Cayuco: A Tradition Turned Sport

Simon Morales, Journalist

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For many centuries the indigenous tribes of Panama, who were settled on the banks of rivers and on ocean coasts, have used cayucos as their main means of transportation. These canoes were over 20 feet long and could transport many people as well as provision for the villages. In 1954, during the time when the United States had control over the Panama Canal Zone, the director of the Panama Canal Frank Townsend sent the Boy Scouts of America to interact with many of these indigenous communities. One of the many things they learned about in their experience was the cayuco. This group began racing the locals on the cayucos and with time the racing had expanded to the point where it became a formal race. 

That same year, the boy scouts completed their first Ocean to Ocean race. It was a three-day race that spanned 80 km across the Panama Canal, connecting the Atlantic Ocean with the pacific ocean. 

In the following years, cayucos were transformed in order to become more competitive. They are now 27 feet long and are created by artisans who have mastered the designs in order to maximize their speed, acceleration, and maneuverability. 

In 1994, the Club de Remos De Balboa (CREBA) was established in order to create a more formal race. Every year, this race that now exists for over half a decade has been gaining popularity. Races have expanded to the ocean and in rivers immersed in tropical jungles, yet the ocean is still the staple race of this sport. This excruciating competition attracts people ranging from high school students to elders. In the coming years, it will continue to unite foreigners and Panamanians in a race that celebrates the culture of the indigenous peoples.