Kayaking tips for adventure racing

The Australian Geographic Adventure team are training hard and reveal some top tips for paddling like a pro.
By Amy Russell December 1, 2013 Reading Time: 3 Minutes

WHEN IN TRAINING, IT’S a general rule of thumb that the more you do an activity, the better you get. As your technique improves and you become accustomed to the sport, you usually move faster and your skill level increases. So, you can forgive me for assuming that for our second paddle training session, I would be noticeably better at kayaking than our first attempt. WRONG.

Last lesson, my technique was average but I moved easily enough through the water. It was tiring, don’t get me wrong, but I was able to keep up with the rest of the group. I don’t know what went haywire today, but the adventure-racing gods were working against me; after only 15 minutes my calves began to cramp, my shoulders started to ache and I dropped behind the rest of the group. Half an hour in, I was feeling sick, dizzy and sore as I watched everyone else, miles up ahead, glide effortlessly through the water like graceful swans. Even Josie, who struggled somewhat last lesson (see previous post), was powering along today. And Jo, who has taken to the sport like a duck to water, was accelerated to the fast group.

I began to suspect foul play; surely I couldn’t be that unfit. Had Josie laced the bottom of my kayak with concrete? Had Jo ‘Speed Demon’ Egan drilled holes in my paddle blades? Megan, one of our instructors, noticed how much I was struggling and suggested we swap boats. She thought perhaps the one I was using was filled with water, causing me to work twice as hard.

We retreated to the beach, had a quick stretch, and once I was perched comfortably in her bright, pink kayak, we were on our way again. I did find the lesson easier atop Megan’s craft, but I think by that stage the damage was done – I was completely spent. And I almost squealed with joy when Ben announced we were headed back to shore and the lesson was over. (This weeks session was led by Ben Neighbour; Ben Chalmers – Northbridge Kayak owner – was our instructor last lesson).

Nevertheless, the Northbridge kayak team are so experienced and knowledgeable when it comes to paddling (they give lessons in stand-up paddle boarding too), that despite the burn, I was still able to work on improving my technique for the race. For any budding kayakers, my advice would be not to run far, far away like I felt like doing this morning, but instead check out Ben Chalmer’s top tips for a good technique: 

  1. Paddling is not a strength sport. More strength does not equate to speed. It should feel like a bike ride – gentle and relaxed.
  2. Paddling is not just an upper body sport.  It is a total body sport – your arms are very small muscles and will tire easily. With paddling, most of your power comes from your legs and 30 per cent from your abdominal core. The paddle stroke begins at your toes as you push through your legs causing your torso to generate power at the hips.
  3. Paddling is not rowing. Most people believe that when you paddle, you reach out then pull the paddle back through the water. This is incorrect, as this is a rowing technique. You should actually reach the paddle forward then use the top hand to punch and propel the paddle through the water. You do use bottom hand to pull as well but punching creates the most power.
  4. Posture is key. You should be leaning forward 5 – 15 degrees. Definitely do not lean back because you will hurt your back.  Remember, back rests are for resting.
  5. Do not murder your paddle. You do not need to hold the paddle with a death grip and holding harder does not mean you go faster – in fact, it will just fatigue your hands. Hold the shaft 2.5 – 5 cm from the end of the paddle with soft grip like a pool cue – your pinkies should not be used to grip, but should simply rest on the paddle.


Session Summary

Josie: Halleluiah! A straight line.
Amy: Where can I buy a motorised kayak??
Jo: A coffee kick-start really helps!
Team Australian Geographic Adventure’s theme song