The most annoying phrase I have heard in kayaking is “the boat got you through that”. Why is it annoying? Because even though you know you worked like hell to get the line, and possibly was still struggling to get the stroke timings right, some smart arse suggests seriously at the end that it was your boat that got you through it all!
There is this idea that a creek boat will simply get you through everything, even if you barely paddle. What? you take your creek boat on grade 3? Pah! That’s easy!
I have to say that these types of comments are not exactly helpful, especially if you are one of those people who capsize and maybe swim on grade 3, even while paddling a creek boat. If you are one of those people such a comment is pretty much implying that you are an utterly crap paddler! After all, if you are still capsizing and swimming in a creek boat when “supposedly” you should be acing it in an edgier smaller boat according to some, where does that leave your skill?
Well it all depends. You might be paddling your creek boat on grade 2 and 3 while trying to improve. Let’s be perfectly honest here, a short playboat is a rubbish boat to paddle in general. The foam foot blocks are rubbish to push on with the feet and they are uncomfortable and slow with virtually no momentum or ability to glide for any distance. Given my short time in the paddling world I hope some may forgive me if I am speaking out of turn or do not know what I am talking about. However I would say that if you were wanting to practice your stroke timing and solid efficient paddling, then a playboat is one of the worst boats to paddle.
I fully agree that paddling a more slicey, edgier boat will improve skills in certain areas, such as edge awareness, trim and the like. However that is not to say that you can’t do the same in a bigger boat, just as long as you practice will full awareness and concentration on those aspects. The feedback from the boat might not be as stark, but it can still be done. Not everyone can afford multiple boats so you need to challenge yourself with what you have.
While edge awareness, trim, and the ability to keep a line in a smaller boat on pushy water will improve skills, there are many other skills that you can practice in your larger boat, if that is all you have. Skills that hardly anyone practices! Notably exacting forward paddling technique, posture, body rotation, blade awareness in general. The latter point about blade awareness was something that was drilled into me by my original coach, Dan Povey, from the beginning. And I have to say that I felt a huge improvement simply going onto flat water and doing exercises such as slicing the paddle back and forth in the water. Drawing shapes in the water with the blade. Doing those same exercises both with my eyes closed and also holding the paddle with one hand.
Other exercises I do are paddling on one side like an open canoe. I have also started to paddle with the wrong blade, in a similar fashion to the way C1 paddlers do when they paddle their off side. The hanging draw, while not used very often (some will say not at all) is really useful for blade awareness and hand/arm positioning. Paddling backwards too.
All of these things as far as I am concerned will offer up a lot more improvement in the foundation than simply getting a playboat. Yes, a playboat or a slicey, edgy river runner will improve your edge awareness, trim etc as mentioned before, and certainly messing around in a play wave and capsizing a lot will drastically improve the roll. However coming at this from a martial arts perspective many of those aspects are what I would class as icing on the cake. Not many people practice the excercises I listed above because it means going out on flat water, and they could be construed as boring.
I would disagree with that assertion. I find it therapeutic, especially on a really warm day when there’s no white water runs and I can’t travel, to simply go to my nearest piece of flat water and do those drills/exercises. By playing about with them, trying your torso rotation in different places and really breaking down the strokes you can have quite a few “aha!” moments! Quite often something just clicks and you end up fully understanding why one thing works and why another doesn’t.
This year I have slacked off a bit from my flat water practice and I have noticed it in my paddling. But it goes to show that what matters is your paddling technique and skill, not the boat that you paddle.
I have only been paddling for two years, and so this article may appear like I know nothing about anything. I accept that and it may be fair comment. However this is just my experience so far speaking.