Paddle your own canoe

Paddle your own canoe

It is a hot, windless day and your local river or canal is the obvious place to be – but not necessarily for a swim. Paddling a kayak, canoe or paddleboard is an excellent way to get some warm weather exercise and do some exploring at the same time.

Summer and water are natural partners, as the recent rush to our wonderful British lakes and beaches has proved. We all enjoy splashing or swimming in the water on a hot day, whether it is in a garden paddling pool, down at the local outdoor pool or in the waves at the beach.

For those who prefer to be on the water rather than in it, there are always new spins on old ideas. A recent craze for stand-up paddleboarding has thrown the spotlight on paddlesports. What are the choices for something that floats, and something to propel it?

Kayaking and canoeing are ancient methods of transport – many of the early human migrations are believed to have used large canoes to cross oceans, before the mechanisms of wind and sail were sufficiently understood. As modern recreations, sailing and windsurfing offer more chance of speed, but they are dependent on one obvious ingredient. Still or low-wind days are those when paddle power really comes into its own. Paddlecraft are also ideally suited for canals and rivers where the wind is blocked by trees or too gusty or shifty to make sailing worth the effort. Kayaks and canoes are usually more portable, and can also take you into small inlets or under low bridges where craft with masts cannot go.

The difference between a kayak and a canoe can depend on where you are in the world or to whom you are speaking. Generally a canoe has an open deck and the paddle has only one blade, while a kayak paddle has two blades and the deck can be closed in places. Whatever they are called, there are two main types; simple ‘sit-on’ boats and more complicated ‘sit-in’ boats. Paddlers can also kneel, although most over 40’s will find this very hard work and prefer to sit.

A ‘sit-on’ kayak is the simplest type of paddlecraft and is often found in holiday resorts or water sports centres. There are easy to use, cannot trap anyone and stand up to all sorts of abuse and overloading. On a hot day you will often see these kayaks partly hidden under a large number of children, all happily jumping on and off and having a whale of a time. ‘Sit-in’ boats are for more serious use, and need a little more training to avoid entrapment if there is a capsize.

While the concept of all these sports is very simple, as always there is a right way and a wrong way. Incorrect use of paddles can strain backs and blister hands, as well as producing a frustrating lack of progress. Learning the basic technique does not take long, and a few minutes watching a demonstration and then trying to paddle under supervision will be well worthwhile.

Kayaking and canoeing can provide good fitness benefits. They are excellent sports for people with knee or foot problems, as there will be no strain on these joints. They also help runners to ‘even up’ their fitness, by resting the lower body and giving the workout to the arms, shoulders and upper back. That means that novice paddlers will soon feel the strain – so don’t overestimate your abilities to start with.

Before starting your trip, warm up muscles and do some stretches, being careful not to strain anything.  Don’t go beyond your limits – remember that you still have to get back to your start point, and put the kayak either back in the shed or back on the car!

As always with water sports, some common-sense safety measures are essential. You may not be planning a swim, but falling in is never out of the question and so you should have sufficient swimming ability to stay with your craft, and to get back on board. A buoyancy aid should always be worn on the water – it is just that, an aid to swimming, but it will really help to keep you afloat. Canoeing and kayaking is much more fun in a group – if you are going alone or with two of you in one boat, make sure someone knows where you are and what time to expect you back. This person must also know what action to take if they don’t hear from you. It may be a hot day, but wear the right clothes – UV is doubled in strength as it reflects from the water so you need to cover up and use plenty of sun cream. Carry some water and a lightweight spray top in case of weather change, and do check the forecast. Finally, you may not a sailor but you need to know about the wind. Always paddle into the wind to start your journey – this means that if you get tired, the wind will be blowing you back to your starting point and helping you to get home. Those on seas and rivers also need to make sure that the tide is favourable.

We all remember Mr Toad’s quote about the importance of ‘messing about in boats’ – he knew a thing or two about the subject so let’s follow his advice!


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