Kayaking isn’t rocket science, neither is it particularly expensive, but it can give you a great workout. So if activities like going for a run or climbing onto a bike don’t float your boat much, maybe you should consider giving paddling a try. That said, here’s how I got into kayaking – hopefully my journey will help motivate you into taking up this amazing, multifaceted sport!
Not all of us were born to run, or clock-up kilometre after kilometre along winding trails on a mountain bike. Fortunately, there are many ways for active types to burn calories, get fit and have some quality outdoor fun that have nothing to do with “mainstream sports”. I definitely fall into this category. I’ll happily lug heavy camera gear around with me on a 15 km day hike. But if you ever catch me running, chances are something bad’s going down – like I’m getting shot at! And I enthusiastically dumped my bike chain for the rush of an internal combustion engine decades ago.
My main outdoor focus has always been water. (Although it must be said, hiking comes a close second.) My childhood passion, swimming, later morphed into scuba diving which, in turn, stoked my interest in powerboats and, ultimately, moved me on to sailing – where my interests remained stuck for longer than I care to remember. That said, I don’t have a competitive bone in my body, so the thought of taking any kind of racing seriously just gives me the creeps. As a result I prefer more chilled, less structured activities where I get to push myself physically – often without realising it – while simply enjoying myself outdoors. So yeah, I definitely see myself more as a “weekend warrior” than a dedicated sports enthusiast.
How I got into kayaking
The kayak touring seed got planted in my brain back in 2013 when I signed up for a short offshore paddling course in Cape Town. However, I was still besotted with the 18-foot daysailer I had at the time, so it remained just a fun experience. But when I moved back to Gauteng last year everything changed – now landlocked, I had to come up with a radical new plan to get my “water fix”!
It was November, and I’d met up with Chad Andrews from Canoe Concepts at Emmarentia Dam for a NavWorld photoshoot. I had recently interviewed him for a beginners kayak article I was doing titled Getting started: All the basic moves a newbie paddler needs to know and needed to illustrate the thing. Knowing that I was interested in paddling (albeit basically clueless!), at the end of the shoot Andrews casually mentions “You should seriously think about join the club, it’s really affordable.”
“Hey, why not!” I figured. “I’m already here.” So then and there I wandered straight into Dabulamanzi Canoe Club’s reception to find out how the whole gig worked. What really surprised me was how affordable signing up was. Annual membership is just R720 (this diminishes as the year progresses), I also paid R100 for the SAMSA levy, along with R80 for my tag that gives me access to the showers and boat storage area. And, when I get my own boat (which I now have), storing it would only set me back an extra R1 000 per year.
My luck was in timing-wise for the beginners paddling course, too. This cost R600, but courses aren’t run regularly throughout the year. When the racing season is in full swing, like it is now, they shelve newbie training so members can concentrate on competitions. Considering the whole deal to be an absolute bargain, I paid up in full on the spot.
Why joining a club makes sense
I’ve completed enough boat competency courses to know how important it is to get the basics right before heading out on your own. And the quickest, most efficient way to do this is to join a club. For a start, you’re surrounded by an amazing pool of knowledge – so you tend to not pick up any of those nasty rookie habits that are so hard to shake later on down the line. And yes, while I may not be competitive, I do want to develop an efficient paddling style. That way I get to work the main muscle groups that kayaking targets properly, namely my core, back, shoulders, arms and legs. It also means I can travel further with less effort.
Another advantage is you get answers to all your questions, often over a beer. And just by kicking back at the clubhouse, watching the “grown ups” doing their stuff, you get to understand what areas you need to focus on and why.
Apart from that, you get loads of good informal advice. After I’d completed my beginners paddling course and was wobbling around the dam on my own, other paddlers would often stop and make constructive comments. Things like: “I’ve noticed you’re not holding your paddle correctly, here’s how you do it”, or “try this with your stroke, you’ll find the blade strikes the water more efficiently”.
In no time I was up to speed. And the beauty of it all was I didn’t even have my own boat! I’d simply used one of the club’s beginner K1 kayaks that are freely available to members 24/7. Apart from allowing me to practice enthusiastically over the December holidays without spending a cent, it also meant that I had some breathing space to save up for the touring kayak I wanted while still enjoying my new-found sport.
I opted to pay for the beginners paddling course (comprising three Saturday sessions out of four) simply because I figured it was a really affordable way to get up to speed fast. That said, I could’ve gone a more informal route. The club throws in one free training session for newbies, which is enough to get you wobbling around and not falling in too often! Then you can either get a coach, or do your informal thing, relying on other paddlers to point out flaws in your form as you work it out for yourself.
Finding the kayak of my dreams
Paddling may be paddling, but how you go about it makes a huge difference. For example, you might want to enter marathons (which in my mind is best equated to road cycling), or go the touring route (the mountain bike equivalent). Then again, you could have aspirations to shoot rapids, or enjoy the hurly-burly action of kayak polo. And the boats used for each specific sport category are completely different.
That said, I knew right from the get-go I wanted a touring kayak. But having wasted more money on boats than I care to admit over the years, I knew the best option was to buy secondhand. So I dived online and, after about a month of patient searching, I found an absolute bargain.
I’d been coveting the Wilderness Systems Tsunami 140 touring kayak ever since I first saw it at the 2016 Johannesburg Boat Show, but I never expected to get one so soon. Imported from the US, and a real quality build with a solid international reputation to match, it goes for R20 400 new (including the rudder system). I found one in immaculate condition, including rudder, for just R7 000! And, to sweeten the deal even further, the guy threw in a paddle worth R1 500 and a bilge pump that goes for R300. This seriously freed up my budget – allowing me to get a good Holdfast kayak mounting system for my car, a set of quality lockable tie down straps, along with a good collapsible kayak dolly to easily move my heavy 25 kg touring boat to and from the water.
Right now I feel like I’m living the life of Riley. I still have a few more kayak bits and pieces I want to purchase, and some of the compact camping gear on the market is catching my eye, but I’m sure I’ll be sorted by the end of the year. Right now I’m just concentrating on having fun – paddling at Emmarentia Dam in the week when I can, and taking my new toy out to Cradle Moon over the weekends where I can train and enjoy myself surrounded by nature. I also feel new destinations calling, my wanderlust is definitely growing – it’s going to be interesting to see where I end up next! – (c) 2017 NavWorld