In 1977, members of the NSW Outward Bound Ex-Students Association organised a canoe race along the river they had paddled during their course. Apart from the challenge, the 111 km race was going to help the community by raising money for medical research. That first race attracted 250 paddlers and raised $8,500. Now the race attracts more than 500 paddlers and raises annually more than $250,000.
Over the years records have been set and broken time and again. The fastest time outright stands at 7 hours, 11 minutes and 7 seconds, set in 1985 by Garry Byrne, Grant Hughes, Cameron Tunbridge and Brett Worth in a K4. John Harmer is the paddler from the original 250 starters in 1977 who have completed every race since then. He is followed by Wayde Hawkins with 34 and Brian Lyon with 33 finishes.
The race was originally run overnight to take advantage of the calmer weather conditions and the lighter traffic on the river. It also allowed the slower paddlers to make those last painful strokes in daylight. What the organisers did not realise when they made this decision was that the beauty and magic of paddling in moonlight would far outweigh any of their practical reasons for running the event overnight.
The race is held each year on the last full weekend in October. The weather at this time of year is generally more stable, with reasonably long daylight hours. Hundreds of volunteers work hard throughout the night to help maintain the excellent safety record that has been achieved by the Hawkesbury Canoe Classic.