Disneyland Resort Canoe Races Celebrate 50 Years of Cast Camaraderie

Kevin Rafferty, Jr.

by , Communications, WDI

This summer, 80 teams of Disneyland Resort cast members raced around the Rivers of America during one of the oldest and most beloved cast traditions: the Disneyland Resort Canoe Races.

Cast Members, Imagineers, and Employees of The Walt Disney Company Celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Disneyland Resort Canoe Races

Now in their 50th year, the canoe races began in 1963 when Ray Van De Warker, foreman of the Indian War Canoes attraction, observed a guest canoe filled with athletes charging around the Rivers of America. Ray and Jungle Cruise foreman Bob Penfield debated how fast their teams could get around the river and a challenge was set forth between the Frontierland cast and Adventureland cast. That summer ignited a cast tradition that has spread to the Walt Disney World Resort, Toyko Disney Resort, Disneyland Paris and Hong Kong Disneyland Resort.

Hong Kong Disneyland Resort Joins the Canoe Races Tradition

“I had no idea the races would ever be this successful … they’re world famous now,” said Penfield, who is retired after more than for 42 years with the Disneyland Resort. “The camaraderie and teamwork that forms from participating in races is outstanding and leads to a lot of great memories and friendships.”

Cast Members, Imagineers, and Employees of The Walt Disney Company Celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Disneyland Resort Canoe Races

Cast members, Imagineers and employees from all over The Walt Disney Company participate in three divisions: Men, Women and Coed. This year’s champions crossed the finish line this morning before Disneyland park opened. Congratulations team OAR Lords (3:57), team DC Anchor Ladies (4:26) and team United (4:12) for winning the 50th annual Disneyland Resort Canoe Races!


  • So who did win that first race between Frontierland and Adventureland back in 1963?

    • Hi Jason – According to Ray Van De Warker, the Frontierland cast won because they paddled the canoes every day.

  • Disneyland Canoe Races Of the World … 1984 Canoe Olympics … coed team Pony Express (because anyone who paddles at 6am has the right to CROW). I still have my team t-shirt!

  • What? No video? Surely someone took some good footage of the teams racing.

    Congrats to the winners, and all the rowers. It is heroic to be out there so early, @Rochelle!


  • I remember the canoe teams at Walt Disney World that had all the Lifeguards from the property Resort pools, always being the strong team to beat down there. Cheers for the “WED WADERS” and their Imagineering win. Wish Paris Disneyland would get the canoes back in the water for the regular guests at Thunder Mesa to experience.

  • I have a confession to make – I’ve never been on the canoes at Disneyland! I need to take the time to do that on my next trip!

  • Would be AMAZINGLY cool if Disney could incorporate a canoe/kayak event for all!!!! Outrigger, kayak, Dragon Boat, etc……If it paddles, it qualifies!! Even Stand Up!!!

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