It is not a new concept to suggest that ballast, fixed to the bottom keel-line of a kayak, can increase stability and performance. I’ve watched several of my students and paddling companions in recent years reap the benefits of installing ballast in their own kayaks. It seems to decrease the amount of “twitchiness” in the way their kayaks behave and has given them greater ability to concentrate on learning skills and technique instead of having to focus their attention on staying upright, especially when edging. For beginning paddlers who may have bought a kayak that is a little too advanced for their current skill level, the addition of ballast can help them grow into the skills needed to handle their kayak rather than having to find a different kayak. I’ve also seen kayakers who bought large-volume boats with the intention of doing a lot of kayak camping. When they paddle a high-volume kayak on day trips with no gear to weight it down, the boat does not perform well as it isn’t being used within its design parameters. Using ballast during the unloaded day trips improves the kayak’s performance markedly.
When learning physical skills it is difficult to keep your attention on more than one thing at a time. (How many people struggle with remembering to keep their heads down when swinging a golf club?) When you are concentrating on trying to keep your kayak on edge without tipping over, it is harder to work on the sweep strokes or paddle blade angles that you need for skills like the bow rudder or low brace turn. If you’ve found it challenging to learn the more advanced strokes for maneuvering your kayak, or have been intimidated at the thought of even trying, perhaps you should try out ballast in your boat.
A friend of mine and former student, Carl Vopal, invented an easy to install system for adding and removing ballast in a sea kayak when he found that he needed it himself in one of his kayaks. For those of you living near southeast Wisconsin, you have a wonderful opportunity coming up in the next two weekends. You can try out a Paddling Partner Ballast System in your very own sea kayak for a few hours. Carl Vopal will be at Sportsman’s Landing on Wind Lake the next two Saturdays, September 22nd & 29th, from 11:00am to 3:00pm. Bring your kayak and Carl will install a unit in your boat for a free trial. The installation requires no drilling, gluing, or modification to your sea kayak although there are certain limitations in the width of the kayak that can be accommodated with this product. If you don’t have a boat you can bring with you, Carl will have a couple of his personal kayaks with the ballast system installed available for people to try.
The Paddling Partner is a “feel” product. The effect it has on your kayak is not something that can easily be seen in pictures and video. Testimonials say it works, but you may still wonder if it will make a difference in your boat? On Saturday, September 22nd and 29th, you can try paddling your kayak on Wind Lake with and without the ballast to see for yourself if it would have a benefit for you. The trial is free and there will be no pressure to buy anything.
I apologize if this web post sounds more like a commercial for my friend’s ballast system than my usual educational blogs, but I do truly believe that ballast can make a significant difference in enhancing the fun and enjoyment that many people will get out of their sea kayaks. I’ve seen the difference it has made first-hand. The Paddling Partner ballast system is currently the only commercially available system out there right now that I’m aware of so this is the product that I’m encouraging paddlers to try.
I will put in a plug for the restaurant at Sportsman’s Landing. I use this facility as a meeting location for many of my classes on Wind Lake during the summer and the staff has always been very hospitable to me and my students.. The restaurant has a very large menu and the food has been great whenever I have eaten there. It would be worth stopping by for a nice lunch and drink on the patio whether or not you decide to test out the ballast system. : ) Sportsman’s Landing is located at 25313 W. Loomis Road on the north side of Wind Lake.