Kayaking for Beginners: Balance

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A white kayak.

We are into August now and the weather has improved a bit, but not all that much. We've had a couple of really warm days but they occurred when I was unable to take advantage of them on the river. Even so, I've managed a further couple of excursions to the Wey which have produced a bag of rather mixed results. On the first occasion I went with the single purpose of doing something other than short paddles along 'my' quarter mile stretch and exiting the boat to turn it around.

Once on the water I did find a measure of greater confidence paddling in a straight line, and concentrated on getting the boat to go straight. The main problem with this seems to stem from my balance in the boat. The natural instinct is to clutch on to something, and since my hands are already occupied clutching the paddle in a white-knuckle sort of way, and my feet are steadfastly pressed against the footrest, it falls to my knees to get a grip on something... anything. What in fact they do, all of their own accord, is to press outwards against the cockpit coaming. This is not good. Legs should be relaxed and knees together in the centre. This is supposed to provide a better balance situation as the boat is free to move under your body, whereas when knees/legs have become part of the boat, this effectively blocks the correcting movement and tends to push the boat further into a roll, making it almost inevitable that you're going to go over.

The tiller for the rudder is situated in the footplate and is supposed to be moved with the toes by pushing in the direction you want to go. So when feet and knees are firmly braced, as they shouldn't be, to move the tiller requires one of your feet to be lifted off the footboard, and that immediately puts you into what 'feels' like an imbalanced situation. Up to now, my method each time I come to correct course has been to lift foot off the footboard and quickly kick the tiller over, where it stays until corrected. When the new course is achieved correction then requires the raising of the other foot to kick it back again where it may, if I'm lucky, centralise. If it doesn't, I have to take my eyes off the point I'm heading for and look down to correct it again until I've got the heading I want. This is all very well but it makes the whole thing very unstable and erratic and not at all conducive to peace of mind.

So... my analysis of the situation tells me that it's a bad habit that I've picked up already and the 'knee-clutching' that is the source of most of the problems I'm having. Hopefully a bit more concentration on that aspect of things and more practice will resolve the problem. However, if this condition is going to persist I have a 'Plan B'. I've purchased a meter length of Velcro into which Mrs D has sewn a quick release loop. The plan is to loop the Velcro around my knees to hold them together while paddling and in the event of total immersion I can release it quickly just by pulling on the loop. Now I really don't want to use this method of 'hobbling' myself, but if practice doesn't resolve it, I might have to. I'll see how things go for a couple of weeks before I resort to that. Luckily the Wibbly Wobbly Wey seems to be the ideal spot to practice technique as it's relatively quiet weather-wise and hopefully not too deep.

At the end of the third stretch on this session I finally took the bull by the horns and went for a three point turn-round manoeuvre. The river at this point is only about two boat-lengths wide, so long sweeping 180 degree turns are out of the question. The three-pointer turned into about a nine-point turn instead, but it was successful. I used the same methodology on each subsequent turn and each time it came off with only a few rock 'n roll moments during the back-paddling. But that was a big confidence boost when it came off and it means more of the time in the session is useful.

As well as all this, the secondary spin-off benefit I'd hoped for, i.e. 'getting fit', is beginning to pay off, albeit slightly. My weight still fluctuates around the 14 stone mark and isn't reducing as fast as I'd like. I'm telling myself that it's due to the transfer of fat into muscle. In reality it's still mostly due to the presence of Mr Buddha. Although he is fading away he still makes his presence felt while struggling in and out of the boat but it's not nearly so difficult as before. The repeated ins and outs of the boat, which were good practice, are going to have to be replaced with a few more exercises to make up the difference.

At the moment, to try to improve waist and back muscles and put Mr Buddha under siege, I'm managing a daily set of stretches, then ten sit-ups, and ten back extensions, all with holds at the half way point. These were quite exhausting when I first started but have now become a bit easier. Really, that's not very much to do, but it was all I could cope with and still walk afterwards. Clearly I'm going to have to up the ante to make any sort of real improvement, but that aside, I have felt some benefit from the exercise, usually the day after.

So, still lots of work to do, but only eight months to go...

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