The great thing about kayaking is that it can be whatever you want it to be. From casual cruising on the local pond or lake, to exposed ocean crossings and adrenaline pumping runs down whitewater – there’s something for everyone.
A positive trend over the last 5-10 years among American kayakers has been the growing awareness of the potential kayaking has as a fitness, racing and adventure sport. Every year more American kayakers are discovering the absolute joy of performance paddling – a term often applied to kayaking for speed and fitness, in adventurous conditions and with lightweight efficient equipment.
Many kayakers start out in traditional sea kayaks or recreational style boats, which tend to be built with heavy materials and an emphasis on very user-friendly designs. But for those bit by the paddling bug, there can be a natural progression towards more advanced design and manufacturing. Focus shifts from just getting on the water, to setting goals, race preparation, group training sessions, etc.
The catalyst for the progression to high performance equipment and more intense paddling is often the realization that kayaking is an excellent workout. Tranquil cruising, bird watching and kayak fishing are all fun activities, but it’s the discovery of fitness paddling that can lead paddlers to explore a style of kayaking they hadn’t considered, and equipment they didn’t know existed!
Benefits of Paddling For Fitness:
• It’s a full body workout. Yes, kayaking is a full body exercise. A common misconception is that it’s all in the arms; your arms are in fact secondary. It’s your back, core and legs driving the power. Learning how to coordinate all these muscle groups to produce a strong and refined paddle stroke takes a lot of practice, but will literally propel your paddling to another level.
• Cardiovascular strength and conditioning. Once you build up your sport specific strength, you’ll be able to work the heart rate zones just like your running or cycling workouts.
• Low impact cross training. No sore feet or knees – paddlesports are a great way to take the stress off your body and challenge new muscle groups while building your cardiovascular system.
• No traffic! Not only are you out of the gym, but you’re also off the roads. In addition to being a terrific workout, you are out on the water, which is always a good thing. The air seems cleaner, the scenery is more inspiring, and the conditions change from day to day. It’s a dynamic environment that invites you to go and work out.
• It’s a challenge. In addition to working out physically, there is a technique component to the exercise that adds another dimension to the sport. Much like a golf swing, the kayak stroke relies on precision and efficiency, and the two take an equal amount of practice to implement properly. The more you learn about the kayak stroke and work on “perfecting” yours, the more rewarding your workouts will become.
Stability Before Speed – The New Breed of Surfski
The transition to performance paddling, surfski paddling in particular, has never been so accessible. Over the last several years, the growing list of surfski manufacturers have expanded their range of products to broaden the market, making it more inclusive with more stable designs – an effort to draw in touring and recreational kayakers who might be interested in a new style of paddling.
There was a time when most surfski models could be counted on to have one thing in common: instability (a natural consequence of the typical 17” wide hull.) But now, boats such as the Epic V5, V7 and V8 and offer the simplicity, lightweight and ergonomics of a surfski in specifications that have the stability and safety of a sea kayak hull. They are easy to load/unload from the car, easy to carry and exhilaratingly easy to paddle.
These new boats are perfect for paddlers who have figured out that they don’t need a fully rigged and outfitted sea kayak to get on the water for a few hours of exercise. By blending “real world” stability with performance-oriented design, this class of surfskis has successfully bridged the gap between recreational kayaking/touring and high performance paddling.
For kayakers into simple efficient gear, fitness and racing, downwind paddling and surfing – check out these boats. They’re so much fun, it could be the last boat you’ll ever need to paddle. Or, it might be the catalyst for exploring even more advanced designs and “elite” level boats. Hopping on one of these entry-level surfskis can be a transformational experience; you literally may never look at kayaking the same way again.