Proper paddling technique really pays off

Photo Credit: FILE  PHOTO - Knowing how to use a paddle, and using a good one, can make the difference between a fun kayaking trip and a miserable one for your body.A sure sign of summer in Central Oregon is the variety of kayaks attached to vehicles traveling across the landscape. Our extended backyard offers near endless variety of paddle powered recreation, from the tranquil evening float on Hosmer Lake to serious Class V descents through lava fields fractured by water.

As with all sports, strong technique supports good outcome and for a refresher on paddlling skills, I recently stopped by Tumalo Creek Kayak and Canoe for a conversation with John Hise.

John first floated into my world quite a few seasons ago, when he talked his way onto an Owyhee River trip I was organizing. He started paddling his canoe on the upper reaches of the Chattahoochee river in Northern Georgia back in 1973, one year after the movie Deliverance hit the screen. He has enjoyed decades paddling rivers and lakes of the Northwest and teaches canoe and kayak skills on local rivers.

“Less fatigue, more fun” is the mantra John espouses as we discuss paddling technique. Keeping a tall, extended spine places the upper extremities in an optimal paddling position John indicated. A forward flexed slumped posture breeds inefficiency and discomfort.

“Sit tall like your mamma told you at the dinner table,” John said, his Georgia accent tinged with the alacrity of a fundraising televangelist. “Keep a tall spine and rotate about 45 degrees as you make your stroke; use your arms and trunk to generate the power.”

Legs and feet provide stability and a counterforce to the upper extremity movement

The most critical piece of equipment is the paddle itself. A typical flat water paddler will make about 500 strokes every mile, dipping a paddle over 5,000 times in a 10-mile trip around Simtustus. Efficiency and lightweight equipment make for an enjoyable outing. At 5,000 repetitions, the equivalent of 12,000 pounds is moved one paddle stroke at a time in a typical low-cost paddle.

Investing in a carbon fiber lightweight paddle will lighten the bank account about $400 for the feather-light paddling experience. In the same 10-mile trip, the lighter weight paddle will require about 5,000 pounds less work, or about the equivalent of a small truck. Less fatigue, more fun.

I purchased my first kayak in December 1994, and christened it the following day on the North Umpqua under cold skies, 8,000 cfs of flow and minimal to no back or trunk support in the seat. Fear alone kept me in the boat. In those days, outfitting a whitewater kayak meant an afternoon of exposure to glue fumes as you installed foam support and a back rest.

Fast forward to 2014 and most kayaks come equipped with low-back, thigh and leg support. Minor customization of the seating system can lead to a fit that supports strong and stable positioning. The seating support system facilitates appropriate posture, but it is up to the paddler to develop the muscle memory and control needed to experience a happy day of boating.




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