Jon Lugbill of Fairfax, Va., became the first paddler to win three world championships in men's singles canoeing as the 1983 world whitewater championships got under way today.

Lugbill won the gold medal in the slalom with a time of 2:21.94, 0.93 seconds faster than teammate Dave Hearn of Bethesda, Md., who has now finished runner-up to Lugbill in the last three world championships. Lugbill, who has competed in four world championships, also won the gold in 1979 and 1981.

"This was definitely harder than the last two times when I won," said Lugbill, a 22-year-old student at the University of Virginia. "The water level really dropped here and I didn't know what it would take to win. I was afraid my best time might not be good enough."

Kent Ford of Rockville, Md., was in third place after the initial run but finished seventh in the overall standings. Bob Robinson of Fairfax, Va., third in the 1979 world championships, finished 38th today after his boat got mangled in the Passirio River.

In the women's kayak slalom events, paddlers from the Washington area did not do as well as in previous world championships. Cathy Hearn of Bethesda, who finished first in 1979 and second in 1981, finished in seventh place. Yuri Kusuda, also of Bethesda, was 16th.