Last year, my wife and I took a day kayaking trip to the tip of Point Reyes, a peninsula just north of San Francisco due to the San Andreas Fault that pushed a chunk of California out to sea.
Thirty minutes after we set off, the water burst into fluff and what appeared to be a gray school bus ran beneath us. A gray whale mother and her calf were taking a rare break from their journey north for a snack.
They wandered around, watched our boats, and breathed in us (the same whale is not nice). Motorcraft often scares the animals away, but our two small boats seem to blend in with the surroundings.
It was just one of a hundred miraculous natural experiences I’ve had in a kayak, all no more than a few miles from the pier. And while we were tired by the end of the three-mile trip, at no point was I worried about fatigue or injury—not because I’m physically fit, but because I knew the paddling technique was right and easy on my muscles and joints.
Kayak sales have mushroomed over the past few years, thanks in part to the pandemic. Many of these boats are now available to steal on Craigslist and other sites, with users finding kayaking harder or harder on their bodies, than they expected.
But it doesn’t have to be. Changing just two components of your strokes can allow you to paddle further, avoid injury, and turn your day on the water into a life-changing adventure.
There are several reasons for whale watching to try kayaking. First, it is a good low-impact aerobic exercise for the elderly or for those who want to relax in fitness.
This is because it doesn’t engage the larger muscles of the body, such as the thighs and buttocks, said François Bellot, professor of exercise physiology at Laval University in Quebec and former head of physiology for the Canadian national kayaking team. The bigger the muscle, the more oxygen it needs, which is why running too hard, for example, makes you run out.
Second, he said, it’s one of the few exercises that works the upper body, especially the chest, back and torso, and involves the abdominals and other deep muscles around the midsection that are hard to train outside of the gym. Dr. Pilot said he’s considering kayaking as a cycling or running companion.
“For people who just run and do rotations, they don’t have much muscle mass in the upper body,” said Dr. Pilot. Rowing provides balance.
But that doesn’t mean you have to have big arms or back muscles to get started.
Alicia Jones, a New York-based artist and graphic designer who started rowing for five years despite sustaining a shoulder injury, said. But “it became a full-body workout after I learned the techniques. “
Hug a pizza box.
The first thing to understand about proper paddling technique is that the motion is a twisting motion, not a pulling motion.
Your arms are not as strong as a lot of the other muscles in your body,” said Greg Barton, Olympic gold medalist in kayaking and founder of Epic Kayaks. “The more you can get your whole body into the stroke, the faster it will go.”
Before you get into the boat, stand up and hold the paddle in front of you with both hands, just over shoulder width, elbows straight as if you were a mummy or maybe a zombie. Imagine that the square space between your arms, chest, and paddle is a pizza box. Now pretend to row, but don’t break the pizza box.
The goal is to keep your elbows relatively straight and rotated from your torso. When the elbow is bent, the arms take over and this causes fatigue and shoulder pain. When standing next to the boat, simply rotate your hips from side to side so that the zipper on the life jacket swings back and forth. This is the movement you want.
Now get on the boat and hit the water. It’s critical to have good posture in the boat, said Lynne Petzold, a veteran instructor at NOLS Wildlife School, to “sit upright all the way to your head, like there’s a string pulling from your base.”
If you’re concerned about tipping over, rest in the shallows (or in the pool) with how much you can twist and wiggle into the boat. Fear of flipping gets in the way of your rowing technique. If you have a flat-bottomed kayak or recreational kayak (with a wide cockpit that lets your knees out), you’ll be surprised how difficult it can be to tip over.
If you’re still worried about tipping over, sign up for an introductory kayak course and learn how to self-rescue.
Torsion is everything.
It’s paddling time. Set it up in the same position as a pizza box, with the paddle in front of you, chest height and hands slightly wider than shoulder width. Begin by slicing the paddle into the water, right next to the hull of the boat even with your feet up. Don’t pull toward yourself, keep your elbows straight and twist your torso so that the paddle slides side of the boat until it’s level with your butt, then release.
“One of the first things I learned was trunk rotation. That phrase stuck in my mind forever,” said Ms. Jones, who now teaches at Brooklyn Bridge Park Boathouse. “If I forgot anything else in life, I wouldn’t forget trunk rotation.”
Here’s the secret, the difference between frustrating exhaustion and easy rowing: Hold the paddle in your arms but use your core to move it. If you keep your elbows relatively straight, you should feel your stomach pull on each side as you twist.
Engaging the legs helps. Mr. Barton said, if you are rowing on the right, push your right foot onto the pegs or footstool to stabilize it at the core, while maintaining good posture.
“You want to hit the same side you row on,” he added. “Instead of just rotating from the waist up, you are actually rotating from the hips. “
Mrs. Petzold said: Don’t over hold the racket; This is about position, not authority. In fact, she does not hold it at all, but makes circles with her thumb and forefinger, like lobster claws.
“This is where the paddle rests. And I keep my other fingers loose on the paddle when I’m squeezing it,” she said, adding that with the right technique, she’s seen beginners paddle 45 miles in one day.
It’s a weird sensation, twisting your torso while looking straight ahead, and you don’t expect to get it exactly the first time. Try to find a rhythm. When you get the hang of it, one hit flows into the other. When you master the stroke, you will find that your arms no longer tire as quickly; You will also feel a burn in your heart.
It’s time to turn the tables.
Rotating a kayak means more than just rowing repeatedly to one side, it requires a different motion that extends from the front of the boat to the back of the boat. Now that you can feel your body twisting, pushing with your feet and engaging your core, try the spin stroke—commonly called a sweep stroke—to really stabilize your torso.
Start on the right side again. Rotate your torso to the left and reach the right paddle blade up from your feet again. Now wipe the paddle away, this time all the way to the back of the boat. Hold the pizza box in place and feel the twist in your stomach.
Watch the right paddle blade like a hawk from start to finish. To do this, you will need to wrap your entire body. Use this stroke to maneuver or occasionally during the forward stroke to stay on course.
Once you’ve finished these beats and have your heart engaged, Dr. Pilot recommended a few simple intervals of time to get stronger. After warming up, row vigorously for five minutes, then rest three times at a slower pace. Repeat this three or four times.
When you’re tired, expect to swing your technique back and back into your arms and shoulders stretching. Dr. Pilot said good technique can protect you from injuring your joints, so be realistic about how far you want to go.
If done right, kayaking can take you further than you can imagine. It can take you to rock gardens, through sea caves and playful gray whale calves. Surf the rolling waves of an Alaskan inlet or break the glass surface of a perfect Baja morning. Or you can paddle in the city center.
“Have you thought about the fact that you can kayak on the East River or the Hudson River?” Mrs. Jones said. “As soon as people hear about it, they want to see it, they want to try it.”