Thursday, 28 January 2021

Why I need to start a women's paddling group

 Yesterday evening, I joined the local canoe club, my new canoe club, for time trial on a private farm dam. 

I arrived early to test a new setup that I've done to my footrests for our rudder-pedal system. A husband-and-wife couple were already there in their car. As I don't know any of the local people, I have no idea who people are and at what level they're paddling.

On the dam, I saw them in a K2 looking very shakey on the water. Going around the top, I came up alongside them and asked if they were ok. They said it was their second time in the kayak.

Let's hold it right there and digest this.

  • Two brand-new paddlers in a K2 together. The Knysna Racing Thor is not a kayak that I know. It is listed as being "very popular for beginner paddlers. Big, stable and very comfortable. This legend is ideal for larger beginner crews who want to take on big water". From the look of it, I don't think that it is as stable as the Accord K2, my favourite. I'd need to get into it to see.
  • Him - significantly heavier - in the front, her - smaller than me - in the back. We usually put the heavier paddler in the back.
  • No PFDs (I was the only paddler there wearing a lifejacket; when Celliers has paddled he has been the only one too). If you capsize, you've got 6.5m kayak full of water to guide and swim to the bank.
I know what it is like to teaspoon around a dam, wiggling and trying not to capsize. It isn't nice. Worse with waves and a side wind. And it is exactly this that results in hundreds of people being lost to the sport of paddling each year. 

I offered to them that once they were done, they were welcome to give my Marimba sit-on-top a try.

It started drizzling and I saw them get off the water. I got off to chat to them.

The wife seemed keen to give my Marimba a shot but the husband was not (and he prevented her from having a go). He is of the "We'll get it right eventually" camp. The problem is, it could take them weeks and weeks. They are paddling once a week. It will take them even longer. During this time, they are developing bad posture, bad form and bad habits that will be a nightmare to get out of them (I did tell them this). They have no skill, no technique and no confidence. And, if they stick with it, they'll go from paddling one unstable kayak to the next, thinking that this is what paddling is all about. 

Celliers wrote an excellent article for The Paddle Mag on this point. In the article he says, "If a paddler can’t put 100% of their pulling power into a forward stroke because of the need to use some energy to maintain their balance, the paddler is in the wrong boat".

Just as a baby and then toddler first crawls, stands, walks and then runs, so too can new paddlers take a step-by-step approach. In paddling you need to learn technique first.

In this whole situation there are a bunch of issues. New, keen paddlers who have been welcomed and given access to a kayak sans hand-holding or instruction (and I totally understand limited club resources - it is usually a struggle for clubs). No PFDs. Him overruling her. Closed-mindedness to trying another kayak and accepting my offer of assistance. I don't take it personally - they don't know me either.

What to do?

My solution would be to paddle the kayak with one of them. It helps to have a more experienced paddler to stabilise. But, I don't think he is going to 'release' his wife to paddle with me. 

I've had it in mind to start a women's paddling group. My friend Nicola has a Monday morning women's group in Cape Town. It totally rocks.

I saw a couple of women at the time trial last week (the first that I've seen). Two in a double (I didn't see which double) were slower than I was in a single plastic. I didn't see the others on the water. I did pick-up that the one was learning to paddle - paddling a K1 from the club trailer - and seemed to be challenged and possibly taking swims. She said something about "trying again next week". That made me sad for her because it is unnecessary to be in that position.

A women's group would offer a more supportive (and fun) paddling environment. It also removes interference (psychological or otherwise) from the faster, more experienced male paddlers who may be their partners / husbands / brothers. I've found all the paddlers that I've met to be very friendly but this 'interference' is a real thing (even if totally unintentional and unconscious like giving the woman an unsuitable kayak to paddle) that can inhibit the women in their lives and prevent them from finding their paddling preference and confidence. 

There are already too few women in paddling. We don't need to lose more of the keen ones.

(I've been in George for three months and already I can't help myself from organising something!)

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