I feel like Navin Johnson (Steve Martin) in the movie, “The Jerk”. “The new phone book’s here! The new phone book’s here!” In my case it isn’t a phone book, but rather a new kayaking gadget to play with. I admit it. I’m a kayaking gear head.
As many of you know, I sold kayaks for almost nine years and taught all the kayaking lessons for my former employer. Several years back, I sold a kayak and gave a lesson to a man named Carl Vopal. I occasionally saw him when he stopped into the store over the years, but otherwise I had kind of lost touch with him. Fast forward to last year when I was watching one of my University of Sea Kayaking DVD’s. There is a section on the DVD talking about a removable ballast system for sea kayaks called the “Paddling Parner”. Feeling that I should try to keep up with all the latest advances in paddling equipment, I checked out the website. I was surprised to see that the inventor of the product was named, Carl Vopal. Seemed like a pretty strange coincidence, so I looked up the contact information. The company was in Thiensville, Wisconsin. At that point I figured it had to be the same Carl Vopal, so I sent him an e-mail. Well, to make a long story short, I’ve had several opportunities to paddle with Carl over the last year, and he has become sort of a regular among my group of paddling friends. It turns out that he had been struggling for years to find a kayak that was comfortable in regards to cockpit space. When he finally found a kayak that was comfortable, the stability wasn’t very good because the boat was made to carry a paddler and lots of gear. Since Carl wasn’t paddling the boat with enough weight in it, the kayak wasn’t sitting as low in the water as it should have been resulting in poor handling. He invented the “Paddling Partner” system as a way to solve this problem and then decided to market the product for anyone needing a bit more stability or extra weight in their kayak.
I just got my own “Paddling Partner” in the mail a few days ago. I’m going to install it in one of my instructional kayaks. I have a Current Designs Sirocco that I use for the larger paddlers in my “Introduction to Sea Kayaking” class. Unfortunately, the taller guys that need to use this kayak sometimes find it a bit unstable if they are new to sea kayaking. I’m hoping that the ballast will improve the stability of the boat for these students. I know of at least two other paddlers in the Milwaukee area who have been using Carl’s invention for awhile now and both are very pleased with the results. While this may not be a product that everyone needs, I do think that it has the potential to help a lot of paddlers who may have issues with the stability of their kayaks. If you are significantly lighter than the recommended weight range for your kayak, or you have a high center of gravity (tall people or those with a lot of mass in the chest and shoulders), a ballast system could help you gain confidence in the stability of your kayak. Paddlers who have physical challenges that affect their ability to maintain the balance of their kayaks could also benefit from adding ballast. Frankly, anyone who wishes that their kayak was just a little more stable might find that a small amount of ballast will do the trick.
While you could always just put a rock or a big water jug in your kayak to help weight it down, these items can shift position when the kayak rolls in the waves potentially causing a capsize. One of the really nice features of this system is that the container holding the ballast is pinned into place so that this won’t happen. Yet, the container can also be easily removed so that you aren’t making your kayak heavier when you need to lift and carry it out of the water. While I haven’t gotten around to installing my system yet, I like the fact that there are no permanent alterations to the kayak. Nothing is glued or screwed into the boat. Only tension and friction are required to hold the base mount in place. Later this summer after I’ve had some students use this kayak, I’ll post an update on how it worked.
While I can’t take any credit for helping Carl come up with his idea, as his first instructor I am really proud of what he has accomplished. Look for Carl’s booth at Canoecopia this year on March 12-14 in Madison. Stop and say hi and tell him Sherri sent you! Sea Kayaker magazine is supposed to be doing a review of the product for the April issue, so you can look for more information there, as well. Oh, and if I have any other budding inventors out there among my past kayaking students, please let me know.
Here’s hoping you’re always on an even keel!