Ten things you need in order to learn to roll a kayak

by Sherri ~ July 31st, 2017

 

Unless you are in your teens or twenties, learning to roll is generally a time-consuming process, rather than a single lesson.  In order to be successful, there are several things you are likely going to need. 

  1. A kayak with thigh braces that fits you properly
  2. An understanding of how the mechanics of a roll actually work
  3. A sequential program to train your brain and body to perform the movements of a roll
  4. Time, and the dedication to spend that time in consistent practice sessions 
  5. Clothing that will keep you extra warm in the water while you are learning and practicing  ( a drysuit is quite useful)
  6. Absolutely no apprehension about hanging upside down underwater in a kayak (any nervousness will inhibit your rolling skills)
  7. Nose plugs or a dive mask to keep water out of your nose
  8. A neoprene hood and/or ear plugs to keep cold water out of your ears
  9. A commitment to keep practicing even after you have successfully rolled your kayak to avoid losing your roll
  10. An expectation that frustration will most likely be a part of the process at some point, if not several points

While it is possible that you will roll in a single lesson, that is definitely the exception, not the rule, when it comes to learning to roll – especially if you are over 40 when you begin to learn.  Your brain and body are simply not programmed for learning new physical skills quickly as you get older.  Loss of flexibility and other physical limitations can slow your progress.  You can certainly learn to roll, even well into your 70’s, but it is going to take longer than it would have in your 20’s or even your 50’s.  Set your expectations for a longer process and you may be pleasantly surprised when it happens sooner.  If it ends up taking longer, as you were warned to expect, you won’t get so frustrated that you give up before you master the skill.

I have found that Helen Wilson’s method for teaching the Greenland lay-back roll works quite well for many paddlers.  Her approach reduces the need for a partner or instructor to work with the student throughout the entire learning process, the the Greenland layback roll is a kinder, gentler type of roll that works well for older bodies.  The extended paddle position gives a little extra leverage when your technique isn’t quite up to perfection.  You can take a look on YouTube to find clips from her excellent video, “Simplifying the Roll with Helen Wilson”. The other DVD that I highly recommend for people interested in learning to roll using a Greenland method, is “This Is The Roll” featuring Turner Wilson and Cheri Perry.

Revisiting the Issue of Tandem Kayaks

by Sherri ~ July 11th, 2017

Without a doubt, the most controversial blog post I’ve ever written is the post about “10 Things to Consider When Purchasing A Tandem.” That was over 7 years ago, but the number of comments has been staggering and people still continue to read and comment.  At times, I’ve been misinterpreted and accused of being “anti-tandem”, so I think I need to once again summarize the pros and cons of purchasing a tandem kayak.  For more explanation of these points, you will do well to go and read the original post and all the numerous comments that follow.

Pros

  • Allows two paddlers to combine their paddling strengths.
  • Keeps two paddlers of disparate strength together.
  • Allows one paddler to take a rest (or take photos) while the other paddles.
  • Typically, more stable than solo sea kayaks (but there are exceptions to this).
  • Works well on the water for situations like parent/child, paddlers with physical challenges, or partners who really don’t want to paddle anyway.
  • Can be a good way to introduce a beginner to the sport when paired with an experienced paddler in the boat.
  • Keeps the paddlers closer together for conversation, although the front paddler often has to turn around in order to be heard by the rear paddler.

 

Cons

  • Tandems are heavy to lift and carry.  You can’t break it into two trips like you can with two solo boats. 
  • Harder to sell than solo kayaks.
  • Harder to rescue after a capsize as the boat can be quite heavy in the water.
  • Limits the opportunities to paddle if your partner doesn’t want to go out paddling with you.
  • Makes it harder to develop certain kayaking skills like edging, bracing, and rolling, among others.
  • Not necessarily cheaper than buying two kayaks, although it can be in certain cases.
  • A rudder is highly recommended for a tandem which will add cost over solo kayaks without rudders.
  • For camping – two solo touring kayaks will generally have more storage space than one tandem, although the tandem may have larger hatch openings to accommodate larger individual items of gear.

 

Happy Paddling!

Sherri

 

2017 Canoecopia Presentations

by Sherri ~ February 28th, 2017

I will be giving the following presentations at Canoecopia 2017 held at the Alliant Energy Center in Madison, Wisconsin Friday through Sunday, March 10-12, 2017:

Choosing Your First Kayak

  • 5:30-6:15pm, Friday, March 10, 2017
  • 9:30-10:15am, Saturday, March 11, 2017

Proper Care and Feeding of Your Boat/Board (Drop-in Clinic)

  • 1-4pm, Saturday, March 11, 2017

Things I Wish I’d Known When I Started Kayaking

  • 6:30-7:15pm, Friday, March 10, 2017
  • 11:30am-12:15pm, Sunday, March 12, 2017

Secrets of Effortless Boat Control

  • 2:00-2:20pm, Sunday, March 12, 2017  (Pool Demo)

I heartily recommend that you attend Canoecopia if you can, whether or not you come to watch my presentations.  It’s just a lot of fun after our long northern winters to gather with so many like-minded paddlers who are all dreaming of the season so soon to come.  Stop by and say hi!

Sherri

www.PaddleSafely.com

by Sherri ~ August 24th, 2016

Since this past March when we had a recreational kayaking fatality on Lake Michigan near Port Washington, Wisconsin, I have been working with three other American Canoe Association (ACA) instructors to develop a website with safety information for paddling.  The website, www.PaddleSafely.com, has been up and running for awhile, but I haven’t been publicizing it since I felt like it still needed some tweaking to improve the look and ease of navigation.  Well, I just found out about another recreational kayaking incident on Lake Michigan that occurred yesterday off Montrose Harbor in Chicago.  Luckily, the kayakers were rescued safely.  Unfortunately, this never should have happened in the first place because these guys should never have taken their boats out onto Lake Michigan in the first place.

While I doubt that these kayakers would have viewed www.PaddleSafely.com under any circumstances, I have decided that I can’t wait until the website is “pretty.”  It’s time to start encouraging people to take a look and get the information that they are not receiving when they purchase inexpensive rec kayaks at big box stores and other outlets other than paddle sports specialty shops.  If you know someone who has a recreational kayak, or if you yourself own recreational kayaks, please check out the information on www.PaddleSafely.com and spread the word to those friends and family members who need to know this information, as well.  Please excuse our dust.  The website is still under construction, but I think you’ll still find important information.

Let’s get the word out and stay safe on the water!

Sherri

Recreational Kayaking Fatality

by Sherri ~ April 1st, 2016

In the interests of trying to disseminate accurate information about a incident that is certainly important to kayakers in southeast Wisconsin, I have pieced together the following from a variety of sources including WITI, WTMJ, WISN, CBS-58, The Ozaukee Press, and The Milwaukee Journal/Sentinel.

On March 16, 2016 around 3:30pm, two brothers from West Bend went out kayaking on Lake Michigan from South Beach in Port Washington, Wisconsin, wearing street clothes.  While air temperatures were in the upper 50’s to low 60’s that day, water temperatures on the lake are only 38-40 degrees Fahrenheit this time of year.  Sustained winds were 30-40mph with a top recorded gust of about 46mph in Port Washington around the time of the accident.  Winds were out of the west which would blow paddlers and kayaks away from shore.  The brothers had only been on the water around 15-20 minutes when 24-year-old Kevin Beilman capsized. Very shortly thereafter, Kevin saw his 27-year-old brother, Marcus Beilman, capsize.  Kevin quickly lost sight of his brother and the other kayak.  It took Kevin about 30 minutes to swim to shore.  He was spotted by a passing cyclist who contacted authorities.  Kevin was taken to a hospital to be treated for “exposure” (read hypothermia) and is expected to make a full recovery.  The USCG and Wisconsin DNR continued to search throughout the night, but the search was finally called off the next morning as it was highly unlikely that the missing brother could have survived in the water given what he was wearing.  The surviving brother was wearing a life jacket.  The missing kayaker was most likely not wearing a life jacket, although there has been no official report to that effect and the surviving brother was very disoriented when he was found on shore.  He was unable to say for certain whether or not his brother, Marcus, had been wearing a life jacket.  A photo on Marcus’s Facebook page posted just a few days prior to the accident shows him on the water in his kayak without a life jacket.

The brothers were paddling small recreational kayaks less than 10 feet long.  Neither kayak has been found, as yet.  Boats of this type typically have small pieces of foam in the bow and stern to provide very minimal flotation in the event of a capsize.  It is not nearly enough buoyancy to allow a paddler to re-enter the boat from deep water.  From personal experience using these types of kayaks in pool classes, it is not uncommon for the piece of foam in the bow to become dislodged from the kayak and to float out of the boat when the cockpit gets swamped in a capsize.  A marketing video that I found on the manufacturer’s website actually shows that this particular model of kayak has no flotation in the bow of the boat which means the boats are likely floating in a vertical orientation with the stern at the surface.  Since the kayaks were gray, this would be similar to searching for two gray bleach bottles floating on Lake Michigan.   It also is quite possible that the foam pillar that is placed in the stern of this kayak could also have become dislodged and floated out of the kayak which would mean that the boat would eventually sink.

I think if most of us are honest, we’ve made some “rookie” mistakes early in our careers.  Thankfully, most of our mistakes were much less consequential.  (“There but for the grace of God, go I.”) The best thing that we as experienced kayakers can do is to try to gently educate newbies about those risks of which they may be totally unaware.  I have no idea whose idea it was to go out paddling on that Wednesday afternoon in March, but I suspect that the surviving brother is going to be experiencing a tremendous load of survivor’s guilt.  We all need to be somewhat careful about what we say and how, and where, we say it.  There are no doubt many friends and family of the missing and the surviving kayaker who may hear or read our comments.  We don’t want to cause unnecessary additional pain to those who are grieving at this time, but I do want to make sure that we don’t have more people grieving because someone else makes the same mistakes that these two brothers did.  There will be a time to fully evaluate this incident objectively; to use it as a tool for teaching; and to remind all of us not to get too arrogant about our own paddling skills.  For now I would just like to reiterate three important safety rules for local paddlers.

  1. ALWAYS wear a life jacket when paddling.
  2. ALWAYS dress for the water temperature. (That means a wetsuit or drysuit when temps are less than 70°F.)
  3. NEVER paddle a recreational kayak on large bodies of water like the Great Lakes.

If anyone reading this post knows these two kayakers, I would like to extend my sincere condolences.  This was a sad, but very preventable tragedy that unfortunately seems to keep happening.

Stay safe.

Sherri

Choosing a Kayak Paddle

by Sherri ~ March 17th, 2016

Your paddle is arguably the most important piece of gear when it comes to the performance of your kayak, your endurance, your speed, and the enjoyment that you get out of paddling.  If you think of your body as the engine for your kayak, then the paddle is the propeller blade.  Serious power boaters can tell you how important it is to have the right “prop” on your engine.  With that in mind, let’s cover some basics.

When talking about paddle weight, lighter is better than heavier.  Imagine having to hold a paddle out in front of you with your arms outstretched.  Now imagine having a contest between you and another paddler to see who can hold their paddle out at arms length the longest without resting your arms.  More than likely, the person holding the lightest paddle is going to win this contest.  You are essentially holding your paddle out at arms length when you are kayaking and just moving it from one side of your kayak to the other.  A heavier paddle will tire out your arms and shoulders faster so that you will not be able to paddle as far or as comfortably as if you were using a lighter weight paddle.IMGP0138

One tip to keep in mind when comparing the weights of two paddles is that total weight is not the only consideration.  Two paddles may have the same overall weight, but if one paddle has more weight concentrated in the blades, it will feel heavier when in use than a paddle that has more of the weight centered in the shaft.  When paddling, you lift the blades higher than the shaft, so a heavier blade requires you to do more work.  This is sometimes referred to as the “swing weight” of the paddle.  Blade weight is rarely quantified in product specs, but you can compare two paddles by holding a paddle in each hand.  Hold both paddles horizontal with your hand at the center of the paddle shaft so that the paddle balances on two or three fingers of your hand.  A paddle with heavier blades will feel heavier in your hand in this position than one with lighter blades and more weight in the shaft.  Lighter paddles do tend to cost more, but they are worth every penny.  Ask anyone who has paddled with a nice lightweight fiberglass or carbon paddle and ask them if they would be willing to go back to a heavier paddle.

Comparing paddle weight

Be aware that you may see the material, “carbon”, advertised in less expensive paddles.  This is because carbon is very often just one of several materials that have been blended in the construction of the paddle.  The addition of carbon makes most paddle materials stiffer and lighter.  Carbon can be added to nylon blades to make them lighter and stiffer than typical plastic blades, but they still will not be as light or as stiff as a carbon fiber blade.  The carbon/nylon mix paddle may cost nearly $200, while the all-carbon-fiber paddle would be over $300.

Cheaper paddles are typically made with aluminum shafts and plastic blades.  While aluminum shafts can be lightweight, they often lack the strength needed for a kayak paddle, especially at the ferrule which is the joint where a 2-piece paddle is joined.  I have several examples of aluminum shaft paddles that have broken in the area where the holes are drilled into the shaft to allow the blade angle to be adjusted.  Drilling 2-3 holes around the circumference of the shaft weakens it dramatically.  Over time, the aluminum shaft begins to buckle between the holes.  Next, cracks appear between the holes and finally, the aluminum shaft breaks completely rendering the paddle useless.

Aluminum joint damage An aluminum shaft cannot be repaired.  Whatever money you spent to buy that paddle is wasted once it breaks.  One of the nice aspects of fiberglass as a paddle material is that there really isn’t much that can happen to a fiberglass paddle that can’t be repaired.  I’ve accidentally driven over my paddles in the garage.  Thankfully, some fiberglass cloth and epoxy was all it took to put the paddles back together again.  One other knock on aluminum paddle shafts is that the material tends to make your hands feel colder when paddling on a cool day and the metal can become quite hot on a warm, sunny day.  Aluminum also tends to be slippery when wet because of its smooth surface when compared with fiberglass that often has a slight texture to it.

plastic paddle ridges

Ridges down center of plastic paddle blade.

If aluminum is light, then why are cheaper paddles so heavy?  The heavier weight of cheaper paddles is usually found in the plastic blades.  Plastic is not a good material for paddle blades.  In order to make plastic paddle blades lightweight, they are often thin, flimsy, and flexible.  A blade that flexes in the water whenever you apply power will cause the paddler to waste energy and take more strokes to cover a given distance.  It is inefficient.  In order to stiffen a plastic blade, the manufacturer either has to make the plastic thicker (and heavier), or the material will need to have additional bends and ridges added to the design to stiffen the blade.  These ridges create added turbulence when the blade is pulled through the water causing the blades to flutter.  Fiberglass and carbon are better materials for paddle construction as they can be used to make paddle blades that are very stiff while remaining thin and lightweight.

Some paddle manufacturers tout the benefit of foam core blades or blades made of buoyant materials like wood.  The advantage to these types of paddle blades is that when the paddler submerges the blade, there is a natural tendency for the paddle blade to seek the surface again, meaning that the paddler does not need to lift the paddle blade back to the surface of the water.  The paddler will only need to lift the blade from the surface up into the air.  The buoyancy is so minimal, that it isn’t any harder to submerge these blades than non-buoyant blades, so there is a net advantage.  The bigger advantage to these buoyant blades is that the back-face of the blade is usually smooth.  This makes it easier to perform slicing motions through the water as is the case when doing draw strokes, sculling, and rolling.  You will generally find the option of foam core blades in carbon paddles which means they are quite expensive, but when you factor in the benefit of being able to paddle longer with less fatigue, the added cost is well worth it.  You may be able to find this benefit in wood paddles for a less extreme price tag.

The next thing to consider is the surface area or size of the paddle blade.  Many paddlers could benefit from using smaller blades, especially women who may not have as much strength in the shoulders and upper body.  A forward stroke is usually more efficient and effective in terms of speed if you maintain a higher cadence of strokes per minute.  Taking a paddle stroke causes your kayak to speed up slightly while you are actively applying force to the blade.  Between strokes, the kayak is slowing down slightly due to the effects of friction or drag on the boat.  If you use a faster stroke cadence, the recovery portion of your stroke is shorter and the kayak has less time to slow down between each stroke.  Thus, you are better able to maintain the momentum that is produced by the power portion of each stroke.  The problem with using a paddle blade that has too much surface area is that the resistance on the blade may prevent you from being able to maintain that higher cadence for any length of time.  Smaller blades make it easier to maintain a high paddling cadence.  Once you get your kayak moving, it is not necessary to have as large a blade to keep the momentum.blade size comparison

However, whitewater kayakers or sea kayakers who spend a great deal of time in the surf may need paddle blades with a larger surface area.  Aerated water (water that appears white and frothy) has less resistance due to the large amount of air that is mixed in with the water molecules.  Paddlers in these conditions need more surface area on their paddles in order to get the same “purchase” on the aerated water as a paddler who is paddling in undisturbed “blue” water.  Whitewater kayakers and surf kayakers are less concerned with the tiring effect of larger blades because they spend less of their time using their paddles for forward propulsion.  The paddle is used more for support, bracing, rolling, and maneuvering which means that the larger blade will not tire them out the same as it does for someone who is spending most of their time using the forward stroke to cover distance over the water.Bent vs. Straight shaft comparison

When shopping for paddles, you may be faced with the option of a “bent shaft”.  You will pay extra for this option, and in most cases it is not necessary.  For some beginning paddlers, the bent shaft may actually create more problems than it solves.  The bent shaft is designed to help the paddler maintain a more ergonomic position of the wrists when paddling to help reduce the possibility of tendinitis.  However, if you don’t place your hands correctly on the bend, you may be creating a less ergonomic position for your wrists than if you were using a straight-shaft paddle.  You can reduce stress on your wrists no matter what paddle you are using, by relaxing your grip on the paddle.  “Death-gripping” your paddle creates a kink in your wrist that can lead to repetitive motion injuries over time.

Wrist bends with tight grip on paddle

Wrist bends with tight grip on paddle

Wrist and forearm in alignment

Wrist and forearm in alignment

Relaxing the grip allows the wrist and forearm to remain in a neutral alignment throughout the paddle stroke.  This is also another good argument for buying a lighter-weight paddle as it is easier to relax your grip on a light-weight paddle.  Heavier paddles feel like they are falling out of the paddler’s hands, so there is a tendency to grip a heavier paddle more tightly bringing on fatigue and possible tendinitis of the wrists.  Many whitewater paddlers, however, do favor the bent-shaft option on their paddles as it makes it easier to feel the correct hand position on the shaft when a paddler capsizes and is preparing to roll up.  Whitewater kayakers also need to hold their paddles a bit more tightly than recreational and sea kayakers to make sure they don’t lose their paddle.  I once almost lost my paddle in a rapid when the blade went into a crack between two rocks.  If I hadn’t had a firm grip on the paddle, it would have been yanked from my hands.  As it was, I just barely had time to pull it back out of the crack as the current carried my kayak downstream.

My recommendation to sea and recreational kayakers is typically to choose the lightest weight paddle.  Adding a bent-shaft actually makes a paddle slightly heavier since the shaft will be a little longer with all the bends.   Therefore if you have the choice between buying a fiberglass bent-shaft paddle for about the same money as a carbon straight-shaft paddle, I would take the carbon straight-shaft, even if you have wrist problems that might make you a candidate for a bent-shaft paddle.  As I said earlier, a lighter weight paddle and a relaxed grip will do more to reduce stress on your wrists than getting a bent-shaft.  If you are “shooting the wad” and going for the very top-of-the-line paddle, go ahead and get the bent-shaft carbon paddle with the foam-core blades.  (That happens to be what I personally use for sea kayaking.)  If you are a whitewater kayaker, you may want to stick with the slightly heavier and slightly more durable fiberglass, bent-shaft paddle if you are paddling in the shallow, rocky whitewater rivers of northern Wisconsin and Michigan.  If you paddle in large-volume, deeper rivers, the carbon whitewater paddles are a great choice.

"High Angle" (top) "Low Angle" (bottom)

“High Angle” (top)
“Low Angle” (bottom)

When paddle shopping, you may also see or hear references to “high angle” and “low angle” paddle blades.  This refers to the angle of the shaft as you are performing your forward stroke.  Whitewater paddlers with good technique are always “high angle” paddlers because using a low angle causes whitewater kayaks to spin.  Recreational kayakers are pretty much “low angle” paddlers by definition because recreational kayaks are so wide that it makes it difficult to perform a “high angle” forward stroke without leaning your body out to the side of the kayak.  Sea kayakers have the option of being either a low-angle or a high-angle paddler.  Among some camps, there is a strong push to make all sea kayakers into high-angle paddlers.  Personally, I think there is room for both styles of forward stroke, and either paddle design can be used to perform both a low-angle and high-angle stroke.  It may be helpful to have someone take some video of your natural forward stroke as you paddle straight at the camera.  The more vertical your stroke tends to be in relation to the water (60 degree or greater), the more you will benefit from a high-angle design.  The lower your shaft angle (50 degrees or less), the more likely you will prefer a low-angle paddle.

Low Angle Forward Stroke

Low Angle Forward Stroke

High Angle Forward Stroke

High Angle Forward Stroke

When I first learned to kayak back in the late 1980’s, I learned a forward stroke, what we now call low-angle, and a power forward stroke, what is now termed high-angle.  The high-angle stroke was used for covering distance quickly and is more like the stroke that racers use, but was thought to be more tiring.  The low-angle stroke was thought to be easier to maintain over longer distances.  While most racers tend to use a high-angle stroke which is why many kayakers argue that a high-angle stroke is more efficient, some open-water surf-ski racers like Oscar Chalupsky favor a lower angle stroke in big waves as it creates an outrigger effect that increases stability.  Ultimately, the blade style you choose is a matter of personal preference, so you may need to take some time to try different blade styles, or you may want to get one of each since sea kayakers should carry a spare paddle for safety anyway.

The last thing that you are going to need to decide on is the length of the paddle that you want, but his can be a really complicated decision.  For recreational and sea kayakers, the basic concept is that the wider your kayak the longer your paddle needs to be.  Recreational kayaks are typically fairly wide requiring the paddler to use a low angle stroke.  As a result, recreational paddlers need longer paddles.  A pretty typical paddle length for kayaks wider than 28″ is 230cm.  Sea kayaks are almost always narrower than 25″, so sea kayakers use shorter paddles.  If you buy a low-angle paddle, you will likely be choosing a paddle in the range of 215-220cm.  Your height will have very little impact on your choice of length unless you are really short or really tall.  On the other hand, if you prefer a high-angle paddle, your choice of length will more likely be somewhere between 205-215cm, and your choice will be strongly influenced by your height and the width of your kayak.  Whether high-angle or low-angle, the shaft length should be about the same.  The difference in the length of your paddle is primarily a feature of the different blade shapes.  High-angle blades are shorter than low-angle blades, so the overall length of a high-angle paddle is shorter than the overall length of a low-angle paddle.

Whitewater kayakers favor very short paddles, anywhere from 180-205cm, most often between 190-197cm.  The paddle length for whitewater paddlers is typically dictated by the type of whitewater paddling you will be doing and the height of the paddler.  Some manufacturers like Werner Paddles have charts to help paddlers decide on an appropriate length.  These can be very helpful, but keep in mind that paddle length is also a matter of personal preference.  If this is your first paddle purchase, you likely don’t have the experience to know whether you will be happy with the generally accepted suggestions for length, or if you would prefer something that deviates from typical recommendations.  When in doubt, I suggest that recreational and sea kayakers consider getting a paddle that is 5cm shorter than the recommended length.  My reason for this suggestion is that in the 25+ years that I have been kayaking, paddle lengths have gradually become shorter.  My current sea kayak paddle is at least 15-20cm shorter than the paddle I used in 1988.  It is better to err on the side of having a shorter paddler as it is easier to paddle with a paddle that is a bit too short than it is to paddle with something that is too long.  Beginning whitewater paddlers should probably stick with the currently accepted recommendations for length.small vs. standard shaft

One last consideration in choosing a kayak is the diameter of the shaft.  Very few paddle manufacturers have the option of getting the same paddle in different shaft diameters.  Werner Paddles is the only company I know of who offers that option.  However, there are slight variations in the shaft diameters of different manufacturers which may partially account for why some paddles just feel better in your hand than others.  Shaft diameter is primarily a matter of personal preference.  The idea is that people with smaller hands will prefer a smaller diameter shaft.  While this is true, it can also be true that someone with larger hands may still prefer a smaller shaft diameter.  Based on hand size alone, Werner would recommend that I purchase a standard diameter paddle, and for many years that is what I paddled with.  However, since I have started experiencing arthritis in the joint at the base of my thumb in the last few years, I find that a smaller diameter shaft puts less stress on this area of my hand and is more comfortable for me.  The shaft on the top of the photo is the smaller shaft.  It can be hard to “see” the difference.  It is much more apparent when you “feel” the two shafts.  If you have a choice, try paddling with both and decide which one you prefer.  If you don’t get a choice, don’t worry about it too much.  Kayakers have been using standard diameter shafts for many years with no problems and no one was really complaining about it before the smaller shafts became available.

carbon & fiberglass paddlesThis is probably a lot of information overload to the average beginner looking to purchase a first paddle.  You may be feeling like you are more confused than ever.  So what is the take-away?  My personal recommendation for most beginners is to skip the aluminum/plastic paddles and get a decent fiberglass paddle.  You shouldn’t be paying less than $100 for your paddle and I would strongly encourage you to spend more like $200-300.  Unless you are paddling in whitewater or surf, get a smaller surface area for your blade.  Skip the extra cost of a bent-shaft.  If you’re itching to spend some extra money, put it towards getting a lighter carbon paddle or foam-core blades.  If you are a recreational kayaker, get a 225-230cm paddle.  If you plan to paddle a sea kayak, consider a low-angle paddle of 215-220cm in length.  This is the “mainstream” option.  Once you have more experience and have the opportunity to try using different paddles, you can purchase a second high-angle paddle, if you want.    Choosing the appropriate length on a high-angle paddle is much more difficult as there are so many variables affecting your choice.   Going for the more conventional paddle choice may or may not turn out to be your ultimate favorite paddle, but it will work well while you are learning and developing your skills.  It will also make a good choice for a spare paddle in the future if you do decide to get a different paddle.  Sea kayakers should be carrying a spare paddle for safety.   Having both a low-angle and a high-angle paddle allows you to switch back and forth between the two designs when conditions and your mood dictate, and the more conventional low-angle paddle will work for just about anyone who might need to borrow your spare on the water.  Whitewater paddlers will want to consult with someone who is well-versed in the type of paddling they want to do (i.e. creeking, downriver, slalom, playboating, crossover) as each whitewater style will affect the length slightly along with the paddler’s height.

As you will no doubt discover, good paddles are an expensive accessory, but don’t be tempted to skimp on this item.  You are better served to spend the extra money on the paddle and look for a way to save on your kayak than to buy a nice kayak and then buy a cheap paddle to go along with it.  You won’t end up enjoying the kayak that you spent all your money on.  With a nice, lightweight paddle, you will enjoy paddling whatever boat you end up with.

Happy paddling!

Sherri

 

Podcast of January 7th Interview

by Sherri ~ January 8th, 2016

If you weren’t able to listen to the broadcast yesterday, you can listen to the podcast of the interview at http://www.blogtalkradio.com/silentsportsguru/2016/01/08/a-conversation-with-an-outstanding-certified-kayakcanoe-instructor.  The discussion focused mainly on getting started in paddling with information about the different paddling disciplines and a few important points to keep in mind when buying equipment and looking for instruction.  If you listened live and weren’t able to get your questions answered, please feel free to contact me directly anytime by email, or you can try giving me a call at 262-895-2008.  Thanks to all who helped me spread the word about the original broadcast!

Sherri

Opportunity to Talk to Sherri

by Sherri ~ January 5th, 2016

If you weren’t able to listen to the broadcast yesterday, you can listen to the podcast of the interview at http://www.blogtalkradio.com/silentsportsguru/2016/01/08/a-conversation-with-an-outstanding-certified-kayakcanoe-instructor.  The discussion focused mainly on getting started in paddling with information about the different paddling disciplines and a few important points to keep in mind when buying equipment and looking for instruction.  If you listened live and weren’t able to get your questions answered, please feel free to contact me directly anytime by email, or you can try giving me a call at 262-895-2008.  Thanks to all who helped me spread the word about the original broadcast!

Sherri

 

This Thursday, January 7, 2016, at 7pm CST, I will be a guest on an interactive live-streaming radio broadcast, www.blogtalkradio.com/silentsports.guru®. The discussion during this interview will cover a wide range of topics relating to paddling including differences between the disciplines of kayak, canoe, and SUP and how to get started in paddling.  This broadcast should be of special interest to those who are thinking of getting into paddling and are looking for some guidance on where and how to start.  If you are able to listen live on Thursday evening, you will have the opportunity to call in with your questions, so those of you with more experience can hopefully get answers to your questions, as well.  Please share this information with anyone you know who is interested in paddling and I’ll look forward to having the opportunity to speak with some of you on Thursday!

Sherri

 

You can find out more about silentsports.guru® at the website and by going to the following:

Facebook:  www.facebook.com/silentsportsguru

Website:  www.silentsports.guru

Website: www.mkegreenworks.com

 

The Importance of Safety Skills for Paddling

by Sherri ~ November 6th, 2015

The American Canoe Association (ACA) in partnership with Anzovin Studio and the U.S. Coast Guard has recently released a new video called “Stories of Survival”.  I think it does a really good job of showing why it is so important for paddlers to make that extra effort to get training in the skills and information that will help them be safer on the water themselves, and to be able to assist others on the water who may need help.  I’ve posted the video on the “Photo Gallery” page of my website as well as below.

I hope everyone had a safe summer paddling season!

Sherri

All Hail, the Lowly Paddle Float!

by Sherri ~ March 27th, 2015
Inflatable and Foam Paddle Floats

Inflatable and Foam Paddle Floats

It seems that it is currently fashionable among some sea kayak instructors to bash the standard paddle float solo re-entry as a useless skill.  I am not of that camp, but even if you are, I urge you not to throw out your paddle float just yet.  There are numerous ways that a paddle float can be beneficial to a sea kayaker.

1. If you need to tow an incapacitated paddler but don’t have a third person to raft up with the paddler for stability, put a paddle float on each blade of the incapacitated paddler’s paddle and he/she can use it to prevent a capsize as he/she is being towed.

2. If your roll just failed and you have had to do a wet exit, you can put a paddle float on your paddle and do a re-entry and roll.  This is a much better solo rescue skill than the standard paddle float re-entry, but is not easily taught to most novice paddlers who have not been at least introduced to the roll.  You are just about guaranteed to get back upright, and the paddle float will be on your paddle adding stability as you pump out all the extra water in your cockpit.

3. Many instructors who eschew the paddle float re-entry will instead advocate the scramble re-entry.  I would argue that someone who can’t do a paddle float re-entry is not likely to be successful at a scramble, but I digress.  If you have struggled to successfully complete a scramble re-entry, consider putting a paddle float on your paddle blade before you attempt to remount your kayak.  The paddle float can be used to give you some support as needed, especially as you attempt to get your feet and legs into the cockpit and drop your butt into the seat (the part of the scramble that many paddlers struggle with).

4.  Inflatable paddle floats may be useful as an air splint to help stabilize a fracture of the hand, wrist, foot, or ankle if you are wilderness camping and don’t have ready access to medical assistance for several hours or days.

5. I paddled for almost 20 years with a semi-inflated paddle float secured in the boat just forward of the seat under my thighs for comfort.  Supporting the back of the thighs in a kayak seat helps to prevent lower back pain which is why many kayak manufacturers have added an adjustable thigh support feature to their seats.  Having the paddle float partially inflated also made my paddle float re-entries much quicker as I didn’t have to spend as much time blowing up the float.

6. A paddle float can be used as a pillow for a nap after lunch or to get you through an uncomfortable and unexpected emergency overnight campout while awaiting better weather conditions or outside help.

7. Instructors like Helen Wilson advocate the use of paddle floats for learning how to roll a sea kayak.

8. When doing a re-entry of a tandem sea kayak with no other kayaks for assistance, the first person to re-enter the kayak (generally the stern paddler) can use a paddle float on his/her paddle to help stabilize the kayak while the second person re-enters the front cockpit.  This is also a situation in which a good sculling brace can be done for stability by the paddler in the rear cockpit, but unfortunately not everyone has a really solid sculling brace and using the paddle float for support would be less tiring than the sculling brace if it takes the front paddler longer than expected to re-enter.  If the front paddler needed extra assistance in re-entering, you might even be able to attach the paddle with the float under the deck rigging to give stability leaving the rear paddler’s hands free to help pull the front paddler aboard.  (This would require some pre-planning to make sure your decklines and bungees will accommodate this set-up.)

9. In the event that a leak in a hatch threatens the buoyancy of a sea kayak, paddle floats could be inserted into the open hatch and inflated take up space and act as emergency float bags.

10. In the event that a smaller round hatch cover is lost or destroyed, an inflated paddle float could be jammed into the rim of the hatch opening to block the opening and prevent water from getting in.

11. If the waves have picked up significantly and a less experienced paddler is on the water and needs to get to shore, a set of “sponsons” could be created by putting an inflated paddle float on each end of a spare paddle.  The paddle can be jammed through the deck rigging and secured with duct tape or zip ties on the back deck to create a set of “training wheels”.  As long as the paddler stays upright, the floats would mostly be off the water.  In the event that the paddler starts to tip, the float on that side would come in contact with the water and would hopefully slow the capsize enough that the paddler could regain his/her stability.  (I plan to try this one for the fun of it when the water gets a little warmer around here this spring.)

These are just some ways that I have come up with to use a paddle float.  With some creativity and ingenuity, I suspect that there are probably several other ways that this gear could be used.  Inflatable paddle floats are relatively inexpensive and take up very little room in a sea kayak.  I see no reason not to carry at least one.

Be safe on the water!

Sherri

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