Different strokes may work for different folks, but only the right technique is going to effortlessly propel you and your kayak forward. Gauteng's Chad Andrews from Canoe Concepts shows us the basic paddle strokes kayakers use to efficiently move through the water, conserve energy and keep their craft on track. Even better, he throws in some practical advice to help make your next paddling experience that much safer.
Kayaking is fun. It also provides a great workout and connects you with nature. Just as importantly, as far as water activities go, it's about as safe a sport as you can get. That said, even a little bit of training before heading out on your first mini-adventure goes a long way. Learning how to hold your paddle correctly, how to use your body to power each stroke and where to put your paddle when, helps put you in control – making you that much safer on the water. Throw in a little practice, not to mention a healthy dollop of common sense, and you're good to go.
Upping your game
Statistically, it's recreational water users who are most likely to get into trouble. Those taking part in competitive paddling activities have a much cleaner safety record – mainly because they tend to have undergone in-house training at their clubs.
Fortunately, learning how to handle your kayak correctly and stay safe isn't rocket science. To find out more and pick up some tips, I spoke to Chad Andrews, owner of Canoe Concepts – one of South Africa's oldest paddling establishments. Strongly influenced by his father, a hardcore paddler. Andrews cut his paddling teeth early, competing in his first Fish River Canoe Marathon when he was just 12 years old. Since then, his passion for canoe polo has seen him represent South Africa internationally three times. More importantly, he has a good-natured, hands-on approach and is very familiar with teaching newbies the ropes.
According to him, just three short, fun sessions on the water are enough for most people to grasp the basic techniques and learn how to recover from a dunking. Andrews elaborates: “Learning the basic paddle strokes and how to get back onto your kayak after falling off is easy, once you're shown how. It can typically be covered in one 30-minute session, but I prefer beginners to have at least three, spread out over different days. That way, the techniques have a better chance of sinking in and becoming ingrained.”
The news for aspirant racers is just as good. Says Andrews: “You can go from a complete novice to competing in the Dusi Canoe Marathon after just a few month's training... if you're dedicated enough.”
Creating a splash before you've even left the bank is one way to elicit a laugh and some good-natured ribbing from your mates. Here's how you get into a sit-inside kayak while keeping your stability, not to mention your dignity, intact.
Holding the paddle
Essentially, kayaking is a balance sport. As such, it relies much more on equilibrium and finesse than mere muscle – and it all starts with understanding how to correctly hold your paddle.
The forward stroke
Like a boxer delivering a knockout punch, the correct paddling technique requires you use your entire body. Relying solely on your arms not only causes you to tire quickly, but also gets you nowhere fast. The trick is to rely on your legs and torso, using your core muscles to rotate your upper body and provide driving power to each stroke.
Kayaks don't come with brakes. The forward momentum paddling generates guarantees they'll keep gliding through the water for some distance until you, or an obstruction, intervenes to stop them. The backstroke not only stops you in a hurry but, when executed properly, lets you to hit reverse – giving you the ability to avoid collisions as well as manoeuvre yourself backwards out of tight situations.
Sweep stroke (turning)
Turning can be accomplished in a number of ways. The simplest is to just drop a blade into the water on either side of the kayak – the drag created will immediately turn your boat in that direction. The down side of this method is a loss of speed. To maintain forward momentum during a turn, you need to master the sweep stroke.
Draw stroke (going sideways)
Having the ability to move your kayak sideways is important – whether you're wanting to get out at a jetty or simply bum an energy bar from a paddle buddy while on the water. Here's how the basic draw stroke, sometimes called the T-stroke, works.
Falling into the drink is as much a part of kayaking as paddling is – so it's not a matter of “if”, but “when” it's going to happen to you. The self-recovery process for sit-inside and sit-on-top kayaks is pretty similar. That said, because sit-on-tops are wider (making them inherently more stable) and have open decks, they are by far the easiest to get back onto.
Here's how you get back into a sit-inside kayak after falling out:
When in doubt get out
Common sense should dictate how much training you require. Andrews explains: “If all you want to do is mess about on a dam on a perfect summer's day, as long as you're wearing a proper paddling life jacket, chances are you'll be fine. That's because, if the worst happens, there's a better chance someone can get to you before you get into serious difficulty.”
However, his laid-back attitude changes radically when it comes to rivers. “Fast flowing seasonal rivers can be deadly. It would be extremely irresponsible to paddle down one unsupervised without first completing a River Proficiency Course and learning how to properly read the river.”
His rationale makes perfect sense. As summer rains swell a river, all manner of debris gets pulled downstream into the flow – only to congregate around man-made structures such as weirs and bridges. Says Andrews: “All it takes is a tree to get caught sideways across a bridge, then a plastic bag, then another branch... Before you know it, the blockage can become 300 metres deep. Get sucked into that and you're in serious trouble.” As a consequence, he's always on the lookout for suspicious eddies that indicate disruptions in the river's natural flow.
Whenever the way ahead looks dicey, Andrews sticks faithfully to the golden paddling rule: “When in doubt get out”. He parks his kayak securely on the bank, then takes a walk to check out the obstruction up close. Only when he knows exactly what he's dealing with does he plan his next move.
This established paddling approach to tackling obstacles is just as relevant when encountering rapids, which can change their characteristics dramatically depending on water levels. – (c) 2017 NavWorld
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