Do you know what I love the most about water sports – besides the cool relief of jumping into the water on a summer day, that is?
The mind-blowing level of versatility they offer.
Hear me out:
You get to have fun – and lots of it – in, on, and under the water.
Now, name any other kind of activity that allows you to do that. I’ll wait.
Yeah, I figured you’d stay silent. That is because nothing beats water sports in that department – and I say that with the risk of sounding biased.
Anyway, with summer around the corner, I figured it might be a good idea to put together a complete list of different types of water sports and activities you could try. Let’s get to it!
Surfers catch ocean
Individual Water Sports
1. Scuba Diving
I’m sure you’ve heard of scuba diving; it’s one of the fastest-growing water sports – and one that’s on everyone’s bucket list.
Did you know that the term “SCUBA” is an acronym that stands for Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus, though? That’s what separates scuba diving from “free diving,” which, by the way, is also on my list.
It involves using specialized breathing equipment and carrying your own breathing gas. That, in turn, grants you more independence and more time to explore the otherwise unattainable world below the water surface.
It genuinely feels like you’re exploring a whole new planet. If you’d like to kick it up a notch and go where very few have gone before, you could try cave diving – but do note that it carries some risk due to the extreme environment with no direct vertical access to the surface.
While it’s technically not illegal to go scuba diving without a certificate, I still recommend that you complete the necessary training. It isn’t something that you can just figure out on your own.
You can find more info on CMAS’s official website.
2. Free Diving
How long can you hold your breath?
I’m asking because – well, this water sport is going to push your abilities to the absolute max, and then some.
I mean, it’s called “breath-hold diving” for a reason.
You don’t get a breathing apparatus as you would for scuba diving. Instead, you dive on a single breath and hold it until you resurface again – which, by the way, requires an incredible amount of mental and physical control.
Underwater diving has formed the foundation of other water sports, such as underwater hockey, synchronized swimming, and spearfishing, to name a few.
Free diving can be both a recreational and a competitive water sport, with the primary governing body being the CMAS. It encompasses a range of disciplines, including constant weight-free diving, free immersion diving, no-limits freediving, and static and dynamic apnea.
3. Cliff Diving
If you love being in the water – but don’t feel that simply swimming or diving gives you an adrenaline rush you’re after – cliff diving might be right up your alley.
It’s daring, thrilling, and, quite frankly, awe-inspiring. And for a moment there, you’ll get a chance to feel as if you’re actually flying – before plunging into the water.
There’s nothing quite like it, and the rush you get is insane.
Cliff diving is certainly not for the faint-hearted. But if you’re into extreme sports, you’ll be glad to know that you don’t need much to get started. There is no specialized equipment, either. It’s just you, a body of water, and a natural feature, like a cliff, to take the leap from; that’s it.
What’s interesting is that this extreme sport is much older than you’d assume:
It can be dated back to 1770, when a Hawaiian chief, King Kahekili, took a dive from the 63-foot cliffs of Kaunolo and entered the water without making a splash.
It surged in popularity following the 1968 International Cliff Diving Championship. Then, in 1996, the World High Diving Federation was formed – and today, this sport is governed by FINA.
4. Water Skiing
Water skiing is an on-the-surface water sport where the person wears a pair of skis and is pulled by a high speed boat – or a cable ski installation – over a body of water. Alternatively, you can use a single ski – known as a water slalom – or skip the skis altogether and go barefoot skiing.
While water skiing sounds like a relatively recent invention, the sport has been around since the 1920s:
Ralph Samuelson and his brother, Ben, invented the sport in 1922 using a pair of boards as skis and a regular clothesline as their tow rope.
Talk about humble beginnings, huh?
Water skiing gained quite a bit of popularity over the years – and today, this sport’s governed by the International Waterski & Wakeboard Federation. It has appeared in every major water sports championships, and following the 1972 demonstration done at the Olympic Games in Munich, it was recognized by the Olympic Committee, as well.
5. Jet Skiing
While it’s technically called jet skiing, this water sport has very little in common with water skiing, the sport I mentioned earlier.
There are no water skis involved. Instead, you’re riding a small jet-propelled watercraft, which is essentially a water-friendly equivalent of a motorcycle, using it to travel across the surface of the water.
So, why the name, then?
Well, “Jet Ski” is actually the name of the personal watercraft designed and manufactured by the Japanese company Kawasaki. It simply grew into a generic term over the years.
While it is widely regarded as a recreational activity for tourists, many are now starting to see jet ski racing as a serious competitive sport, thanks to competitions like the World Beach Games. If you wish to know more, check out the International Jet Sports Boating Association site; they’re the main governing body for all forms of personal watercraft competitive racing.
I should mention that the minimum age for driving applies to jet skiing, too. But if you are looking to make it a family activity, you can bring your kids along for the ride.
Okay, let’s get back to the basics – swimming. I know you know what it is and how it works, but it wouldn’t hurt to share a brief definition:
Swimming is an activity where you use your entire body to move through the water.
That was simple, huh?
Whether you choose to do it as an individual or team sport, or even a purely recreational activity, swimming is the second most popular form of exercise – and one with quite a long history.
We (meaning humans) have done it for thousands of years. And it is the only water activity you’ll see in the animal kingdom, too.
It emerged as an actual competitive sport in England back in the 1830s. And by 1896, when the first modern Olympic Games took place, men’s swimming was recognized as an Olympic sport – with FINA, the highest governing body, formed in 1908.
Women’s swimming was introduced shortly after, in 1912.
Kayaking is defined as – well, using a kayak to move across the water. It is characterized by a small, narrow watercraft that sits low in the water and the use of a double-bladed paddle.
Kayaks have been around way longer than most people realize. They were invented by the Inuit people and used more than 4000 years ago.
Of course, kayaks served a practical purpose back then. There was no mention of “kayaking” as a recreational activity until the mid-1800s and early 1900s.
Kayaking was first introduced as a demonstration sport in 1924 – and finally became an official Olympic sport in 1936.
It’s now among the fastest-growing water sports in the world.
And the best part is that you can make it as challenging – or as relaxing – as you want. There are many different variations of the sport, from recreational paddling to long-distance touring and whitewater kayaking.
Similar to – but not quite the same as – kayaking, canoeing is a paddle sport that involves paddling a canoe (well, duh!) using a single-bladed paddle. While kayaking and canoeing seem relatively similar at first, there’s a clear distinction:
Canoes are much bigger and have a spacious, open deck. Also, in a canoe, the paddler kneels – or sits on a bench, higher above the water – and uses a single-bladed paddle with a T-shaped knob to propel it.
Just like kayaking, it’s an ancient mode of transportation; the oldest examples of canoes can be dated some 10000 years ago. It was introduced as a recreational sport in the 19th century and became part of the Olympic Games in 1936.
Using a board to ride waves in an upright position – that would be the most basic explanation of what surfing is. Given that it’s one of the most well-known surface water sports in the world, I’m pretty sure you knew that already.
While wave-riding is an old practice with roots in Peruvian and Polynesian cultures, surfing only began to develop as a sport in the 19th and 20th centuries. George Freeth (1883-1919) is often called the “Father of Modern Surfing.”
Speaking of modern-day surfing, it was only recently recognized by the IOC, or the International Olympic Committee – in 2016, to be exact – and first appeared at the Olympic Games in 2020.
It is governed by the International Surfing Association – although many view it more as a lifestyle than an actual competitive sport.
“Surfing is life; the rest is details.”
10. Stand-Up Paddle Boarding
Stand-up paddle boarding is a water sport born from surfing – except here, you stand on a larger board and use a paddle to propel yourself through the water.
I can’t tell you who invented paddle boarding; I’m not sure anyone can. What I can say is:
It’s an activity with a long history, dating all the way back to 3000 BC.
The growing popularity of surfing made room for experimenting, and in the 1940s, Hawaiian surf instructors began using paddles (albeit occasionally) to steer their boards. However, SUPs only reached California in 2004 – thanks to Rick Thomas, who brought stand-up paddle boarding into the public eye.
Modern stand-up paddle boarding is still pretty young – but it has a growing fanbase around the globe.
Now, what the heck is windsurfing?
In short, it’s a water sport that combines the elements of surfing and sailing into one. So, you get a board with a sail attached to it – and use the power of the wind to propel it forward.
Sounds fun, huh? That’s because it is!
Learning the basics isn’t hard, and you have so many fun maneuvers to try – and find your own style.
The history of the sport isn’t absolutely clear. But modern-day windsurfing – as we know it today – was actually invented in 1966 in California.
Windsurfing was officially recognized as an Olympic sport at the 1984 Summer Olympics in LA – and today, it’s governed by the International Windsurfing Association.
I’m guessing you’re familiar with snowboarding? Well, let’s just say that wakeboarding would be the summer-friendly, on-the-water equivalent of snowboarding – except it also requires a boat to pull you and a rope to hold onto as you go.
That’s actually where the name comes from:
You stand on a wakeboard, holding onto the rope, and are towed behind a motorboat, riding on its “wake” – the waves created by the moving boat.
So, in a sense, it’s like surfing – but you get a little help from a boat.
And sure, you might fall the first few times you try to get up. But once you get the hang of wakeboarding basics, you can start performing different tricks, too.
Feel free to check out the International Waterski & Wakeboard Federation’s site for more info on getting started.
What do you get by mixing a little bit of surfing, wakeboarding, windsurfing, paragliding – with some skateboarding sprinkled on top?
The answer is – kitesurfing, also known as kiteboarding.
This wind-powered water sport uses a parachute-type kite and a board to propel you across the water. The “surfing” part of the name might be misleading; you don’t really need any waves. You can just harness the power of the wind.
Kitesurfing has its roots in the south of France, where Dominique and Bruno Legaignoux began using a dual-line kite while water skiing around the late 1970s and early 1980s.
The early prototypes of kiteboarding equipment, developed in the 1990s, caught the attention of water sports enthusiasts in Maui, who helped turn it into one of the fastest-growing water sports. And soon after, in 1998, they held the first-ever kiteboarding competition, too.
There are now some 1.5 million kite-surfers around the globe that enjoy this action packed water sport, with the International Kiteboarding Association as the main governing body.
If you’ll be taking a trip to a coastal destination this summer, be sure to give skim-boarding (also known as sand skimming) a try. It’s a lot like surfing – but far less technical:
You essentially use a smaller, surfboard-looking kind of board to “surf” in shallow water, catching waves as they begin to roll out near the shore. It’s simple; you just run along the beach, drop the board onto the thin layer of water, step on it – and ride it out.
The best part is that skim-boarding carries little to no risk. You’re in very shallow water, near the shore – and even if you do fall, you’ll land on the soft, wet sand. That makes “skimming” suitable for people of all ages and skill levels.
This unique boardsport first became popular in the 1920s in California when two Laguna Beach lifeguards, George Griffeth and his friend, Jimmy, made wooden disks and used them to skim on the surface of water across the wet sand.
It’s governed by the International Surfing Association – but it’s the only one under ISA’s umbrella that still doesn’t have a proper World Championship.
Not too confident in your ability to ride the waves while standing up on a surfboard? That’s fine; you don’t have to get up. Bodyboarding – also known as boogie boarding – will be a much better fit for you.
You’re still technically catching waves on the board – except, in the case of bodyboarding, you’re in a prone position, lying on the board.
The practice of catching waves lying down seems to have its roots in the Pacific islands, where the Polynesian people used to ride waves on their paipo boards in a prone position.
Bodyboards were first made in 1971 in Southern California, though. Thanks to the advancement of boogie boards, today, we use flexible, square-nosed boards that measure between 33 and 46 inches.
Much like other board sports I’ve mentioned, bodyboarding, which became a competitive sport in 1982, is governed by the International Surfing Association.
Team Water Sports
16. Water Polo
When it comes to popular team water sports, water polo is the undisputed king.
Don’t let the name confuse you, though. This sport has a lot more in common with football than it does with polo. In fact, many referred to it as “football in the water” back in the day.
It’s a competitive team water sport – with two teams of seven players – where you score goals by throwing the ball into the other team’s goal. It requires speed, strength, and, above all, excellent teamwork.
Water polo has its roots in 19th century Scotland – with the first official set of rules introduced in 1885. It was also one of the first team sports to be included in the modern Olympic games, with the men’s water polo team making its debut in 1900.
Women’s water polo teams had to wait another 100 years to be recognized as an Olympic sport, only joining the Games in 2000.
There are several governing bodies of water polo – including the NCAA and IOC. FINA remains the main one, though.
17. White Water Rafting
If you have a rushing mountain river nearby and you are looking for an on-the-water activity that will deliver a jolt of adrenaline, I highly recommend whitewater rafting.
It’s a great way to immerse yourself in your surroundings and soak up the scenery as you – and the rest of your group, along with a guide – navigate the river rapids in an inflatable raft. Teaming up with others to keep your raft on course also promotes bonding and makes it an unforgettable experience for families and groups of friends.
Modern whitewater rafting can be dated back to the 1800s and the first attempts to navigate the Snake River in Wyoming. However, it wasn’t until the 1960s that actual rafting companies began to form.
And in 1972, whitewater rafting made its debut at the Munich Olympic Games.
The International Rafting Federation (IRF for short) oversees all aspects of this sport – including recreational and competitive whitewater rafting.
“Row, row, row your boat, gently down the stream,” goes the nursery rhyme. But there is nothing gentle about rowing as a competitive sport.
The concept is simple:
You’re using oars to propel your boat from one point to another at high speed – and the goal is to win the race.
Rowing has been around for thousands of years. Ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans used it as a means of transportation, but it developed into a sport in the 17th and early 18th centuries in England – and it was included in the Olympics in 1900.
Today, you have 150 national rowing federations across the globe, with the main governing body being the World Rowing Federation, previously known as FISA.
19. Synchronized Diving
I would say the idea behind synchronized diving (or synchro diving, as it’s also known) is pretty self-explanatory:
Two divers perform a dive at the same time, from the same level board – most commonly, it is a three-meter springboard or a 10-meter platform – with the primary goal being that they remain in sync the entire time.
Synchronized diving has been around for decades now. However, it wasn’t officially recognized as a real sport until the mid-1990s:
It was internationally introduced at the FINA World Cup in 1995 and was adopted as part of the Olympic program in 1999, making its debut at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney.
It became an instant hit among other divers and spectators alike.
The sport is governed by FINA; you can find more info on their official website.
20. Synchronized Swimming
Synchronized swimming is a relatively new discipline – and one that’s a lot more artistic in nature than most other water sports. In fact, it used to be known as “water ballet.”
After the 2016 Rio Olympics, FINA, the governing body, officially changed the sport’s name to “artistic swimming.”
While those participating in synchronized swimming manage to make it look easy and graceful, performing their choreography with a smile on their face, it’s actually one of the most strenuous and physically demanding sports.
Don’t believe it?
In terms of aerobic capacity, synchronized swimmers are second only to long-distance runners – and that tells you a lot about the abilities of these athletes.
Annette Kellermann was the first to perform water ballet in a glass tank in 1907, popularizing the sport with the first synchronized swimming competition held in the US in 1939.
Interestingly enough, men were banned from competing for most of the 20th century. They were allowed to compete in the European Aquatics Championships in 2016 but remained banned from the 2016 Summer Olympics.
21. Underwater Hockey
Yeah, it’s a thing.
I laughed at a guy at the bar once because he said he was on an underwater hockey team; I figured he was messing with me. Well, guess what?
I was wrong.
Underwater hockey is actually a globally-recognized, limited-contact underwater sport, invented in the 1950s by the British Navy as a way to keep divers fit and improve their performance underwater.
The first World Championship was held in 1980 in Canada. Today, it’s a sport that’s played in more than 20 countries around the globe, governed by CMAS.
It’s the same thing as hockey – but it’s played underwater, as in, the players are moving the puck (a heavier one, made of lead and coated in plastic) along the bottom of the pool.
There are two teams – ten members each – but only six can be in the water at a time; the other four are interchangeable players.
If you have a large enough group of friends, access to a pool, and the right gear, give it a try this summer!
22. Underwater Rugby
Given that underwater hockey is a genuine sport, you shouldn’t be too shocked about the whole underwater rugby thing.
It’s a full-contact, fast-paced team sport played in a deep pool, with two teams of six players and six substitutes each, aiming to score goals by throwing the ball in the opponent’s basket, which is located at the bottom of the pool.
The origins of the sport can be dated to the 1960s when the German Underwater Club (DUC) in Cologne came up with the underwater version of the ball game. It quickly spread to other Nordic countries. Today, it’s also played in North America, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand.
Underwater rugby was first recognized as an official sport in 1978 by CMAS – which remains the main governing body for the sport – with the first World Championship held in 1980.
Sailing is another water sport you could try this summer. And no, I don’t mean the version where you get a multi-million dollar yacht and a crew that caters to your every need – while you sit back and relax in the sun.
I’m referring to a highly strategic sport that relies on the wind to “power” the sails and propel the boat across the water.
Sailing became a sport during the early 17th century, but until the 1950s, it was reserved for the wealthy. The introduction of cheaper and easier ways to build boats finally made it accessible to the general public.
World Sailing is the governing body for sailboat racing and is in charge of organizing the Sailing World Championships (Sailing World Cup), held every four years. The sport is also officially recognized by the IOC – the International Olympic Committee – making its Olympic debut in 1900.
Okay, I admit – “powerboating” is a bit of an umbrella term:
It refers to any activity that involves a motorized boat – which includes everything from bay boats and bowriders to cruisers and high-performance boats. Either way, if you love a good adrenaline rush, speed, and the thrill of racing, powerboating is the right water sport for you.
The first powerboat can be dated back to 1886 – with the first powerboat race taking place in 1903. Even more so, the sport became a part of the Olympic Games soon after, in 1908.
Today, it is governed by the Union Internationale Motonautique. There are multiple international events held every year, with F1 H2O and Class 1 World Powerboat Championship being among the biggest ones in the world.
Recreational Water Sports
25. Water Aerobics
Whether you choose to call it “water aerobics,” “waterobics,” “aquatic fitness” – or one of the many nicknames it goes by – the concept remains the same:
Water aerobics is defined as performing aerobic exercises in relatively shallow water, usually a swimming pool.
There’s no actual swimming involved, though.
Instead, it is a type of resistance training that’s easier on the joints – and puts you at a lower risk of injuries than the “land-based” version. It relies on the water’s resistance to work your muscles – and since the resistance’s there in both directions of the movement, it targets opposing muscle groups.
And that means you get double the benefits – for the same amount of effort.
If you’re considering taking up water aerobics this summer, you can find more information on the Aquatic Exercise Association’s website.
The ocean is a whole new world for you to explore, full of wonders hidden just below the water’s surface. And the best way to get a glimpse of it all (without having to use full-blown scuba diving gear) is snorkeling.
It’s defined as swimming on – or through a – body of water while wearing a diving mask, snorkel, and fins and observing the underwater features and sea life.
You don’t even need to gear up as heavily as you would for scuba diving. All you really need are goggles, a snorkel, and a pair of flippers – and you can get started.
It’s a family-friendly activity, suitable for kids and parents alike.
While snorkeling is an activity on its own, governed by CMAS, it also serves as a foundation for other sports, including scuba diving, spearfishing, and free diving.
I would say this activity has a lot more in common with hunting than fishing. I mean, sure, you’re still technically catching fish, but how you go about it (and the equipment you use) makes all the difference.
I’m talking about a completely hands-on approach to landing a catch here:
This ancient method of fishing (seriously, it has been around for millennia) involves using a sharp, pointed object, such as a spear, harpoon, or gig, either thrown by hand or launched with a spear gun, to impale the fish.
If you’re looking for an alternative to casting your line and waiting for the fish to bite – this could be it. You can find more info on International Underwater Spearfishing Association’s website; it’s the main governing body of modern spearfishing, implementing regulations and keeping track of world spearfishing records.
Despite the efforts made in the 1960s, it’s not recognized as an Olympic sport, though.
28. Underwater Photography
Okay, okay, before you start arguing that underwater photography is not technically a spot, allow me to say that I agree. It’s not a sport; it’s just a process of taking photographs under the water – and it’s done for both scientific and artistic purposes.
So, why does it get a spot on this list, then?
Well, for one, it’s usually done while scuba diving – and in some cases, snorkeling or freediving – which all count as actual water sports. Plus, it is not as easy as jumping into the water with your camera; underwater photographs are much harder to take.
But if you’re already an avid diver with an interest in photography, consider taking your camera – a waterproof one, of course – with you under the surface. I can guarantee that you’ll be blown away by the stunning shorts you take during your next dive.
You can learn more on CMAS’s official website.
Canyoning, also known as canyoneering, is a recreational activity that involves using a range of different techniques to traverse narrow passageways made up of rock formations and water.
It’s about exploring hard-to-reach areas – and conquering vertical obstacles by jumping from one rock formation to another, walking, sliding, and swimming – as you descend through the gorge.
You can approach canyoning as a fun, adventure-packed hobby or an extreme sport – and is probably the least complicated extreme sport on our list. But either way, you’ll become a member of the tight-knit community of canyoners open to newcomers.
Do note that canyoning requires quite a bit of equipment, though. You’ll need a wetsuit, gloves, a helmet, rope and carabiners, a harness, and a sling, among other things.
The best times for canyoning are from May to September.
So, if that seems like something you’d be interested in, check out FIC’s official website for more info.
FIC was formed in 2003 and is the main governing body for canyoning today. However, in 2014, the International Association of Amateur Canyoning (IAAC) was created to oversee the aspects of recreational canyoning.
30. Fishing (Angling)
Did you seriously think I’d forget about fishing?
Long before it became a recreational activity, fishing was a means of survival and catching your next meal – just like hunting. In fact, humans were already catching fish 40000 years ago. Today, fishing can also be done recreationally and for commercial purposes.
There are many fishing tournaments held around the globe, all coordinated by the Congress of the International Sport Fishing Confederation as the main governing body.
It’s worth adding that “fishing” is an umbrella term here, covering a wide range of different styles and techniques – including fly fishing, ice fishing, kayak fishing, netting, and big-game fishing, to name a few.
30 Different Types Of Water Activities & Sports To Try: Summary
If you’re looking for new water sports and activities to try this summer – alone or in a group, as a hobby or competitively – be sure to consider some of the following:
- Scuba diving
- Free diving
- Cliff diving
- Water skiing
- Jet skiing
- Stand-up paddle boarding
- Water polo
- Whitewater rafting
- Synchronized diving
- Synchronized swimming
- Underwater hockey
- Underwater rugby
- Water aerobics
- Underwater photography