Kayaking for Beginners: He He He, Wiiipe-out. . . .

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The adventure continues.

He He He, Wiiipe-out. . . .

A white kayak.

October came with the expectation of doing great things. Summoning the blood and stiffening the sinews and putting in the mileage. . . that kind of thing. Alas it's turned into an almost complete wipeout as far as any productive advancing of the master-plan is concerned. Firstly, the predominant factor of the poor weather washed out the Thames for most of the first half of the month. Secondly, going back to help out at work took over half the month's weekdays out and that was compounded when they asked to extend my participation right up to the end of the month. Heading up-country with Mrs Deke to look at puppies took another two days, and a raging cold with a sore throat (man-flu actually), has brought me to the end of an almost totally unproductive month on the paddling front.

The only bright point in this general morass of failure is my one venture back onto the Thames in a tippy boat in less than wonderful conditions and completing the excursion without taking a bath. Now while I can consider that to have been something of a confidence booster, I haven't been able to follow up on it to consolidate any gain that I might have made.

I suppose then that I can conclude that the summer, such as it was, and the best of the training conditions of the year is over. We are now well into the season of mellow fruitfulness, although conditions lately have generally been overcast and misty with the odd morning frost. Gusty winds are presently stripping the trees of their amber and russet coloured leaves which blow along the Wey's towpath and coat the water making a nearly tangible surface. So I can assume that with the depressing air of bleakness, the weather conditions are only going to get worse as autumn gives way to winter and I must take whatever opportunities to get out on the water present themselves .

One of my sons has now decided that paddling is no longer for him and he's sold up his very tippy kayak. Instead he's going to concentrate more on his other sport, Triathlon, and in order to spend more time on the three disciplines of Swim/Bike/Run something had to give. But his decision to turn in kayaking has had an unexpected pay-off for me though, insofar as I've been gifted a buoyancy-aid, a spray-deck, an assortment of pogies, gloves and most importantly. . . a paddle. Not just any old paddle, but his racing wing-paddle.

Strangely enough it had recently been mentioned to me that a full-on wing-paddle might suit my style of flapping arms and flying elbows a little better than the asymmetric paddle that I've been using up to now. The thing is that wing-paddles don't come cheap and I had no real intention of splashing out a couple of hundred quid for a new one just on the off chance that it might suit me better. I had already borrowed one earlier this year and given it a trial run but it hadn't seemed to be providing any real advantage. The trouble is that the two types of paddle have a distinctly different form to the stroke that you have to use and I would have to spend some time with it to see if its advantages will rub off on me. But to do so I've got to learn a different technique for the wing-paddle and use it in place of the technique that I've assiduously been trying to ingrain in my psyche for the last six months.

The wing paddle has to be inserted into the water in a much more upright attack stance, so that the catch of the stroke inserts the paddle almost vertically into the water near the feet. The paddle is then pulled through the water outwards and away from the side of the boat at an angle of about 30 degrees, roughly in line with the wake of the boat from its prow, in order that it's aerofoil shape can generate the 'lift' on the back of the blade. It's this 'lift' function which the asymmetric paddle can't produce, which provides the wing with its increased efficiency. Apparently it's a lot less forgiving than the asymmetric, and it's inclined to snatch inwards towards the underside of the boat if you get the paddle behind your waist when it's being removed from the water at the end of the stroke.

For me there are two other problems with this stroke. The first being getting the paddle into the water near my feet, I must just have short arms, or the sinews have already stiffened in my back to the extent that I can't reach much further down than my knees. The other is that the more upright the paddle goes, the further over to the stroke side the top supporting hand has to reach, and once past the centre the less balanced everything feels. Nevertheless it's probably still worth a try as, I'm told, my stroke curves outwards anyway, and isn't going straight along the side of the boat as it should be. Clearly I'm going to have to think quite hard about this and whether it would be worthwhile as it's really not a very good idea to try to do both at the same time.

So now we need to see what November brings.

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