|By Carrick Armer (Pyro)|
Kayaking, to many in Adventure Racing, is seen as a bit of a Dark Art, one that is learnt and practised only in the run-up to a big race (if at all!), brought out in times of necessity and neglected in between. In recent years, though, the UK race scene has been undergoing somewhat of a renaissance in the field of kayaking, with a number of races offering the chance for suitably qualified competitors to use their own boats - All well and good if you're already suitably qualified and either own or can beg/borrow/steal a fast boat - which has pushed the discipline forward a notch. But what can you do to help yourself if you're one of the hundreds who don't kayak between races?
As an Adventure Racer in the UK, the vast majority of the kayaking sections you'll face will be relatively short and on flat, relatively sheltered water, with few obstructions or hazards, normally using a race-provided sit-on-top boat. As the boats are standardised, and the maximum speed at which they'll move is fairly low, there's a great example of the Law of Diminishing Returns in action.
The advantage you can gain here comes solely from proper paddling technique and posture - you might not gain a lot of time on the paddle section, but you'll save energy for later in the race and hurt less when you get out of the boat. Concentrating on paddling efficiently means that, while you might not eke out an extra 15 seconds over your rivals, you'll finish in better shape, with more energy to put the hammer down on the rest of the course.
Standing at a kayak transition on any shorter UK race, you see a handful of very common mistakes - don't worry if you recognise having committed any of these yourself, you certainly aren't alone - so we'll try and deal with these first.
The first mistake is poor paddling posture. Too often in short kayak sections we see competitors slouching back, leaning on their packs for support or just lying back and enjoying the ride (normally while their partner in the front of the boat does all the work!). The lack of back supports in most sit-on-top boats doesn't help this, but just because there isn't something behind you, that doesn't mean you should be lying back.
If you watch a marathon kayak racer, or a sea kayaker, or even an experienced whitewater boater, they will be sat upright in their seat, back straight, leaning slightly forward and reaching towards their toes at the start of the stroke. That upright posture lets you use your core muscles more effectively, and helps lead to better efficiency - part one of our plan! It also means you might avoid being like the hundreds of people I've seen crawl out of their kayak at the end of a section with cramps in their legs, stomach and back.