The club's name is named after the Viking raiding activity that is known to have taken place on the River Great Ouse at what is now Bedford. For centuries the river has been used to transport goods and people but by the twentieth century the river was increasingly used for leisure.
Canoeing and kayaking have taken place in Bedford for many years and in the early 1900s, open canoes were available for hire alongside punts and rowing boats from commercial boathouses along Bedford’s riverside.
Canoes started to be used in races and in May 1951, the first Bedford to St Neots canoe race took place to encourage the restoration of navigation between the two towns which at that time was impassable by most boats.
The race was the first of its kind in the country and is still run annually, as the Bedford Canoe and Kayak Marathon. It now takes place on a circular circuit around the Victorian Embankment in Bedford’s town centre and is part of the Eastern Region Hasler marathon series, generally taking place at the end of April or beginning of May.
In 1961, following the success of the Bedford to St Neots race, Viking Kayak Club was established by canoeing friends including Brian Sidaway, David Green and John Mathers and moved in to premises shared with Star Rowing Club.
From the start, Viking members have also used the white water created by Bedford’s weirs and in particular Duck Mill sluices, in Bedford’s town centre, which is ideal for white water training. National ranking slalom competitions have also been held here and this was the first venue at which 5 time world slalom champion Richard Fox competed. Duck Mill has also been the setting for Viking’s annual Boxing Day Roll, which has been taking place annually since 1964 and sees the return of many former Viking paddlers each year.
From 1972 Viking members collaborated with the water and environmental authorities to develop a plan for a combined scheme allowing improved flood relief with the UK’s first artificial slalom course. Opened in 1982, Cardington Artificial slalom Course was originally seen primarily as a regional training venue.
Now, the course also holds two national ranking canoe slalom competitions per year at up to Division 2 level, and is the host every year to the Inter Clubs Final, which pits teams from all the top canoe slalom clubs against each other for an overall trophy. Running all weekend with camping overnight, the Inter Clubs is the largest canoe slalom event in the UK (by number of participants), a great social event for the sport and one of the highlights of the UK slalom calendar.
Since 1981, Viking has taken part in the twin town Sports Festival held every four years between Bedford and Bamberg, Germany, competing against their counterparts the Bamberg Faltboot Club (BFC). In 1994 BFC member Jurgen Hoh paddled all the way from Bamberg to Bedford in a traditional folding kayak (faltboot in German).
Viking has a proud record of producing some excellent paddlers, including current GB squad member and many times British C2 Slalom Champion Etienne Stott, who with partner Tim Baillie won Bronze medals at the 2009 European Championships and came fourth at the 2009 ICF Canoe Slalom World Championships in La Seu d'Urgell. Etienne and Tim also won team medals - Silver at the Europeans, Bronze at the Worlds - with the other UK C2 boats. Etienne was named Bedford Sports Personality of the Year in 2008.