The Inland Paddler: Getting Back to the Roots

Paddling is Paddling

It’s funny how we sometimes define ourselves by what we paddle – what craft – SUP, OC, Prone, Ski – or by what kind of blade we use – single, double, none.

My gateway to paddlesports was sea kayaking. I picked up my first double-bladed paddle in 2000, and used it in a great big, yellow banana of a sit-on-top. kayak. A trip to Alaska and a guided day out on the water in the fjords around Homer convinced me to graduate to a sit-in. Then I started attending symposiums, learned to paddle and roll with a Greenland style paddle and even took a class on leg drive – never imagining that I’d find myself putting that technique to use in a surfski many years later.

It was at one of those symposiums – about nine years ago I think – that I was introduced to standup paddling. I bought my first board about a year after that and since then, my wonderful British P&H Scorpio has been in the water maybe four times. I’ve almost exclusively paddled with a single blade and occasionally with just my hands in all that time.

It was easy to eschew the kayak paddle. It wasn’t as “cool.” It seemed, I don’t know, pedestrian. Too easy. Too commonplace.

Then I got in a surfski.

Back to the double blade. But one that requires a certain level of precision. A certain paddle technique which, if you do not effect correctly ,will send you swimming. And then there’s that leg drive. It’s what locks you into to the boat and helps you get that full core rotation, among other things.

So, I rationalized.

It’s okay to paddle a ski because even thought it technically is a kayak, a sit-on-top at that, it’s high performance, it’s fast, it’s different. So it’s okay.

Then things came full circle.

I didn’t realize the extent of that until I was forced to knock the cobwebs off the P&H on Father’s Day and lead solo a tour and picnic around Falls Lake as part of my paddle instructor job.

When I first got the “Launch and Lunch” assignment, I immediately asked if I could lead it in the ski but then I quickly realized that would not be practical – for any number of reasons, not the least of which is the rescue scenario. Rescuing a large heavy plastic sea kayak and its occupant with a ski would not be ….efficient. Not to mention the potential for damage to my boat. When you are a tour leader/instructor you have to think about things like that. Then there’s all the extra gear you have to carry, like first aid kits, extra water, tow ropes, etc.

Nope. The ski would not do.

But a sea kayak? Really?

I loaded up the 60 pound heavy piece of rotomolded plastic onto my car. 60 pounds!! That’s more than the weight of my ski, OC1 and race board combined!

When I got to the lake and started setting up, the first thing I did was sit in the cockpit. It was like putting on that old, comfy pair of jeans you recently re-discovered languishing in the back of your closet.

I took my first few paddle strokes in it. I practiced a couple of sculling braces. Then, I did a couple of bow draws – which is a way to turn the kayak without losing speed. It’s not something I did frequently prior to learning to SUP. But a bow draw in the kayak is extremely similar to the way you can turn a SUP from the nose and is a skill that is handy, if not essential in downwinding with a board that does not have a rudder. I learned that from Jeremy Riggs. In the kayak, it’s easier and more natural to do if your paddle stroke is more high angle. And guess what else you have to paddle with a high angle stroke? Yep. The ski.

And then, the leg drive. Again. It was natural to push on the foot pegs in the sea kayak the way you do in the surfski and when I did, I felt the boat surge forward. It seemed almost effortless to paddle my old, heavier friend. And faster.

And fun.

Except for the loading the 60 pounds of it onto my car alone.

Couple of days later, someone asked me if I’d forgotten how to paddle a kayak. The answer? Absolutely not! It’s kind of like riding a bike. What I did realize after spending the afternoon in my Scorpio, was how much better a paddler I am now, even with the double blade, than I was nine years ago. How everything I have learned about paddling standup, outrigger and the surfski, and even the prone board, has made me so much more proficient in the sea kayak. My core is certainly a lot stronger. But I understand better how boards and boats move through the water and what you need to do to make that happen efficiently. And I read the water so much better, too.

I hope I get to teach more kayaking classes and lead more tours. I’ve ordered a new Greenland paddle, too. And I just might even see if I can’t roll the thing with my Quickblade V-drive SUP paddle. Just for kicks and giggles.

Thing is – it really doesn’t matter if we’re standing up, sitting down or lying down, or if our paddles have one blade or two….paddling is paddling. And we are all paddlers. Just get out there, try new things and see how they enhance your overall experience on the water. We don’t have to pigeon hole or put limits ourselves or our paddling.

We just have to have fun.



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