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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.

2 comments on “Thoughts on boat types related to paddling skill

  1. Jon says:

    To a certain extent you have a point. If you can’t paddle no matter what boat your in your probably going to swim. For the record I do most of my paddling in my creek boat anything from flat water to white water. However I have on occasion paddled play boats down white water. The difference is extreme! Its not exactly fair, but if you spend loads of time in a playboat shooting rapids which pull you in all directions and stoppers that try and hold you vertical with the slightest provocation, when you hop back in a creek boat they just seem to fly through everything with little to no difficulty.

    However I’m not aiming to knock what skill you have gained. By the time you decide to spend a weekend in a play boat messing about on waves you will, generally, have spent quite a lot of time on rivers. This means picking lines on grade 2/3 even some 4 is almost automatic. This is of course because the people you are paddling with have spent years going paddling and these rivers are very easy to them, like I’m sure you find flat water! There comments aren’t designed to be mean ( or I hope not, it would be unusual with paddlers) its just they’ve forgot how hard they use to find it paddling on these rivers!

    These comments usually come from 2 scenarios, you made a section of rapids they expected you to struggle with look easy in which case they’re joking with you as obviously a new guy couldn’t have made it look that easy without there boat doing all the work for them! Or the other scenario, and I’m afraid its more common, is you did something which, in a less forgiving boat, you wouldn’t of got away with. Typically approached a rapid too slowly, stopped paddling, didn’t give enough edge or even a bit of the wrong edge which in a boat such as a play boat would of resulted in a roll, potentially a swim (or at the very least a big brace!).

    Don’t take it too much to heart though, ask them why they said that or what they mean, without getting offended and they’ll probably give you some helpful tips!

    1. kayakjournal says:

      Thanks Jon. I haven’t had it happen to me too often, although I have been in the presence of others when they have made such comments. I do paddle a play boat, but usually for messing about on a local play wave as I do understand the importance of edge control and how an edgier boat is less forgiving.

      However one thing I think that those who insist on using shorter edgier boats all the time forget is that they too can install bad habits IMHO. For example a shorter boat spins more easily, so many people I see who paddle playboats extensively have a very predominant arm paddling style. Playboats have no glide so seem to develop a PLF style too.

      One thing I am finding as I progress is that with boats it is half a dozen of one thing and half a dozen of the other. Each type of boat demands a particular paddling style, but no one single model is better than another. Some boats, such as some of the longer ones with edges, are easier to float down the river, even though you have to be more aware of the edges. While a modern creek boat such as the Zet Raptor need to be positively driven all the time, and cannot be lazily floated, to get the best out of them.

      So it seems to me that all boats have traits that in another type of boat you wouldn’t get away with certain things, even edgy playboats. As long as someone practices in a mindful way, aware of the edges, aware of angles, aware of being precise, aware of trim and weight distribution, then they should be able to paddle any boat well with some adaption time.

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