The first round in each of the age ranges is split into four separate races and the idea in this first round is not to be caught by the Vikings. The starter, dressed as Neptune, fires a Very Light into the sky and the racers start to paddle away from the starting line. 5 minutes later the starter fires a distress flare into the sky and 25 Viking warriors start running after the contestants carrying plastic axes and wearing traditional helmets. If the Vikings catch a contestant and strike him over the head with their axe then the contestant, and his fellow crew members in canoes and fishing boats, takes no further part in the contest. Only those boats who reach the finishing line without being caught by a Viking qualify for the next round.
In the four races in the next round, the surviving qualifiers aren’t chased by Vikings but do race against each other to be in the first four past the post and so qualify for the four semi-finals, where only the top two qualify for the final. The Vikings re-appear in the final, but Neptune fires his distress flare only three minutes after the boats have left, which encourages everyone to work hard from the beginning rather than saving themselves for a sprint finish.