Thursday, March 18, 2010


There are a lot of little pieces to a correct paddle stroke. So many little pieces it can be infuriating. Just when you think you have one section down perfectly you will realize that there is something else to add or tweak or perfect. This same observation was made in the book Zen in the art of Archery by Eugene Herrigal. He wrote, and I am paraphrasing:

The zen archer doesn't focus on the bullseye. In fact he never looks at the bullseye. His focus is on his breathing. He focuses on drawing the bow correctly, and notching the arrow correctly. He concentrates on his stance, and his balance. When it is time for the arrow to fly, he doesn't think about releasing it. It releases by itself. He should be surprised by it's release. If all of these things occur correctly a bullseye will just happen.

if we do all the little things in our stroke correctly a fluid, natural, powerful paddle stroke will just happen.

But unfortunately we have to begin with something that is painfully boring. Sitting. In order for anything we do in a kayak to work the way it is supposed to, we have to be sitting correctly. And that is where we will start.


We sit in our kayak. Our bottom is in the seat. The balls of our feet rest on the foot rests (or rudder pedals if you have them) our knees are bent, and are pressed firmly against the thigh braces inside the cockpit. Our back is straight. Our head is up. Imagine a thread coming out of the center of your head, pulling your head and spine straight up into the sky. If our back is straight our lungs can expand the way they are designed to, we get a good breath when we need it. Our shoulders are relaxed, our arms are relaxed. In fact our whole body is relaxed. We contact the boat in at least five places - bottom, feet, knees - but we also connect to the boat at the small of our back where the seat back touches us. Depending on the type of Kayak we are in we may even be pressed gently, but firmly to the sides of the cockpit at our hips. We should be snug, but not tight. The reason we are going to put this much attention into the fit of our boat, is so that our body and our boat are one. When we lean to the left, the boat will go with us. when we push with our feet, the boat will respond. when our boat is lifted by wind or water, we will feel it occur, and respond naturally. Our body and our boat are one. That is a very important concept. This is why we don't name our kayaks. because when we are on the water our kayak is an extension of ourselves. Our body, and our boat are one. think about that.


  1. hmmm... surely we name our boats, at least I do :-)
    While probably not in tune with my boat as much as you and since I don't have just one kayak I have named mine.
    When I talk/write about a kayak of mine I need to refer to a specific one and not just "the kayak".
    And since each kayak has a different "soul" (it behaves very differently from her sisters) I can be undestood which kayak I am referring to.

  2. a valid point, and I have had both responses by people. So, no, I don't name my kayaks. And thinking about how I refer to the way different boats paddle, because surely different boats do paddle differently - even two of the same boats may paddle slightly different - I refer to make and model. My delta paddles differently than my Perception.

    But if you look at the way people respond to this topic when talking about non-kayak boats, it;s a very different response. It's bad luck to not name a non-kayak boat. Non-kayak boats are treated as ladies. They are given a persona. For the most part kayaks are not treated as such. You ride on a boat or ship, you ride in a kayak. In all my time in kayaks I have only seen two kayaks with names painted on their bows. And one of these was to differentiate boats within a fleet at a school.

    From a martial arts point of view, I want us in unison. Like a staff or a sword.

    That said, if I built a boat I think I would be tempted to name it. Time will tell.

    As I think about this, and thank you for making me think about this, I need to look into Greenlanders and Inuit, and see if they named their kayaks.

    Most importantly, do what makes you feel right.

    What are your kayaks names?


  3. PO, I have been naming my favorite "big toys" for a while.
    As long as a have strong "bond" with a vehicle I usually name it.
    Motorcycles were named but not cars (I don't have a bond with a car, it's just a tool to me, while a motorcycle... well that's different: my body movements are essential to its riding).
    I named my first kayak: Wet Dream.
    At the time it didn't dawn on me the secondary meaning of that name (english is my 5th language so it didn't immediately come to me :-)
    My other kayaks are/were: Nukka (little sister in Inuktitut), Aukanek (god of the sea that with his movements creates the waves), Kanosak (gold), 3ZUM (in line with the name of my first kayak :-) and Mockpool (to emphasize that I really don't paddle an original Rockpool but a Chinese boat that happens to have starfish decals as decoration on deck).
    I have yet to name my newest addition to the fleet: a folding kayak that I will use to travel to remote locations (air travel).
    I have named other boats, but those are my girlfriend's...

  4. Sort of Off topic: Re :Zen in the art of Archery by Eugene Herrigal, worth reading the commentory at