Friday, 25 May 2012

Game Changers


I subscribe to an excellent sea kayaking mag from North America, Adventure Kayak. Like Ocean Paddler in the UK, they focus in on the open water aspects of our sport, with a wealth of venerable contributors, articles on technique, trips, & gear, all written & shot to a very high standard.
In their latest edition they published a really interesting piece called 'Game Changers', focusing on design trends that they've identified as 'game changers' in our sport.
Reading through it I was struck by the parallel conclusions they drew, reflecting the many paths we at Expedition Kayaks have paddled over the past four years. 
Among their observances is the emergence of the 'ocean playboat'. When we first landed designs like the Valley Avocet & the North Shore Atlantic we were delighted to suddenly broaden the scope of our playfulness & manoeuvrability, especially close quartering around rocks & breaking surf.
The genre looks set to specialise even further as we look forward to the arrival of the Valley Gemini later in the year, a sea kayak specifically designed for surfing, which is winning friends among the elite core of UK paddlers who have been busy testing it & feeding back their ideas to the Valley crew.
Another key point is the idea of fit, that 'one size doesn't fit all'. Boat families are emerging with two, three & four sizes available to paddlers, all designed to provide essentially the same hull experience, taking into account the weight of the paddler. We first saw this with the Nordkapp & Aquanaut series, although the NDK Romany & Explorer were really the first with the concept of a play & tour option. Slowly but surely it has virtually ended what Rob calls the 'wear a few extra pairs of socks if your shoes don't fit' mindset that smaller paddlers especially have had foisted upon them for many years.
Adventure Kayak identify the influence of what they call the 'British Empire' in shaping modern design ranges. The old Brit designers' vision of watertight rubber hatches, multiple bulkheads, a rockered shape that only fully engages in moving water & a skeg to tune out the influence of contrary sea & winds are suddenly hip. Whilst personally I'm starting to tire of the use of the 'British-style kayak' as a wedge of paddling snobbery, I'm enjoying seeing the subtle variations that are emerging on the original shapes, and the effects they have on performance. I've long given up sizing up a hull shape & drawing any conclusions about what it may or may not do, so clever have designers become at exploding long held truisms about shapes & performance.
Something I didn't expect them to mention was the growing influence of athleticism in sea kayaking. Whilst the sport has been forever identified as a pastime for gentler folk (…yeah, right…), attracting an older demographic, the emergence of quality rough water designs that are expressly aimed at range & speed has made a few of us think twice about what is possible with some conditioning & resolve. 
AK describe this as 'more surf ski', and hone in on recent acheivements like Jeff & Harry blowing away the round Ireland record in their Tarans & Freya whizzing around continents in her Epic 18X. It's a significant point when you consider there are two guys going around the UK in Tarans, looking more likely as each day passes to smash the circumnavigation record of that not-insignificant little island. Having considered the future of long range expeditioning to reside in these fast touring boats for a couple of years now, I'm please to see that it's not just another one of our wacky theories! I've used surf ski paddling to improve every aspect of my sea kayaking so it's also a nice reminder that we as sea kayakers have much to learn from other paddle sport disciplines.
Their final observation is the mainstream emergence of Greenland paddling. I've watched the local scene embrace this aspect of the sport, especially the challenge & fun of the funky rolling with huge amusement as it has become a semi-competitive lark for people to have a go at & try to master. 
What can a rough water paddler learn from such a gentle art? Simply, at least in my case, underwater ambidexterity, the ability to train myself to roll from wherever I've been knocked over, rather than have to go to a set up spot which might use up valuable time in the crunch zone. While I would caution that transferring Greenland rolling skills to rough water is another., possibly much bigger step again, it's not a bad starting point for those lacking confidence whilst upside down. It's the bit of Greenlandic heritage that I've been able to turn to good use & shows you that there are attractions in all aspects of paddling if you're willing to explore & keep an open mind. It's also been fun learning…..
All up I'd have to congratulate these guys on an excellent, thought provoking article, and a magazine well worth considering for paper or digital subscription, if the seas is your thing….
You can read the entire magazine in which this article featured HERE, or subscribe to Adventure Kayak Magazine HERE.

1 comment:

  1. Spot-on, and an excellent summation by AK of where the sport is going.

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