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Wilderness Systems Zephyr Review: A Great kayak For Expert And Novice Paddlers

I work as a professional Kayak Guide in Finland, I used a Zephyr 160 or 155 almost exclusively all last summer in the Helsinki Archipelago. I used it in winds ranging from 2 mps to 12 mps, in both flat and pretty rough seas and from trips ranging of a few hours to a few days. I am a qualified Sea Kayak Instructor and an EPP3 in Sea Kayak.

Wilderness Systems is a US based Kayak Company based in South Carolina. They have made quality, thermoplastic kayaks since 1985 and are widely considered among the highest quality Kayaks you can spend your money on. They have terrific customer service and a wide range of models to choose from, so that you get the best boat for you. The Wilderness Systems Zephyr is among their best models.

Wilderness System Zephyr Size: 155 vs 160

The Zephyr is available in two sizes. The Zephyr 155 and the Zephyr 160, the only real differences between the models are in weight, width and length, with the 160 being bigger at 16”. Both are fantastic boats, the boat that is right for you would be the one that you are most comfortable in. Smaller framed paddlers will love the 155’s more compact build and bigger paddlers will most likely prefer the 160’s more spacious capacity and cockpit. Either way, you really cannot go wrong.

The Zephyr is a rigid, solo kayak, made from ABS plastic. This thing is absolutely bomb proof, where you would have to be careful with a wooden or Kevlar Kayak, you can sleep easy knowing that you could drag this boat across the beach and it would not suffer any damage.

Enjoying the sunset after a day out on my Zephyr…

The Zephyr: A Comfortable And Maneuverable Kayak

Sitting inside, you will immediately notice how comfortable the seat is. Easily adjustable and well contoured to your lower back; this is one of the most comfortable seats available in a Sea Kayak. There are adjustable padded thigh braces that are very comfortable to press on. The slidelock pedals are easily adjusted with a sliding bar system that is accessible from your seated position, which means no more reaching way down the boat to mess with peddles! The trutrak skeg is adjusted from a simple lever on the right hand side of the boat and uses a string and spring so as not to kink or tangle and there is a compass recess if you feel so included.

Both models are under 60 lbs, making this a fairly easy boat to move from your car to the water as well as a VERY maneuverable boat in the hands of both novices and experienced paddlers. At 22.5” of width on the 155 and 23” of width on the 160, both boats are very stable. They accelerate very quickly, turn very tight and are very easy to roll, making them wonderfully fun models for rock hopping and playing in the surf. This has been the reason that I tend to use this Kayak more than others, if a customer or client is having a problem, I can turn and race to them very quickly. In addition, the skeg is excellent and in high winds, it makes a very real difference in being able to track straight. If you are struggling to turn with the skeg down, simply adjust it to a point that allows you to track straight while still being able to turn.

How’s The Storage On The Zephyr?

As far as storage goes; there are bow, midship and stern bulkheads, which are all domed. This provides you with ample storage space to hold gear for trips easily lasting a few days as well as quick day paddles. Place your most used gear and snacks in the midship bulkhead and divide the bow and stern with the rest of your kit. The 155 has a max capacity of 275 lbs and the 160 has a max capacity of 300 lbs, making them appropriate for trips of up to five days in my opinion.

These are excellent touring/sea kayaks for just about any level of skill and are great boats to develop with, considering their tough build and stability. Their price makes them on the higher end of the cost spectrum, but still a tremendous value for the money. They could easily be considered the perfect kayak by many.

Conclusion And The Only Negative…

As far as cons go, you would be hard pressed to find any. The really only negative characteristic, could be the plastic foot pegs. They can sometimes feel flimsy when really pushing on them, but I have never had one break on me. If you wanted to do even longer trips, or maybe bring more luxury items, then perhaps you would find the storage space to be underwhelming, but I have never had an issue in this respect.

I would primarily compare it to the Wilderness Systems Tempest, an excellent boat in its own right. The Tempest has more storage space, tracks better and is probably a little bit faster. However it is less maneuverable and harder to roll. Which boat is better for you would probably just come down to personal preference.

Kayak Navigation with a Compass: How To Not Get Lost

Leisurely paddles are fun, and require little in the way of extra equipment or supplies. But it is a pretty good bet that at some point, you’re going to want to extend yourself on some longer paddles. Of course, on very short trips, where you really don’t get far out of site from your launch point, you can just guess, use landmarks, and eventually you’ll find your starting point. But if you go very far at all, you need to learn some basic navigation skills.

It may sound a bit daunting, but we’re not talking about finding an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean (unless you want to…). Water navigation is not all that hard or technical. People have been doing it for over 8000 years, without the benefit of maps, navigation aids, or even a written language. It wasn’t long before we went to just about every place on the planet that could be reached by water. And for the first few thousand years, they did it in boats not much bigger than yours. If they could do it, so can you.

6 Types Of Kayak Navigation

There are several types of navigation. Each one is particularly suited to certain conditions. You may need to use a combination of types, so you need to be familiar with most of them. There are lots of things that are common to all of them. You need:

  1. Charts and/or maps of the area you are traversing. A chart is a map that has added features listed such as water depth, navigational aids like buoys, lights, channels, hazards like rocks and shoals, etc…. They also have the most valuable thing next to your compass…the Compass Rose.
  2. A handheld compass with sighting lenses. Make sure it is an oil-filled compass, and not just a cheap jittery air-filled one. You also want a sliding ring on it for bearings, etc…
  3. A Parallel Ruler, which is just two rulers joined by moveable struts.
  4. A good pencil with an eraser.
  5. Not an absolute necessity but a protractor is very handy, and very inexpensive. I highly recommend you have one.
  6. A good, reliable watch. Modern digital watches are invaluable with all of the extra functions they are capable of. Get one that is water-resistant and has as many functions as possible. I am very fond of Timex Expedition models. Carry an extra one in case the battery dies in your main timepiece.

None of these items are expensive, or take up a lot of room. They can all be kept in a medium-sized waterproof floating container.

True North vs Magnetic North

It may shock you to learn that Earth actually has two North Poles. True North is the axis on which the Earth rotates. This is the physical North Pole. Maps are drawn in reference to the True Geographical North Pole. Lines of Longitude and Latitude are also drawn in relation to True North. But magnets can’t read maps. Compasses work off of magnetic fields, and these fields are convinced that the magnetic center of the planet is a point around 500 miles from the Geographic North Pole. To complicate matters, this point moves on a regular basis due to shifting of the Earth’s core. It has to be re-calculated every few years. As of 2019, the Magnetic North Pole resides at  86.448°N 175.346°E. So to use a compass to navigate very far, you need to know the declination, or offset angle for your area. The easiest way is to use the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Declination calculator. If you don’t know the coordinates for the location you need, you can just enter a street or city name, and it will do all the calculations for you. For instance, I am in Chatsworth, Ga. When I put in my address, it gives me my longitude and latitude, as well as the declination, which is 5⁰, 2’ West +/- 20’. (‘ means ‘minutes’. There are 60 minutes to each degree of longitude and latitude). So to plot a course, I need to adjust the compass reading by 5⁰, 2’ West. If I want to maintain a course of 160⁰ true, I have to maintain a true heading of 154⁰, 8’m (if the declination is East, you add it to your magnetic heading. If it is West, then you subtract from it).

Keep Landmarks At Sight

The easiest way to use a compass to navigate if you will remain within sight of land is to use the sighting lens to find a spot on the opposite shore that is directly on the heading you wish to maintain, then keep the nose of your yak directly on that point while you are paddling. When you want to change course, stop, take a new bearing and paddle directly towards that spot. To get back, just do the same thing in reverse.

Plotting a Course on A Chart

To plot a course on a chart, find where you plan to start and make a pencil mark. Next, find your destination and make a pencil mark. If it is not possible to go straight to your destination, then mark spots for each leg of the trip. Using the Parallel Ruler, draw a straight line marking each leg. Then, while keeping the ruler on your line, move the other ruler to the Compass Rose and note the heading on the inner Magnetic Ring. This is the heading you will need to maintain to stay on course for that leg. Do the same for the other legs. Keep a notebook and note any hazards, landmarks or other pertinent information.  Make sure to write down your headings for each leg, and for how long (we’ll cover that next).

Paddling the Course: The Difference Between Course and Heading

You need to understand the difference between your course, and your heading. The course is the actual direction you are traveling, and the heading is the compass heading you are pointing at. They are not always the same. Let’s say you are wanting to paddle a course of 090⁰. You maintain a heading of 90⁰, but you have a 5 knot wind from 015⁰. The wind will push you South a little, so your actual true course will be something between 093⁰ and 095⁰. This could be enough to cause you to miss landmarks, turning points, or take you into hazards. You have to compensate by steering a little into the wind, say to a heading of 085⁰, which will put you on a true course close to 090⁰. You really can’t calculate a Wind Triangle in a kayak because your speed will almost certainly not be constant. You just have to go by feel, and make your best guesses. Take lots of bearing along the way and make course corrections as needed. The best way to take a bearing is to find something on shore on your heading that has something behind it. Line then up and use that heading. If you take another bearing and the objects are not still lined up, you have drifted off-course, and need to make course corrections. If you can’t find any objects that will line up, you can use one landmark directly in front, and one directly in back of you. If either of them do not line up on the next bearing, you have drifted off-course, Make corrections as needed.

Your timing can only be estimated because your speed will not be constant. You can use average values and get close enough for most purposes, such as turning points, arrival times, etc… Average kayak speeds, absent the effects of wind and currents, are:

  • Average paddler at a somewhat leisurely rate – 2 knots
  • Average paddler with moderate point-to-point paddling – 4 knots
  • Racing, scared, etc… – 5 to 7 knots

You can use these values to make approximate calculations for waypoints and ETAs. But keep in kind, they are not exact, so make allowances where necessary.  Let’s say I have a waypoint to come to heading 275⁰ from a heading of 180⁰. It is 8 nautical miles from my launch point. So, I estimate my speed at 4 knots, which is 2 nautical miles per hour. After 2 hours of paddling, I should be very close to my waypoint. I can double check it by taking bearings on two objects and drawing lines from them on my chart. Where the lines intersect, that’s where I am. I can now make any corrections needed for future calculations. This is also a good way to find out where you are if you feel lost.

There are other ways to navigate, such as by the stars and sun, also known as Celestial Navigation, using a GPS, etc… but they are beyond the scope of this article. I’ll cover them in the future. Check back with us often.

Happy paddling

The Pros And Cons of Fishing From A Kayak

 

Why would anyone want to fish from a small, easily capsized vessel when there are plenty of motorized, comfortable bass and Jon boats out there? Kayak fishing is wet, more full-contact, and uses much more energy on the part of the angler.  So why bother?

Easy. Because kayak fishing allows you to enjoy the complete experience of stalking your piscatorial prey. You are now on the fishes level, with all the excitement and satisfaction that entails, coupled with the fact that you are creating a negligible impact on the environment.  It really doesn’t take that much investment in time, or money, and the returns are more than worth it. There is something incredibly satisfying about catching fish using nothing but your own muscles and mind. No expensive motors to fool with, in most states no licensing fees, no need for a trailer, which also has to be licensed, and no polluting the water with non-degradable petroleum products.

The cons? Well, you will have to have a kayak, but I doubt many people would consider that really a ‘con’.  You have to expend energy to propel the boat, burning calories, and probably losing a little weight, getting healthier, etc…. But is that really a con?  You will have to learn how to paddle properly, navigate, and a few other things. Is that so bad? The worst thing I can think of is running the risk of almost certain addiction to kayaks, Once you’ve been in a kayak, other boats just aren’t the same anymore. They pale in comparison.

Getting Started

At the risk of starting a lot of internet arguments, it’s been my experience that you can fish from any kind of kayak. I have fished from touring yaks, recreational yaks, and even a whitewater yak. But if you plan to really fish, you need a fishing kayak. They are designed a little differently from the standard formula. Fishing kayaks are usually a bit wider for more stability. They have fittings for tie-downs, paddle holders, rod holders, and some even have a live box compartment. There mounting points for fish-finders, and other accessories.

Although fishing kayaks are made both as Sit On Top (SOT) and Sit Inside Kayak (SIK) models, the SOT is the preferred style for most anglers. SOTs offer easy entry and exit from the water, most gear is easily reached, and you sit a little higher in the water than in SIKs. But either style is perfectly suited to fishing.

Fishing kayaks are available in just about any price range. Ideally, you should get the best yak you can afford, based on the companies Customer Service reputation,  and the kinds of fishing you plan to do. You can certainly use an Ocean Angling yak to chase trout and crappie, but it may be a little  overkill for your purposes. Use good judgement.  Be that as it may, you will save money in the long run by spending more money on a yak now, rather than trying to upgrade later.

WiIl anyone be fishing with you? You might want to consider a tandem. You might want to take your dog out with you.  A lot of anglers that fish together use their own individual kayaks, and encircle the fish, so a tandem might be more boat than you need. You be the judge.

Fishing kayaks come in all different colors.  Unless you are planning on duck hunting from your yak (and some people do…), or maybe leading a clandestine assault somewhere, leave the camouflage and darker colors to the Rambo-wannabees. You want to be as visible on the water as possible so you don’t get run over by ski-boats, jet skis, etc…. Go with the brightest colors you can find. The fish don’t mind. Kayaks are so stealthy that it is not uncommon to actually run into a fish before it notices you, even in a bright orange yak. I’ve smacked into dozens of large carp and gar in a canary-yellow Wilderness Systems Bravo yak.

Different Strokes For Different Folks

Paddles are another area where you don’t want to scrimp. You’ll need a good set of fishing-specific paddles. They are a little wider than standard paddles to facilitate paddling the wider fishing yaks, have useful features, like a ruler right on the shaft to measure fish length, tools inside the shaft, and some even have hook removal tools built into the paddle blade.  Be sure to use a paddle tether to keep from losing your paddle if it goes overboard. Putting floats on it is also not a bad idea.

Speaking of floats, it is also a good idea to put floats on your fishing rods and other gear so it can be recovered if it goes into the drink.

Floating Along… Last words:

A PFD (Personal Floatation Device) is another area where you don’t want to scrimp. I don’t care how well you swim, anyone can die in an unexpected tumble into the water. And in most places, you are required by law to wear a Coast Guard Approved, Type II PFD when on the water. You should really have two, in case you need to throw one to someone during a rescue. There are PFDs made specifically for fishing, with lots of pockets and attachments for gear. These can be invaluable on the water. Even top-end PFDs don’t cost that much, so there is no excuse not to have one, and always wear it when on the water.

Kayak History: How Kayaks Evolved Since Ancient Times

You are about to enter the wonderful world of kayaks. No other type of watercraft has the versatility, efficiency, and quietness of a good kayak. Like a bicycle, kayaks are the most efficient way to convert human-power to propulsion. No noisy polluting engines, no need to fool with a lot of technical equipment, minimal upkeep, easy transport, and a lot of bang for your bucks.

Kayaks can be used for exercise, aquatic transportation, touring, adventure seeking, hunting waterfowl, a dive-boat, fishing, and much more…. I have even seen them rigged with sails, and used on the ice like a toboggan.

But where did it all start?  How did these wonderful little boats come to be? Since they pre-date written history, we have to make certain inferences based on archeological evidence, but we’ve gotten pretty good at it….

The Beginnings: Kayaks Date Back A Long Time

Kayaks are associated strongly with primitive Arctic peoples, and for good reason. It appears they are the inventors. It makes sense, because the Inuit, Aleuts, and Yup’ik lived a rough life. Most of their food came from the sea because the frozen tundras offered little in the way of agriculture. Other than caribou, moose and bears, there was little to hunt or gather on land. They had to live mostly on seals,walruses,  whales, and fish. This required a good, mostly indestructible and unsinkable boat.

Sometime around 4000 years ago, with this in mind, they designed a smallish watercraft that could almost be worn like a garment, paddled easily, was reasonably fast, was 90% inclosed to prevent sinking, and allow it to be easily righted on the water in case of a capsize. This was a good thing  because most Arctic people could not swim (the water was too cold for swimming lessons…). They used them for whaling, seal-hunting and fishing. Can you imagine what it was like to try and harvest a whale in one of these little boats?  And even today, some Arctic populations still do it. That takes a level of courage and determination that I can barely imagine….

Early Yaks

The oldest kayaks we know about come from the Aleutian Islands and the Bering Sea areas, and are known as Baidarkas. They were somewhat blimp-shaped with lots of chines, usually made of whale bones, and covered with seal or walrus skins. West Greenland kayaks came about a little later, and were built with a ‘rocker’, meaning the bow and stern were raised above the level of amidships to make it more maneuverable. East Greenland kayaks were similar to the West Greenland yaks, but they were smaller and had more rocker.

All three types had a similar formula for the dimensions. They were custom-built to the paddler. The length was 3 times the span of the paddlers outstretched arms, the width was the same as the paddlers hips plus two fists. The depth (or draft) was a fist with an outstretched thumb. These dimensions were so effective that this basic design, averaged out, is still used today.

The chines, or frames, of these kayaks were made of wood where available, but it’s scarcity in most of the Arctic regions necessitated the use of whale ribs much of the time. To complete the boat, and make it almost waterproof, the paddler wore a tuilik., which was a hooded waterproof coat that sealed at the  face, wrists, and around the cockpit coaming. This had the effect of making the paddler and the boat one whole unit. We do the same thing today with a sprayskirt.

Another primitive boat, the umialk, is technically a kayak, even though it more closely resembles a large sea canoe with several paddlers. They were used for transportation and transport.

Moving Forward: New Inventions And Concepts

Kayak design remained like this up until the early 20th century. Kayak use was limited mostly to Arctic peoples and a few enthusiasts from the US and Europe. In 1905, a German architectural student named Alfred Heurich designed a folding kayak with a bamboo frame and denim skin that weighed less than 10 pounds. He took out the first patent on this style and paddled his prototype up and down Munich’s Isar River to prove the design. It worked.

In 1906, another German, Johannes Keppler began producing these folding kayaks at his factory in Rosenheim, Germany. From 1932 to 1939, , Oskar Speck made a 7-year paddling journey from Germany to Australia entirely in a folding kayak.  This pretty much guaranteed that folding kayaks were here to stay.

Kayaks have even been used in combat, and still are.  In WW-II, British commandos used kayaks to paddle through miles and miles of enemy territory undetected, to plant mines on anchored warships in Bordeaux harbor. They started a Special Kayak Operations unit code-named “Cockle”. Other countries soon followed.

Folding kayaks are used by US Marine Recon units , US Marine Special Operations, US Navy Seals, and US Army Special Forces. “And what boat do they use?”, you may ask… Currently, the SEALS and Marine Corps use the Klepper Aerius II, and the Army Special Forces use the Long Haul Mark II Commando.

In the 1950s, the use of fiberglass to make kayaks really increased their popularity, and soon after, inflatable models became available. But the biggest boon to the kayak world was the advent of using Rotomolded plastic  to form hulls. In 1973, rotomolded hulls were made in many styles, and the availability of kayaks became both widespread, and economical. The popularity of kayaks increased exponentially, and now it is one of the fastest-growing watersports.

And Now You Know….

Today, kayaks can be had in many styles and colors, for very reasonable prices. Manufacturers are continuing to develop new models, and the prices get more reasonable all the time. You can get a really decent general-use yak for under $250.00 almost anywhere kayaks are sold, and used ones are even more reasonable. They are built to last several lifetimes with minimal care.

If you haven’t checked out the world of kayaks, try one out. Chances are, you’ll become a fan like the rest of us….

Happy paddling

Can I Use My Kayak As A Dive Platform?

I still dive some, even at my age, although now it is mostly snorkeling and in fresh water. In days gone by, I have seen diving evolve tremendously from my early days of the twin hose open circuit regulators. Equipment is now much safer, more efficient, and more reasonably-priced. It’s a great time to take up diving.

Diving in freshwater has never been much of a problem, but diving from the coast has always had it’s problems, well just one, really. That is the surf. The waves could knock you off your fins while entering, knock off equipment, and more. Back in the day, you only had a few options:

  • Wade backwards (with fins on, no less…) into the waves until you get past the surf line, or deep enough to submerge. It’s hard enough to walk in fins without having to do it in reverse, and not see where you are going. I was always worried about getting run over by a surfer, or smacked by a large piece of driftwood. I’ve been hit by lots of jellyfish, and other unpleasant stuff that rides the waves sometimes.
  • Use an inflatable Zodiac-type boat. Waves can bounce you and your equipment into the soup, and flips are not uncommon. A motor is a necessity, when it works, because inflatable rafts move like a pregnant manatee.
  • Charter a boat to take you out …expensive.

Another drawback was that your actual diving area is going to be some distance offshore, most of the time, so you have to waste precious air just getting to and from the site. Anything more than a few hundred yards offshore was not really feasable.

Enter the modern Sit On Top Kayak (SOT). Normally, I am not a big fan of SOTs, but for diving, there is nothing better. They may not paddle as fast as a Sit Inside Kayak (SIK), but they are plenty fast enough for fishing and diving. They are pretty much unsinkable, very stable, and have plenty of room for your gear. Sure, you may get wetter in one, but your intention was to get wet, anyway, right? It is amazing how big a wave an SOT can slice through when you hit it head-on. Entry and Exit from the water is also relatively easy. You can easily paddle an SOT for miles and miles, and I have never had a paddle fail to start or run out of fuel.

Getting Loaded: Managing Your Diving Equipment on The Kayak

Diving from a yak takes a little planning and consideration. You need to figure out what you will need first. Remember, the first things you load will be on the bottom, so you want them to be the last things you need. Make sure everything, and I mean everything is tied down or tethered to the yak, even things that are going into the hatches. It makes it easier to get them out if they shift to the bow.

Make sure anything that needs to be assembled, is assembled, like tanks, regulator, BC, etc… The really cool thing about SOTs is that they have a molded cargo well in the stern that makes a perfect tank well. Just use an adjustable strap to tie down the tanks, then partially inflate the BC to snug everything up.

You’ll be wearing your wetsuit, or drysuit, but you can take off the top of a wetsuit or roll it down to make it easier to paddle until you get where you are going. Knights of the Drysuit …your stuck with wearing it until you get into the water.

Drag your yak to the edge and watch the waves to get the right timing. Just like surfing, timing is everything. There will be a big wave, followed by a few smaller ones. When the big wave hits, drag your yak to waist-deep water, mount and paddle like crazy. Keep the bow pointed directly into the waves, and keep paddling until you get through the surf. If you flip, just hang on until the next series of waves, do a wet entry and retry.

Getting Wet: Starting The Dive

When you reach the dive point, ship your paddle, making sure it is in a secure holder or well-tethered. Put up your Diver Down flag. Put on your fins first and hang your legs over each side. Fins provide incredible stability, almost like outriggers. After you don the mask, knife, etc…, there are a few ways to get into your SCUBA gear. You can stand it on end, lean forward and butterfly yourself into the harness. Or, I just grab the tank and roll over the side. I put it on in the water. If there is nothing to tie the yak to, you can just take your anchor down with you and place it in a good spot.

Coming Aboard Afterwards

Getting back aboard is pretty much just a reverse of getting wet. Remove your SCUBA and put it in the well, tie it back down, and remove the rest of your gear. Leave your fins on. Store everything where it belongs if you can reach it, otherwise place them in secure places until you get back aboard. To board, kick your feet to get them to the surface. Hold yourself at arm’s length, perpendicular to amidships, and give a good strong kick or two, while pulling yourself up and over onto your belly across the yak. Now, just roll over and pivot into the seat. Remove your fins, finish securing your gear, grab the paddle and head back to the beach.

Landing: Getting Back Ashore Safely

As you approach the surf line, watch the waves for the right timing. When a large wave comes by. Tuck in right behind the crest and paddle to match the waves speed. Stay right behind the crest and ride it all the way to the beach. As soon as you ground, hop off and grab the yak so that the next wave does not suck you back out. Drag your yak onto dry sand, and you’re in.

This was a very simplistic article on the subject, and much more detailed information is available online. I highly recommend exploring the information as much as possible. Using a kayak as a dive platform is one way to really get to enjoy the sport without having to take out a second mortgage.

Happy paddling

The Essential Whitewater Paddling Skills And Safety Recommendations

Paddling a kayak down a scenic river is a wonderful experience, and under most circumstances, a peaceful easy one. But rivers are not static. Unlike lakes and ponds, they are constantly changing, and no one can stay completely current on the conditions for very long. The river course, and speed gets changed by erosion, falling debris, changes in water levels from rains and snows, sometimes hundreds of miles away, or by the release from dams upstream, or maybe even something as innocent as a few new beaver dams. In past times when river travel was very important, steamboats hired special pilots for that specific river. The pilots were locals who were very familiar with a particular stretch of river, and its behavior.  Today is no different. You can never take anything for granted on a river.

Even if you never plan to do any whitewater paddling, you should at least have a working knowledge of the techniques, just in case you get caught in fast water. It can happen to anybody. 

Basic Skills To Master Before Paddling on Rivers

Before paddling on rivers, you should be sure you know how to perform basic maneuvers. You should be able to execute the Forward Stroke, and Reverse Stroke smoothly. The Sweep and Draw Strokes are necessities on a river run, so be sure you are comfortable with these strokes. They can quickly move you out of harm’s way when unanticipated obstacles appear. You also need to be comfortable with both the High and Low braces.

These skills are doubly important with a Sit On Top Kayak, as rolls are not feasible in most cases.

Practice these skills in slow, shallow water, and preferably with some supervision, until they become second nature.

The Ins and Outs: Wet Exit

Chances are at some point you will become one with the water. You need to be able to smoothly execute the Wet Exit without panic, if for some reason a roll is not possible. In a moving river, time is critical so you don’t hit your head on an obstruction or the bottom of the riverbed while drifting upside-down with the current. Fortunately, the Wet Exit is very easy. All you have to do is pull the elastic release on your spray skirt, and pull your lower body out of the cockpit. It is then a simple matter to either right the boat and do a Wet Entry when the water slows down, or kick-paddle you and your boat to shallow water and re-enter. If you have an SOT, it even easier. If you flip, you will have already done a Wet Exit, like it or not. Just right the yak and do a Wet entry, which is basically just climbing back aboard. Then you can start looking for all your stuff that went into the drink with you….

Practice these exits and entries in shallow slow water with an experienced observer before trying them on a real trip.

Rolling With The Flow: The Eskimo Roll

Rolling a kayak is not just for impressing your friends. It is a vital skill that could save your life. There are several types of rolls and which one you use is up to you. The most basic is the Screw Roll, also known as the Eskimo Roll. This is the most basic roll of all of them. It takes a little practice, but works well. The drawback is that it does take a bit of water to execute, and does move the boat around quite a bit. When done properly, you can be back up and paddling in as little as 50 ft in a moderate Class 3 flow. To execute the roll, when upside-down, make a wide sweep with your paddle from bow to stern. Lean back as far as you can while sweeping. At midpoint, the boat will have rotated you to the surface with the yak on its side. Now just continue to apply power towards the stern, and flip your hips to throw your yak under you. You should rotate upright and not much worse for the wear. Use your paddle to brace for stability to avoid rolling all the way over again. In rougher water, you can execute the Reverse Screw Roll which is the same maneuver, only backwards. It’s a little faster.

Again. Practice these rolls in shallow slow water under supervision before trying them on a float trip. There is no such thing as too much practice.

Rules Of The Road: Things To Watch Out For

On anything up to Class 3 water, as long as you pay attention to your surroundings and the river, stay in the middle of the downstream channel, stay pointed downstream and move as fast, or a little faster than the current, and watch as far ahead as possible for obstacles and hazards, you should be fine.

The sooner you see an obstacle or hazard, the more successful you will be in avoiding or negotiating it. When you are moving at a good clip, it’s hard to avoid a rock if you don’t see it until it’s right in front of you. Don’t just look directly in front of your bow. Scan forward as far as you can see, and pay attention to things like waves, riffles, eddies, or changes in sound.

Hit waves head-on, as close to perpendicular as possible, so that your bow can slice through them. Even small waves can capsize you if they hit you at an angle. Angled waves will also throw you way off course. The wake from a powered boat can travel for incredibly long distances, and you may not even see the boat that made it. To make matters worse, waves from several boats can cross each other, creating a stronger and more complex wave pattern. Pay close attention to the water at all times.

Dangerous waters require skills.

Proper position is very important, especially in rivers. You want to be upright and leaning slightly forward. Leaning back is a great recipe for flipping, because it changes the center of gravity, as well as the weight distribution.

As long as you have a paddle in the water, it is acting like a brace to keep you stable. Whenever you are in doubt, or feel threatened, don’t stop paddling. As long as you are moving as fast or faster than the current, you can still maneuver. Once you stop paddling, you are no longer a boat. You are an uncontrolled unstable raft.

Dangerous Waters: Class 4 and 5 Waters

Anything above Class 3 water involves the risk of serious injury or worse, and should only be done by experienced paddlers. If you accidentally get caught in Class 4 water, by following the above guidelines, chances are you’ll come out scared, but alright. Class 5 and above, there are no guarantees for anyone, regardless of experience. If you get caught in these, you just have to do your best and hope you are lucky. Class 4 and 5 waters are usually clearly marked on maps, signs, and most locals know about them. It’s always a good idea to scout a river before paddling it, and talk to other local paddlers.

Like most things, a little common sense goes a long way.

 

What To Wear Kayaking: Best Materials To Face The Winter Cold

Summer is coming to a close, and fall is upon us. This will be followed by Old Man Winter. But this is no reason to hang up your boats. In fact, fall and winter paddling can be some of the most fun of the year.

In the late season, there will be fewer boats on the water, and certainly less water skiers and jet skis. Your paddling can be much more quiet and civilized. Since the lakes and rivers are less active, you can see more wildlife, and fish are not as spooked. And let’s not forget the beautiful foliage as it turns to it’s autumn colors. There is something almost mystical about a snow-covered shoreline. Fall and winter are my favorite times to hit the water.

Signs of Hypothermia While Kayaking in The Cold

Hypothermia is a real danger, and one many do not take into account. Hypothermia occurs when the body’s core temperature drops to 95⁰F or below. This can occur at temperatures as high as 60⁰F depending on the wind and humidity, or in water as warm as 70⁰F, given enough time. Being wet increases your body’s heat loss by as much as 40%, and in a canoe or kayak, you are going to get wet. Wind Chill increases these values exponentially.

You should pay close attention to how you feel in cooler weather, especially on the water. You should head for shore at the first signs of hypothermia. Early warning signs are:

  • Numb feet and/or hands, which can make performing tasks more difficult
  • Apathy (lack of interest or concern)
  • Bad judgement
  • Becoming unsteady
  • Slurred speech
  • Shivering
  • Cold, pale skin

As hypothermia increases, so do the symptoms:

  • Slowing pulse
  • Slow, shallow breathing
  • Drowsiness or becoming sleepy
  • Shivering stops
  • Stiff muscles
  • Confusion and disorientation
  • Unconsciousness

If you run across anyone with any of these symptoms, remove them to a warm place and get medical help ASAP. Wrap them in blankets and cover their head with a cap, or wraps. Do not give them alcohol under any circumstances. Alcohol actually lowers the body’s temperature. If they are conscious and appear to be able to drink without choking, warm beverages are OK. The main thing is to get them to medical help as soon as possible. This is nothing to play around with. Hypothermia can be fatal, and has been for way too many people.

If you prepare properly, hypothermia should not be an issue.

Always keep in mind what the weather conditions are, and may be for the area you are in. In the South, your preparations may be easier due to the milder climates. Up North, be prepared for anything.  Never go out without checking the forecasts for where you plan to paddle.

Dress For Success: The Best Clothing Materials For Kayaking

It’s difficult to change clothes in a kayak. So you need to be judicious in what you wear. The first consideration is the materials.

Kayaking in the cold requires the correct gear and preparation.

Cotton

Unless it is summertime, cotton is out. Cotton breathes, but it also does not hold in heat, and when wet, can actually suck heat from your body, as well as become very heavy. It also does nothing to stop the wind. Save the cotton stuff for the dog days of summer. As far as outdoors are concerned…Cotton Kills.

Wool

Wool is outstanding for outdoor wear. It breathes, wicks moisture away from your skin, and will hold in body heat even when wet. The outside layer of wool is water-repellent, and wool can hold up to 30% of its weight in water without feeling damp or clammy. If your afraid wool might be itchy, then use it as an insulation layer. For insulation, it’s hard to beat.

Silk

Silk is a very comfortable and light material that wicks moisture away from your skin, but is surprisingly warm. Silk long handles (underwear) are a good choice as a base layer. Nothing feels quite as good as silk against your skin. Sleep under some silk sheets sometime and you’ll know what I mean.

Synthetics

Synthetics are the new go to clothing for active wear nowadays. And for good reason. Polypropylene has many of the same qualities as silk and more, at a fraction of the cost. It feels great, is light and comfortable, wicks moisture, is somewhat water-repellent, and also stops wind. It would be hard to find a better base layer. Microfiber is as warm as wool, lighter, more water-repellent, still keeps you warm even when wet, and is washable. It makes a great insulation layer. Modern Fleece is a synthetic with all the properties of sheep fleece, but it is washable and odor-free. And lastly, the king of outdoor materials-Gore-Tex. Gore-Tex is water-proof (and I did say waterproof, not water-repellant), wind-proof, and breathable. There is a reason why they use Gore-Tex to make space suits. It is a little more expensive than other materials, but more than worth it.

Neoprene

The last material to consider is neoprene, which is a type of rubber. Neoprene rubber is used to make wetsuits. They are called wetsuits because they keep you warm by letting in just a little water and allows your body heat to warm it. Wetsuits work surprisingly well down to around water temperatures of below 45⁰F, but If the water is colder than 45⁰F, I would recommend a dry, or immersion suit instead. Believe it or not, a good pair of neoprene chest waders works really well in a kayak to keep you warm. I use them all the time. And don’t worry. The idea of your neoprene waders filling with water if you go into the drink is a myth. I have tested this myself. The water pressure squeezes the fabric against your skin so very little water gets in, and if you wear a chest belt, it limits it even further. And or course, you will be wearing a life jacket, so there is no danger of your waders drowning you.

Facing the Cold: Putting On The Layers

Any outdoor enthusiast with experience will tell you that the best thing is to dress in layers. There are a few reasons for this. The first is storage space, which is limited for hikers and paddlers. In fact, you can just think of yourself as an aquatic hiker. All the same rules apply. Instead of carrying extra clothes, you just wear them. The next reason is that if it gets warm, you can peel the layers down, and put them back on if it gets cooler later.

There are three layers you need to wear (I am not counting underwear. On that you can wear what you want….). The layer next to your skin is the Base Layer. It needs to be breathable and wick moisture away from your skin. The next layer will be the Insulating Layer, and needs to be warm, wick moisture, and be able to keep you warm even when wet. The last layer is the Shell Layer, and needs to be water-repellent, and wind-proof.

Waterproof fabric is essential.

A good example would be a Base Layer of silk, an Insulating Layer of fleece, and a Shell Layer of nylon. This is just an example, and there are many choices for each layer. Just do a little research and find what suits you the best.

There is one more layer that I highly recommend. I call it the Head Layer, and it one of the most overlooked, yet important areas. Your body loses 40-50% of its heat through your head, no matter what the temperature is. Are your feet cold? Don’t bother putting on heavier socks. It won’t help. When you lose heat, your body sets priorities, with the head being first. Your brain will slow down blood flow to the extremities if it needs to conserve heat. The way to fix this is to slow down the heat loss through the head by putting on a cap or hat. This is why in the Olden Days, people wore Nightcaps to bed…to keep their feet warm. Most of us old-timers have always known this, but if any of you doubt it, next time your feet are cold, put on a cap and you will be amazed at the almost immediate effect. I also knit, so I make a lot of beanie hats (which are the best outdoor hat there is). Of course, cotton is out, but any good acrylic hat works great, and the best of all is…you guessed it, wool. Wool caps feel wonderful, are warm and cozy, still work when wet, are washable if you use SuperWash Wool, and is very easy to work with. If you don’t knit, beanie hats are very reasonably priced, and you should have several. They can be wadded up and stuffed in a pocket, stored in a glovebox or dry box, and even used as a hand warmer and carrying bag. Everyone needs a couple of good beanie hats.

If you use a little good judgement in preparing for your paddle trip, no matter what time of year, you should be alright. Remember, people never plan to fail …they just fail to plan!

Happy paddling

The 5 Best Kayaking Freestyle Spots in Europe: Hole Freestyle Spots

I am Tuisku Äänismaa, freestyle kayaker in the Finnish national team and in the last couple years i have been traveling around Europe exploring the best spots, testing them and taking some notes about training there.

If you are into freestyle, you probably know that the spot you train in is really important. That’s why in the recent years kayak tourism is on the rise to the main freestyle spots all around Europe.

Here’s the 5 best kayak freestyle spots in Europe.

Nottingham, UK

The whitewater course of Holme pierrepoint in Nottingham is the home for the UK’s national whitewater center housing facilities for rowing, race kayaking, slalom and freestyle. If you follow freestyle in social media you have probably seen a lot of videos from the famous Inletgate hole on top of the course, it’s probably the most stable and hole on this planet. It’s deep, sticky and retentive. The hole goes from concrete wall to another, meaning it doesn’t have shoulders for easy setup. For me it took a day to get used to setting up in the hole without the shoulders. After you get used to it, your progression will be incredibly fast, since the stability allows you to keep trying new moves over and over without flushing off the hole. The course is quite long for just running down it and there are a lot of interesting freestyle features bellow on the course.

inletgat (picture by Dennis Newton)

Just below the inlet gate, you have the Twin’s wave which is a bit shallower more technical hole for more basic moves. Under that you have a wave for smaller wave moves. The wave is quite flat so it’s hard to get good momentum going. Below that you have a set of holes, the first one being the Troll hole. It’s very steep and retentive, similar to a hole you will commonly find in competitions. After flushing of that you will drop into a small wavehole that is mostly good for moves like spins, roundhouses and mcnasties. The water is quite filthy, so earplugs and nose plugs are highly recommended when paddling here.

Near the river, there is the national watersports center and all its facilities. Including a hotel with a breakfast and a state of the art gym.

Millau, France

Millau tophole (picture by Bartosz Czauderna)

Millau is a beautiful town in southern France. The whitewater course on the bottom of the valley is a very low speed and low water course that’s basically only good for freestyle practice. The hole on top of the course is a very steep and powerful hole, making loop/flip tricks perhaps easier than anywhere else. The hole is pretty narrow, so it’s easy to fall off to the side but thanks to the great shoulders and calm eddy it’s really easy to get back into it and setup from the bottom. Because of the steepness it can feel quite hard to maneuver at first but thanks to the narrowness you can use the eddy to get back to the top of the hole.

The rest of the features on the course and generally too shallow for freestyle but you can still do some eddyline stern moves downstream. The hole does not have water during the night and it opens up at around 9am and closes sometime in the evening. i would recommend searching for the times of the season from instagram ect. if you plan on visiting.

The water and weather are nice, clean and warm, so paddling here is very pleasant.

The town of Millau is a very nice and calm place with a lot of stuff to do. The town has multiple incredible trails for mountain biking, rivers for river running, freestyle bmx parks and good locations for paragliding.

There are a lot camping sites and hostels around the town and even some chalets for rent on the hills so sleeping here shouldn’t be an issue no matter the budget.

Makinito, France

Makinito (picture by Bartosz Czauderna)

The area around Makinito is very quiet and services here are quite limited. There aren’t really any hotels or stores around, so bringing supplies with you is important when coming here.

When arriving you will be driving on a very small and dodgy looking road right next to the river. There is a bargate blocking the road but kayakers are allowed to just lift it up and go paddle. The area is owned by a private owner but he/she allows paddlers to use it.

Because of that it’s important to not damage anything in the area.

The freestyle spot of makinito may just be the easiest spot in the world to paddle in. It wide, stable, deep, the stack is shallow and it’s extremely retentive. The hole forms in a small canal and has artificial shoulders build by the kayakers. It’s extremely easy to do McNasties, loops and all the advanced combo moves. There is no eddy but you can paddle back up from below the hole thanks to the super retentive stack and the ropes attached to the riverbank.

The atmosphere by the spot is really relaxed. There are couches set up by the river and there are usually pros training here around there year, meaning you could learn well by watching them paddle.

There is a small parking lot by the river but no other facilities other than an outhouse.

You are also not allowed to sleep or camp around the river because the grass in the ear is used to feed the France’s best racing horses. You will have to drive a couple kilometers downstream to the kayaking club’s cabin when you can camp.

Sort, Spain

Sort, World championship training. (picture by Bartosz Czauderna)

The site of the 2019 ICF freestyle world championships, Sort is a village on the mountains of catalonia. The scenes are beautiful wherever you look. The river runs straight through the center of the village. The water is coming from really high on the mountains, meaning its really cold. The cold water is definitely balanced by the hot air temperatures here.

The spot itself is on the bottom part of the village, It ranges anywhere from a small wave to a decently sized wave depending on the water flows. There is a dam controlling the water flows few kilometers upstream, meaning you can get a good idea on what the flow will be in few hours by looking at the water flow of the dam. The info is available online. On the ideal flows, the feature is a medium size wave hole allowing technical hole moves in the pockets and explosive wave moves near the shoulders. The hole is quite shallow considering how much momentum you get from the tall stack but with the right technique it’s manageable.

On higher water flow the spot will become a decent wave. It’s quite steep so you can get great momentum to throw moves but it’s not going to that retentive. The nice long eddy makes practicing moves even when flushing off enjoyable.

The village of Sort has a lot of restaurants, bars and a few hotels. There is also housing for rent. You will get anything needed from the village. There is no rental car service so in the village so if you need a vehicle you need to bring it from somewhere else. The river that runs through Sort, is a class 3-4 whitewater river running kilometers from above and it’s a great river running spot. It has multiple long rapids that are a good fit for intermediate paddlers and also offer harder lines and opportunities for downriver moves for an advanced paddler.

Čunovo, Bratislava, Slovakia

Bratislava, European championships. (Picture by Visa Rahkola)

23 km away from the center of Bratislava, lies the national whitewater center of Slovakia.

The course in Cunovo hosted the 2018 european championships for both freestyle and u23 slalom. It’s an old and large center focused mostly on the whitewater course.

The course is split into 2, left course is for slalom and the right one being for river running and freestyle.

The freestyle hole itself is quite wide, steep, powerful and shallow. It’s not symmetric, so it favors left side moves more than right but right hand moves are obviously still possible.

It is a lot steeper than most holes, meaning you will have to use the shoulders to be able to set up efficiently. This hole is extremely good for Phonix monkey, switch McNasty and tricky woo.

Right next to the course there is a large hotel with a restaurant and good quality rooms. The hotel also rents out bungalows and camping sites right by the hotel. It’s quite close to the border of Hungary and Austria, so roaming mobile data can have a lot of issues in the area but there is a good wifi in the lobby. Around the center there are a few restaurants but the selection and availability of them is quite limited. There are buses that come from the course that take you to the center of Bratislava and back.

 

Kayak Care 101: All Year Round Maintenance Plan For Your Kayak

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could paddle our yaks every year without ever getting any dings, scratches, or dirt on them? As much as we’d like, that is never going to happen. Even the most casual of use has its share of wear and tear. There is no avoiding it. Your kayak is going to require some periodic TLC.

It has come to my attention that there are some who do not know what kind of maintenance their yak needs. While each situation is unique, there are some generalities we can explore.

When The Season Starts…

For many of us, there is no ‘season’, and we paddle all-year. For us, maintenance is an ongoing thing. But for those who are ‘seasonal’ there are some guidelines to follow.

If you did the proper maintenance on your yak before you put it up for the winter, then opening season may just be a good inspection for you. Otherwise…shame on you. Your boat deserves better. Even inflatables require some care and feeding.

The first thing to do is get the yak out, put it on some stands and do a good visual inspection. You’re looking for mildew, mold, discoloration, scratches, dents, fittings and tie-downs that are worn, wasp nests or animal nests in the cockpit or below deck, etc… Notice any smells that shouldn’t be there and try to determine the cause. You also need to inspect all of your equipment such as PFDs, bungrees, paddles, fittings, tethers, rod holders, etc… Repair, replace and clean anything that needs it.

On inflatables, be sure to check each valve to be sure they are clean and work properly. Look for any tears, or holes. Inflate them to the proper pressure and be sure they hold air. Inflating them also makes inspection and cleaning easier. Check your air pump and make sure it is clean and working properly. I always throw away my old sponges and get new ones about every 6 months or so. If you want to keep your sponges even though they smell, here is a trick to salvage them. Rinse the sponges and squeeze them until the water comes out clear, or close to it. Place the damp sponges in the microwave for 2 minutes and let them cool before removing them because they will be hot.  Rinse them in Clorox water (about 1 to 10 is plenty strong enough). Squeeze them out, and they will smell and feel like new for another 6 months or so.

It may sound obvious, but you need to remove anything off your boat that doesn’t belong there, like wasp nests, animal droppings, loose things like nuts, bolts, rivets, etc… If you covered the cockpit like you should have when you put it up, this should not be much of a problem. Likewise, if you stored your yak in a bag or cover, this will be a lot easier.

Next, replace any old and worn parts and fittings. Don’t try to, “get by for just one more season”. Most fittings are cheap enough that it is more feasible to just replace them, rather than try to do repairs. Be on the lookout for any signs of dry rot, and replace anything that is suspect. Pay close attention to the riggings and replace as needed. Inspect the hull for dents. A lot of times, dents can be removed by simply applying a little heat from a blow dryer (not too hot, though…just enough to heat it a little and not melt anything. You can also leave it out in the sun for a few hours (that’s not long enough for UV damage, especially if you treated it with protectant before storage like you should have…). This usually will make the dent pop right back out. If not, they may require more extensive repair by a professional. I’m not much of a DIY person. I love my boats and want them to receive the best care possible, which many times means by someone more knowledgeable than myself. I’m the same way with my guitars. I am secure in my limitations….

Now we come to the dreaded Mold and Mildew inspection. The first clue will be that funky smell of old gym clothes. A sure sign of mildew. Look for any dark spots. This is mold and mildew. Bad news …mold and mildew does not come off with regular cleaning. You’ll need to attack it directly and carefully. Never use bleach, ammonia, acetone or anything not specifically recommended for boats. With inflatables you have to be especially careful because even some specialty cleaners can discolor the fabric. Check them on a small inconspicuous area first. The easiest way I know of to kill these little botanical vermin is to use a specialty cleaner like Starbrite Mildew Stain Remover, or  a similar product. Spray it on., let it sit for 20 minutes or so, then use a very soft detail brush to lightly scrub away mildew and mold. Do it on small areas, one at a time. If you are worried about discoloration, you can use a straight white cleaning vinegar instead. Just let it set for 20 minutes or so, then rinse. The vinegar changes the PH to where mold and mildew cannot survive. A little light scrubbing with a soft brush should remove the dead spores. Afterwards, rinse the boat well and do a thorough cleaning with mild dishwashing soap and warm water. Dry the boat very well with towels, and let it air dry the rest of the way.

Lastly, treat the boats with a UV protectant like 303 UV Protectant, or my favorite, Armor All Kayak Restorer and Protector. Your boat will shine like new, and your inflatables will be almost showroom clean. You can now deflate and/or store them until you are ready to hit the water. Be sure to always use a cockpit cover and a storage bag to prevent future problems.

During The Season…

After every use, when you get home, put your boats up on the stands and inspect them. Inflate your inflatables. You are looking for damage, wear, dirt and grime, but especially unwanted hitchhikers, like Zebra Mussels, New Zealand Snails, Diaspora,etc… You do not ever want to transfer these from one body of water to another under any circumstances. These will be removed by cleaning your boats with dishwashing liquid and water. Check your paddles, PFDs, and other equipment as well, and be sure to wash them, too. Towel dry everything as best as you can and allow them to air dry the rest of the way before properly storing everything until the next use. Do this after every trip, no matter how short.

At The End Of The Season…

This is the most important part of maintenance. Diligent care here will keep you from having to do so much next season.

After your last trip, pay special attention when inspecting your boats, and replace or repair anything that even looks suspicious. Do all of the same things you do at the beginning of the season, and more…When cleaning, lightly scrub your yaks with a soft detail brush and be sure there is nothing on the yak that does not belong. Do the same for your equipment.

One of the most important things here is that the boat needs to be as dry as possible before long-term storage. Towel dry with Cham-Wows if you can find them, or just plain towels, then allow the boats to air-dry completely, and not in the garage. They need to be in the open air to dry properly, no matter how long it takes. After they are dry, treat them with the protectants and allow it to dry completely. Mold and mildew need moisture to to live and grow, so we want to deprive them as much as possible.

Your boats should always be stored with a cockpit cover and in a storage bag. Do not ever just throw them in the garage or shed. Bad things can and will happen. Use dehumidifier packs in the cockpit, and in the bag to make sure everything stays dry. They work great. I use them in all my guitar cases as well, and have never had a humidity issue.

I can’t kayak in the winter… that doesn’t mean that I stop taking care of it!

Inflatables can be a little more trouble. They are usually difficult to get back in their storage bags, and many people just roll them up and secure them with a bungee. Don’t do this. Even in a bag, rodents can chew through it, and borrow pieces of your boat to make nests. They love PVC and Hypalon. I’ve found a cool solution. Go to Walmart, Home Depot, or a similar store and buy one of those large plastic storage tubs with airtight lids. They are under $20.00, and more than worth it. Get one bigger than you think you will need, but will still fit in the back of your vehicle. Drop in a few dehumidifier packs and place your rolled up yak inside. There may even be room in there for some of your equipment like PFDs, multi-piece, paddles, pumps, etc… Now, just put the lid on securely, and your done. You can use any hand truck, dolly or cart to move it around. It can even fit on some shelves, and in lofts. Perfect storage all year.

It’s been my experience that it is much easier to prevent rather than repair. A clean, well maintained boat is a safe boat. Don’t skimp on any of these procedures, and your boats may very well outlast you. Your children may be paddling them someday, or maybe even grandchildren… a greater legacy I cannot imagine.

Happy paddling!

Finding The Right Kayak Paddle Size: Blade Shapes, Shaft Styles & More

Before you start practicing paddling strokes, it is essential that you have the right size, and type of paddle. You don’t want to be banging your hands on the gunwale while trying to paddle with a short rowing implement. Nor do you want to be slapping the water or over-reaching with paddles that are too long. These make noise and waste energy that you will need if you want to make any speed or cover some distance.

Paddle size is based on 3 things:

  1. your style of paddling
  2. your height
  3. the width of your boat.

Different Kayaking Purposes, Different Paddles

Your style of paddling may be for fishing, recreational use, touring, or whitewater. You might even go bowfishing on your kayak. More docile styles can get away with longer paddles, as most strokes will be with a low hold, with the shaft parallel to the water. More aggressive styles like racing and whitewater use more high hold strokes for speed, power, and acute maneuvering, with the shaft at more extreme angles, meaning you can get away with a shorter paddle.

Too short of a paddle will make you waste energy banging the side of the boat. It will also compromise you on strokes that require reaching. Too long makes paddling more difficult, and will make it difficult to accomplish strokes that require close reaches.

Ideally, you want to be able to hold the paddle at around chest-height, with the proper grip.  and smoothly dip the blades into the water somewhere near the stern of the kayak, and easily draw it back to the bow, with the blade being at least  ¾ submerged through the entire stroke. You need to be able to do the same thing in reverse. But the world is seldom an ideal place.

Your Choice of Blade Shapes: Symmetrical vs Asymmetrical

You have a choice of blade shapes. One is not necessarily better than the other, but just a matter of personal preference. Your blade shape can be either symmetrical (oval), meaning both sides are of equal length, or asymmetrical, meaning one sig\de of the blade is longer than the other, and you paddle with the short-side down. This helps you to track straight as you pull through the stroke. Symmetrical blades supply slightly more thrust but take a little more care for straight tracking.

Shaft Styles: Straight or Bent

You also have a choice of shaft styles, straight or bent. A straight shaft is just what the name implies, the shaft runs straight as a plumb-bob from one blade to the other. Straight shafts are the least expensive of the two types, and are lighter, yet stronger than bent shafts.  Bent shafts have a bend on each side that allows the shaft to attack the water with the most efficient angle during the Power Stroke. They are more expensive, not quite as strong as a straight shaft, and a little heavier, but they provide a significant increase in power and performance while causing much less fatigue.

Paddle units are offered in 1, 2 or 4 pieces, not including the blades. 1 piece shafts are the strongest and are the go-to paddle for attacking whitewater. 2 piece paddles are the most common, and are great for touring, fishing and recreation paddling. 4-piece paddles are great for inflatables, which may be back-packed into Wilderness areas, or in situations where convenience and storage space are major concerns.  Many people carry an extra 4 piece paddle as a backup, in case their main paddle gets lost or broken.

Feathering: What angles to go for

Feathering is the angle of the blades compared to each other. Common orientations are 0⁰, 30⁰, 45⁰, or 90⁰. Most paddles have adjustable ferrules allowing you to change the feathering as you see fit. 0⁰ means the edges of the blades are parallel to each other. 45⁰ means the edges are 45⁰ offset to each other, and 90⁰ means the edges are perpendicular to each other. I personally prefer 45⁰ because it puts the blade straight into the water at the most efficient angle on both left and right strokes, following the natural twist of my hands as I pull through the stroke, requiring no repositioning of each hand as it engages the water.

90⁰ allows you to put the full potential power to the down blade, and the least amount of drag to the forward-moving opposite blade as it moves forward through the air, giving you maximum power and speed. 0% is the easiest orientation for beginners, or people with wrist problems like arthritis, as it allows you to concentrate on getting the strokes down correctly without worrying about orientation, or having to change your wrist position throughout the stroke, and is less pressure on the wrists.

Prices Differences & Last Recommendations

There is quite a price spread on paddles, mostly dictated by the materials they are made from. Plastic paddles are relatively inexpensive, but you will probably go through several of them due to breakage, or performance dissatisfaction, upgrades, etc… Aluminum paddles are also very inexpensive and do a little better than plastic. Carbon fiber is the top-performing material, but also the most expensive. While aluminum and plastic paddles can be had for as little as $20.00 (US) or less, a good recreational paddle can run over $100.00, and a top-of-the-line touring paddle can set you back a whopping $400.00 or more. Like most other things, you get what you pay for.

It may take a few paddles for you to find the right paddle for your desires, but the search is a big part of the fun. You can always trade paddles with others and then everyone wins. Just a thought…

Happy paddling!