Wednesday, March 2, 2016

The Wildwater Kayak -- Versatile, Challenging, and Cool

The wildwater boat is sometimes viewed as a specialty boat, but in many ways it is more versatile than most of the boats on the market.  Imagine you wanted to combine the speed of a surf ski, the buoyancy of a creek boat, the turning ability of a slalom boat, and the toughness of a whitewater boat.  The  wildwater kayak is what you would end up with.

According to the United States Canoe Association, wildwater kayaks have a maximum length of 4.5 meters (14 feet 9 3/16 inches).  Rules prohibit wildwater kayaks from having rudders.  Other than that, the design of kayaks used for wildwater is open.  Most modern wildwater kayaks, however, are narrower than 20 inches at waterline and have considerable above-waterline reserve buoyancy.  Much of the reserve buoyancy is in the "wings" that flare out just aft of the cockpit.

Two  examples of high end composite wildwater kayaks from Zastera are below:

The Zastera Corvette

The Zastera Aggressor

 Those just getting into the sport can start with just about any durable kayak (yes, you will mix it up with rocks) that is 14'9" or shorter.  The Perception Wavehopper (discontinued in the U.S. but available used) and the Pyranha Speeder are reasonably fast polyethylene kayaks well suited for wildwater racing on Class I, II, and III whitewater.

Wildwater Kayaks are fast due to their narrowness.  Their narrowness makes them "twitchy."  Their twitchiness makes them a challenge.  Never a dull moment in a wildwater boat.  In the unlikely event you start experiencing those kinds of moments, time to get a narrower boat.

Wildwater Kayaking is part of the Penobscot River Nationals Regatta on Maine's Penobscot River in July 2016.  The event is open to wildwater racers of all experience levels, and paddlers are at least as friendly as they are competitive.  Come and join the fun!

Monday, February 29, 2016

Why Wildwater?

From my biased perspective, it's hard to understand why wildwater kayaking is not more popular.

Wildwater kayaking gets you outside, provides adventure, and takes you to beautiful natural places. 

Wildwater provides similar cardiovascular benefits as sports such as running, bicycling, and surf ski racing.

Photo from
At the same time, wildwater provides the same rush of that can be found in sports like downhill skiing, snowboarding, and whitewater playboating.

In addition, like golf or tennis, wildwater is a thinking person's sport that rewards experience, knowledge, and technique.  

One trend in paddlesports is the "first descent" -- elite paddlers racking up air miles in order to take on never-before-paddled stretches of whitewater in Africa, Asia, or South America -- and expending an increasingly huge amount of resources as they do so.

Many local paddlers follow the same pattern but on a smaller scale.  As they master local rivers, they are forced to drive farther from home to again experience the level of challenge and exhilaration they used to get from rivers closer to home.

Wildwater paddling is an antidote to this problem.  Imagine spending months or years paddling the same local river but in progressively narrower and tippier boats.  Imagine that each time you race that same river, you are looking to run better lines and to cut seconds off your previous best time.

If a quest for improvement that draws on cardiovascular fitness, strength, technique, ability to read the water, and knowledge of particular rivers is appealing, wildwater racing could be for you.

A couple of resources for learning more about wildwater racing include:
Danger Zone

Monday, February 22, 2016

Winter Paddling's New Best Friend -- Toaster Mitts

NRS Toaster mitts are not a new product.  In fact, they have been around for a long time and are now listed as an NRS closeout, but they are new to me.

I've been paddling with Toaster Mitts since November and am thrilled with the level of comfort they bring to my previously wet and cold hands.

Previous to using Toaster Mitts, I was an enthusiastic pogie user.  (This is the point in my blog where I may be losing my non-kayaking readers.  'What's a pogie?'  They might well ask.)  Enthusiastic, yes.  After all, pogies are a world above neoprene paddling gloves -- both in terms of providing a firm grip on the paddle and maintaining a level of comfort for the hands.

Pogies, as I learned over time, do have a number of shortcomings:  (1) once pogies get wet, they are, well, wet -- and so are your hands; (2) if you paddle in waves or whitewater, your pogies will get wet; (3) if you paddle with a wing or a Greenland paddle (think no drip rings) your pogies will, see above, get wet; (4) in the event of capsize or when going ashore, once you take your hand off your paddle, your pogies are no longer with you.

The NRS Toaster mitt is a fuzzy-lined neoprene mitten shaped to curve around your paddle shaft and fit snugly around your wrist, and with enough texture to provide a good grip on your paddle.  The thickness is just right.  Thin enough to provide a feel for the paddle shaft.  Thick enough to provide warmth.  NRS provides a fit chart and guidelines to measuring your hand so the right fit is assured when ordered online. They come on and off more quickly than a pogie as well.

And they stay dry.

I've used mine in temps approaching up to 50 degrees and down into the upper 20's.   I expect I'll be using them for the first races of the whitewater series this spring.'

The NRS Toaster Mitt is now on sale for $33.75 at NRS.  I like them so much I ordered a second pair.  Get them before they are gone!

Read more on the advantages and disadvantages of pogies, paddle mitts, and gloves at Canoe & Kayak Magazine.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Kayaking is only Safe if you make it that way

For most people kayaking is a relaxing and relatively safe sport.  However, as can be seen in several recent news stories, kayaking can also be dangerous -- and even deadly.  One of these news stories recounts a January 9th kayaking accident on Canyon Lake in which two brothers, aged 17 and 25 died.  The cause of the deaths is still being investigated.  What is known is that the brothers set off from shore at noon and at some point became separated from their kayaks.  A a helicopter, boat, and shoreline search commenced when they were reported missing later that afternoon.  Their kayaks were found on Saturday evening.  However, their bodies were not found until the following morning.

Canyon Lake, Texas on a quieter day.
 According to Weather Underground, wind speeds near Canyon Lake, which were about 14 mph at 3pm, spiked to 29 mph at 4pm on that afternoon.  Although little has yet been reported about the cause of this accident, it is very likely that the two paddlers were unable to make progress and then ultimately capsized when the wind speeds picked up.

One article on the accident reports that the water temperature of the lake was 55 degrees.  According to United States Search and Rescue Task Force, most victims will be exhausted or unconscious in less than 2 hours in water of this temperature.  Expected survival time is 1 - 6 hours.  For victims not wearing life jackets, exhaustion would come more quickly and drowning would occur immediately after the victim becomes unconscious.

People often underestimate the danger of cold water, mistakenly thinking that swimming in 55 degree water might be the same as walking around in 55 degree air.  However, as USSRTF points out, "Cold water robs the body's heat 32 times faster than cold air."  So while an inactive person without extra clothing might start to shiver after an hour or more in  55 degree air, the same person will start to shiver within 2 minutes in 55 degree water.

What can kayakers learn from this tragedy?  Wear your life jacket.  Be aware of the danger of paddling in water below 60 degrees.  Know your limits.  Listen to weather forecasts before you go out.   Be safe out there!