Bob Robinson, a muscular 17-year-old whitewater canoeist from Fairfax was out on the Potomac last week, putting his stuff on the Canoe Cruisers Association's practice course for canoe and kayak races near Little Falls.

"Man," said an admirer as the youngster pulled up to shore after a fast run, "you look strong out there."

"Yeah," the dripping Robison replied "I am strong."

Confidence. Washington area paddlers are cozing it, and lately they have the records to back it up.

Last August CCA whitewater Coach [WORD ILLIGIBLE] Endicott led a team of the 50 best American paddlers to a churning stretch of [WORD ILLEGIBLE] and rapids in Canada.

They were heading to the biggest international race of the year - the taxworld championships on the Aux sable River in Jonquiere, Quebec.

Seventeen of these selected racers were from the Washington area, and those 17 walked off with 33 medals. "We smoked 'em," said Endicott.

While the Jonquiere races were only preliminaries to next year's worlds, they were international, with repects from Canada, West Germany, France, Austria, Great Britain, and other nations.

And the U.S. team took over all honors hands with Washingtonian at the front of the pack.

"We (the U.S.) took five individual gold medals in the 10 individual efents," said Endicott. "The Washington paddlers took four of those."

The August races were warmups to the real international championships of Jonquiere next July, their first time ever on North American waters. As far as Endicott is concerned, it should be more of the same. Maybe better.

"American paddlers are moving to Washington to train with us. It wouldn't surprise me if we supply better than half the team next summer," he said.

"What is this sport called whitewater, and how did Washington turn into the hotbed?

Serious international competition whitewater paddling goes back some 36 years, but it's only been in the last 10 that the U.S. has had any impact. In 1972, Silver Spring paddler Jamie McEwan won a bronze medal lit the Olympics. It was the first and only time whitewater had been included in the Olympiad, and McEwan's success started a trend.

After years of European domination in the sport. "Jamie showed them it could be done," Endicott said last week.

For a number of reasons Washington turned out to be the place where it got done.

Factor one was the Potomac River. There may be no other city in the nation that has such instant access to consistently good white water. From Great Falls down to Little Falls there is respectable paddling nine months a year and superb water in the spring.

The CCA set up its fair-weather racer training course on the feeder canal, which runs next to the C&O Canal about two miles upstream from Chain Bridge. Slalom gates are hung in the quick-flowing stream close by the Maryland shore. Endicott can train his people within 20 minutes of most of their homes.

Factor two was the CCA. It's one of the biggest canoe clubs in the nation with 2,000 members. It has a slalom division with nearly 100 active racing members, and of those, at least 30 are shooting for international status.

CCA keeps the youngsters coming with a "C-cats" program, that trains preteens and young teen-agers in basic and advanced whitewater techniques.

Factor three is the David Taylor Model Basin above Cabin John, an immense indoor pool where the Navy test boat designs. CCA has talked its way into using the basin when the Potomac is too cold. That means for three or four months a year, when the rest of the paddling world has to resort to weight training and running. Endicott can push his proteges around in boats seven nights a week.

And factor four is Endicott, who says he had one ambition these days: to train a world champion.

Endicott crew at Harvard four years. He paddled a canoe in two world championships - 1971 and 1973. He never did better than ninth and age started creeping up on him.

With his own chances behind him, he's putting his faith in the 31 paddlers of his "A" group. Each of them, he says, has an excellent shot at making the U.S. team for next year's worlds.

And in at least one event, he's counting on a gold medal. That's C1 - one man canoe - where Endicott believes he may have the five best paddlers in the country all training with him.

That explosion of talent could create a problem next summer, because only four racers from each nation get to paddle in any one world event.

Somebody is going to have to go. If may be Robinson, who finished fifth in C1 at the August race, or Ron Lugbill, who was second; or Kent Ford, who was third; or Jon Lugbill, who dropped down to eighth; or David Hearn, who swept the gold.

Endicott figures he has the group to beat in that class, whichever of these five fine racers is chosen. "We have to be the favorites in C1 next year because of the depth of our squad."

He feels that way even though the East Germans, perennial top dogs in international whitewater, didn't send a team to Jonquiere in August, but will be there next year.

"The East Germans have to be worried," he said. "The Czechs have to be worried.

"We're the third-best nation in the world right now. Ten years ago we weren't even in the race. Momeatum is on our side."

A year ago, at the last world championships in Spittal, Austria, East German and Czech paddlers sought Endicott out after the races and maked why the U.S. suddenly was doing as well. "I'd been at the races for eight years. They'd never asked before. I thought that meant something."

Endicott's hopes don't begin and end in C1. He's got a couple of [WORD ILLEGIBLE] entries in C2 - two-man canoes. Steve and Michael Garvis, twin fresh men at Catholic University, took the gold at Jonquiere. They are training hard, and other D.C. combinations should make the C2 squad, depending on who gets ousted from the C1 competition. Racers can enter only one event at the worlds. If robinson, one of the Lugbills or Hearn falls in C1, he could find a mate and race C2.

"It wouldn't surprise me if D.C, has two or three C2 boats in the four-boat team," said Endicott, "but I can't say how good their chances will be."

Endicott also likes D.C. chances in K1W - women's one-great Kayak, with Cathy Hearn and Yuri Kusuda leading the local hopefuls, and he sees a chance for the Washingtonians in C2 wildwater, in which Ron Lugbill and Hearn won the Jonquiere gold.

Slalom races are about a half-mile long, with gates strung along a roaring stretch of rapids. The paddlers have to negotiate the [WORD ILLEGIBLE] without hitting sets of poles spended over the water.

Ten-second penalties are assessed, for each gate hit and added on 10 total time.

In wildwater, the course may be three to five miles long along similar, water, but there are no gates. Here it's a straight, hell-bent-for-leather plunge to the finish along the fastest possible route.

It's a long haul to next July. Right now Endicott is trying to cool off his racers. He won't bring a stopwatch to practices along the feeder canal, he's trying to keep the intensity down, to give his paddlers a rest.

Around January training will start in earnest at the model basin. A lot of paddlers will give up a semester of school to return here and train In March weekend races will begin, and the canoe and kayak nomads will begin their long travels around the country, packed into vans, their feather-light plastic boats strapped to the roof.

Weekdays, when they are in town next spring they will work out twice a day at the feeder canal and in the river, building strength, perfecting skills for Jonquiere.

"There won't be any holding them back then," Endicott said. "It's a case of commitment. They simply can't have any emotional attachments of any significance outside of paddling, and they know that."