If someone tells you they kayak, that tells you absolutely nothing. There are so many types of kayaking it’s unreal. The most well known are the olympic disciplines: slalom and flatwater sprinting. There are also several types of ocean kayaking (touring and Surfski), white water and flatwater long distance kayaking (my kind of kayaking!).
This is the type of boat for flatwater sprint and marathon kayaking:
These are super thin, fairly unstable boats. You steer using a tiller bar on your footplate that moves a rudder at the back of the boat. Most common are one person (K1), two person (K2) and four person (K4) boats. For sprint there are races over 200m, 500m, 1000m and 5k. For marathon the standard race distance for senior women is 15 miles.
I’m no sprinter, my strength has always been my endurance and ability to keep going. In the UK marathon kayaking has a divisional system. Division 9-7 race 4 miles, 6-4 race 8 miles and 3-1 race 12 miles. As you get faster you get promoted through the divisions. I am in div 2, which is the fastest division women can reach.
Sprint speed is still hugely important in marathon kayaking. Races are won and lost in the sprint off the start. In div 2 racing against some pretty strong guys, it’s not unusual for me to be dead last off the startline. This is not an ideal racing strategy, but I do pride myself on picking off the stragglers who burn out after 500m.
This is my kayak club:
Good old Elmbridge. I’ve kayaked here for 10 years. This is a very competitive club with an amazing history of world class paddlers and very much a racing focus. There used to be posters that said ‘where racing comes first’ stuck on the walls, but I think they might have scrapped them for fear of scaring off new members (they’re only 11 year old kids!)
I can’t tell you how much I love this club; it is literally my second home. Some of the coaches and regular paddlers feel like my family I see them so much! However 3 or 4 years ago I was coming back from injury and struggling with my confidence. My goal of getting back to winning races had taken over my life and I started to resent training.
It took moving to university and paddling with a much more relaxed group of paddlers (shout out to Exeter Canoe Club) to remember my love for the sport. Many of these guys never raced, and yet they still trained consistently every week. This is even in winter when 6pm sessions start and end in freezing cold, pitch black conditions.
When I returned to Elmbridge during the summer I was able to apply my happier and more confident attitude to training and it helped me improve heaps. My rediscovered enthusiasm for being on the water also involved me trying out other aspects of the sport I had previously ‘never had time for’.
This included white water:
Honestly i’ve always looked down at white water kayaking a bit. The boats are very wide, plastic and have no rudder. And on flatwater they go so slowly. However when you actually put them in white water you become glad for the hardiness, stability and extra agility these features bring. And you go fast.
I did one week of Surfski when I went to Portugal last year for a race put on by NELO, the world’s most sucessful kayak brand. Rivers don’t tend to move up and down in the same way as the sea, and I was totally out of my comfort zone. Going downwind you are supposed to catch runs, keeping the nose of your boat pointing down the wave.
As you build momentum you can catch larger and faster runs. The best guys can reach speeds upwards of 25km/hr. I was rubbish, but it was so much fun and something I would definitely love to do if I ever travel out to Australia and New Zealand. The sport is absolutely massive out there.
I’m so glad that i’ve found myself in such a diverse sport that has given me so many amazing opportunities, and that I am now in a mindset where I can appreciate them. There was a point when being on the water meant only preparing for a race, and I had forgotton what it was to enjoy kayaking.
If this is you, in your sport or any aspect of life, try to take a step back. Remember the fundamental reason you are doing something, and rediscover the love you had for that part of your life.