Friday, April 30, 2010


It is time to ruffle some feathers. I am a pretty easy going guy. I think if something works for you, great, do it. But something doesn't work for me. There is a technique for getting into your kayak from a beach that troubles me greatly.

I apologize that I can't find a video to show you the technique that troubles me, they are out there, but I don't want to draw attention to any one person or organization. But the technique is some variation on this:

Standing next to your kayak, place the shaft of your paddle behind your back. Squat down, and grasp the paddle shaft and the back of the cockpit coaming at the same time, with the same hand. Sit on the paddle shaft, and slide towards your kayak, balancing your weight on the blade of the paddle and the kayak itself. when you are over the kayak, slide your legs into the kayak. With your legs in the cockpit, slide forward until you can place your bottom on the seat. Put on your spray skirt, retrieve your paddle, using your paddle blade and your fist, push yourself into the water.

The majority of injuries in kayaks occur in the 'surf zone'. With the surf zone defined as anywhere that water interacts with land. Even if the waves are 6 inches high, that is enough to push around a kayak. The technique as described above - in my opinion - extends the amount of time that we are in the surf zone. The reason that it extends the amount of time that we are in the surf zone, is that it is exceedingly unnatural. It is placing our center of balance behind us on the shaft of our paddle. It is taking away our ability to use our arms, which help us with balance, and also removes our ability to adjust to an ever changing environment, like the surf zone.

Speaking of the paddle shaft, it is putting forces on the shaft of our paddle in a way that they are not intended to take them. I paddle with a very expensive, very light, carbon fiber paddle. The only time I am going to sit on the shaft with my weight resting on the two blades is, never. ( yes, some pressure is put on the shaft of my paddle when I do a paddle float re-entry, but that is another topic.)

So, how do I enter a kayak? Naturally. I straddle the kayak, I place my bottom in the seat, I put my legs in the cockpit, I am paddling. I can put my spray skirt on at any number of places in the process. I may hold the cockpit coaming with my hands. I may not. It depends on the conditions.

I have two amazing kayak teachers, My Sifu (Sensei) and my Master:

My Sifu, is quiet on the subject of entry into the kayak. My Master agrees with me, but doesn't want me to straddle the kayak, she wants me to stand on one side. With the idea being that if a wave washes out the kayak, there is a 50/50 chance it wont wash me out as well, whereas if I am straddling the cockpit one of my legs is going with the boat. With all due respect Master, my way feels more natural, and I will continue to do it, until one of my legs gets washed out with the kayak by a wave.

Fortunately both Master and Sifu are currently paddling in British Columbia, and wont see this.

But PO, what if my legs are too long to enter the kayak that way, you ask? My friend who attended the east coast kayaking festival - he is six foot five - entered his kayaks the same way I do, with the exception being he sits on the back of the cockpit first, gets his legs in, then slides forward and down into the seat.

I mean no disrespect to the many kayaked who enter their kayaks in the way I describe, but I think it may be dangerous. I want to spend as little time in the surf zone as possible.

There is a saying attributed to Antoine St. Exupery - Perfection is attained, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away. When something is stripped to its nakedness. I will translate that to Keep it simple st@#&! and there is nothing simple about the method I described in the first paragraph. To take it a step further, as I like to relate things to the martial arts, again I will bring up Bruce Lee, whose fighting system Jeet Kun Do was all about removing anything extraneous from the art. If it wasn't necessary it wasn't kept.

I do apologize for two things. I only have video of myself entering my kayak on lakes, not much of a surf zone. But the process is just about the same. And starting today I am paddling the coast and will be away from my computer until Monday. If I get any flaming emails or comments regarding the outlined method that I disapprove of I will respond on Monday.

entry from Paddling Otaku on Vimeo.


  1. This is all very Zen-and-the-art-of. And I like it very very much.

  2. thank you, though I think this post in particular is not so zen.

    Wednesdays post will have extra zen.


  3. I generally agree with the entry--clean and simple (assuming, as I age, that I have a big enough coaming). I use my paddle (a light, spruce Greenland) to get out; the paddle, held as you describe with one hand holding paddle and coaming, helps stabilize me as I drag my usually very stiff body out of my kayak. I have a home-built kayak, so I can sit over the rear bulkhead without worries, and slowly convince my legs to leave the boat.

  4. And clearly there is an age/flexibility factor. I would suggest if you are getting stiff in your cockpit to do some stretching in the boat before coming ashore to loosen up. But here is my concern, in even a mild surf zone, the time it takes to stabilize with one hand behind you and get out of the boat, to me, seems problematic. I want people out of the surf zone as quickly as possible. That said. if it works for you, that is good enough.