looking forward to hosting these additional athletes and organizations from across the world.”
“Nathan Benderson Park continues to open new sport markets for our community and Florida,” Rodriguez said. “The park’s track record of growing and hosting national and international events continues.”
Past national and international events at the park include:
• 2014 International Breast Cancer Participatory Commission Dragon Boat Festival, held for the first time ever in the United States;
• 2017 World Rowing Championships, held for only the second time in the United States;
• 2018 World Rowing Masters Regatta and the 2019 World Rowing Under 23 Championships, both held for the first time in the United States; and the
• 2022 International Dragon Boat Federation Club Crew World Championships, which will also be in the United States for the first time ever.
Rodriguez thanked the ICF and the American Canoe Assn. for their “confidence in the Sarasota-Bradenton community and Nathan Benderson Park. We look forward to providing their athletes a world-class stage on which to perform.”
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Photo from International Canoe Federation website.