Get onto — not into — the water
Setup to set off
Setup to set off
This is one in a series of staff writer Graham Jaehnig’s personal experiences as a
You have selected and purchased your kayak, life preserver, paddles and straps. What’s next? Find a place where you can paddle. However, for those of us who are getting older, or who have joint troubles, there are some points to consider when getting in and out of a kayak.
A social media post says that “Bean bag chairs are Venus flytraps for people over 40.” Kayaks can seem like that too when you are first learning the best way to board your watercraft. But this is one of the great advantages of recreational kayaks.
Because they are designed for calm lakes and slow moving water, they do not have the smaller cockpits that touring or sea kayaks need. Longer, narrower kayaks have a much smaller cockpit entrance, because they are designed to be fitted with a spray skirt that you put on, then secure to a lip around the cockpit called a combing.
Paddling Magazine states that a small cockpit, like those of a touring or sea kayak, would measure 24-30 inches long, by 18-20 inches wide. By comparison, cockpits on most recreational kayaks measure 50 inches (and longer) to 22-23 inches wide. The cockpit of my favorite kayak measures 48 inches long, by 25 inches wide. While the cockpit of the first kayak I purchased, also a recreational type, measures 50 inches long by 24.5 inches wide. The larger cockpits make the kayak much easier to get into and out of, and also much more comfortable once you’re in.
On each side of the cockpit, forward the seat are foot braces; in some models these are adjustable. In others, they are molded, fixed foot braces with four or so braces in a line let you determine which one you put your feet on for the most comfort. Properly adjusted foot braces are important, because you want your feet to push your butt into the seat back with each of your power strokes. But that’s for after you’re in the kayak.
When entering the kayak, I prefer doing so from the shore as opposed to entering from a dock. Entering from a dock forces me to twist my back around too much.
When entering my kayak, I first place the front half of the kayak in the water, so that the seat of the kayak is just forward of the shoreline while the back half of the kayak is on the ground. Depending on how my back feels that particular day, I will sit on the stern, immediately behind the cock pit, with one foot on the ground while placing the other in the cockpit, in front of the seat. Supporting my body with my arms, I will then lift the other foot in, while I slide both feet forward and lower myself onto the seat. The kayak I use the most has a paddle strap on the side that holds the paddle in place so I can be hands-free. Once I am seated, I will place my feet on the braces and make sure that my butt is centered on the seat. Once I am positioned and comfortable, I will then use my hands to push the kayak forward as I jerk forward, like scooting my office chair closer to my computer desk. Once I’ve moved the kayak forward into the water and it is floating, I release my paddle and use what is called a low-angle paddle technique to start the boat moving forward.
With a low-angle technique, while one hand is engaged in the power stroke, the other hand is held about in line with my shoulder. As the power stroke is completed, about when the paddle is parallel to the hip and begins to rotate upward, the other hand then lowers for the next power stroke, with the blade entering the water about parallel to my foot. As the other hand moves up to the shoulder height, the power stroke is pushing the paddle back in the water. This continual movement is done in just like pedaling a bicycle; always a forward rotational movement.
To reduce the strain on the shoulders, keep your body in motion by rotating your torso with each stroke. As your right arm moves forward and down into the power stroke, rotate your torso slightly forward from your hip. As the blade enters the water, the right side of your body should be rotated forward, with your left foot firmly on the foot brace. As your arm progresses through the forward stroke, push against a brace with your opposite foot, which will help your torso to rotate through the stroke. You should be rotating your body on your hips so that by the time your left arm is in place for the alternate power stroke, the left side of your body is rotated forward, with your right foot ready to gently push forward into the foot brace.
It all takes a little while to coordinate, and for just a leisurely hour or two on the water, torso rotation is not absolutely necessary, but it does take much of the tension and work off the shoulders, wrists and elbows.
Next, we will talk about strokes needed to turn the kayak