Competitive paddling, like other sports, can be more enjoyable for spectators if they know the rules and have an understanding of judging criteria. Some indication of scoring and penalties can be picked up by watching the judges who assist on the course.
In the sport of slalom, the competitor is timed from start to finish. They can incur time penalties by touching a gate or missing it altogether. For each section of the course, there are gate judges, primarily responsible for one or more gates. With up to 25 gates, many judges are needed.
Green gates indicate the paddler passes through with the current. The paddler can be facing upstream or downstream while passing through, with no penalty for going through backward. Red gates mean the paddler passes the gate, then turns and paddles upstream to get through the gate. Gates are either single poled, with another pole on the bank to define the gate line, or two polled.
After competitors pass through a section, gate judges write down how they did on each gate. The gate judges then relay their findings using hand signals to the transmission section judge. If the gate judge places a closed fist across the chest, that’s good news because it means a penalty-free passage through that gate. If a judge holds two fingers out to one site, it means a two-second penalty for touching one of the poles. Sometimes the paddler’s body hits one of the gate poles. Other times, the boat or a paddle hits the pole. Either way, it’s a two-second penalty.
A judge’s outstretched hand means the competitor receives a 50 second penalty for missing a gate. All of the paddlers head and part of his or her boat must pass through the gate. It’s also considered a miss if a paddler goes through the wrong direction or goes through with all of his or her head submerged. In most instances, a 50-second penalty is enough to take a competitor out of contention for that run. The paddler with the better of two timed runs is the winner!