Thursday, January 10, 2008


(cross-posted from Notes From a Year on the Water)

I'm reading Derek C. Hutchinson's book Expedition Kayaking when I came across his checklist for what constitutes a proficient paddler.
  • Paddle 24 to 32 kilometres (15 to 20 miles) in a day's trip.
  • Paddle a kayak out through at least 1.2 metre (4 foot) breakers and into open water, then back in again, then forward and backward without capsizing.
  • Tow the kayak ashore in the event of a capsize, and maintain contact not only with the kayak, but with the paddle and equipment.
  • Turn a kayak around through 360 degrees using forward and reverse sweep strokes. This should be done as quickly as the design of the boat will allow.
  • Move a kayak sideways by means of a draw stroke or a sculling stroke.
  • Prevent a kayak from capsizing using a sculling for support stroke and also a slap support stroke [low brace?].
  • Steer a kayak with a stern rudder while traveling down the face of a small wave, then allow the kayak to come broadside on to a breaking wave and then, with a high brace, keep the boat upright as the wave breaks over it.
Notice that rolling doesn't make the list. In the video interview with him (below) he says that "After you learn to roll you don't have to roll. It all just degrees of lean--even if your ear's in the water...."

Mr. Hutchinson is one of those amazing figures that founded the sport of sea kayaking. His North Sea crossings of 1975 and 1976 are listed in Paddler Magazine's The 10 All-time Greatest Sea Kayaking Expeditions. Paddler Magazine also has an interesting short interview with him here.
And there's a bit more info on him at his USK page. Mr. Hutchinson is not only a founder of the sport, but he's designed some 18 kayaks--including the Gulfstream for Current Designs (this was the boat I fell for at the 2007 Paddlefest in Ladysmith). This guy really is the Duke Kahanamoku of sea kayaking.

Mr. Hutchinson's definition of proficiency is based on the requirements for the UK coast and is intended for expedition kayakers. Certainly none of it is out of line even for most weekend paddlers--I'm disappointed that I don't meet more of the set points he details after two and a half years of paddling. Some of that is lack of practice--the whole 1.2 metre breakers thing, for example. There aren't a lot of breakers of that size to practice on in the bay. And when there are, they are usually accompanied by 70+ km/hr winds and a whack of drift logs bashing back and forth. At which point on an expedition I'd be hunkered down on land until the storm passes anyway. Part of it is also the reluctance to drive out the other side of Sooke to practice for an hour and then drive back. maybe if I camp overnight.... But really, I need to take more classes, including those towards certification. And paddle more.

1 comment:

  1. He seems like quite a contraversial fellow any time he speaks, but this video is kind of a condensed version. Everyone has an opinion, but most of this video was edited to be rather frank and know-it-all in the introductions: "the BCU is in the past", and, "all these boats have copyied my formula...I suppose it's a compliment" and, "I designed 18 of these..." It comes across as a bit arrogant. It sort of gets worse as he starts talking about North american kayaks and the industry. "rubbish..." he says. I echo the man behind the camera, "a huh..yeeeah."

    I don't mean to downplay his experience, of course - you can tell he's got lots and lots of data up there. I like the discussion on traditional paddles and all of the history, but man, lighten up a bit.

    You can't be too hard on yourself for not paddling through 1.5m waves and doing surf landings, it's just not part of the south eastern island's paddling culture. In order to get that kind of wave action on the east side, you will get your ass handed to you quite a few times. I think experience is experience, the more you paddle, the more you build your confidence, knowledge and muscles to deal with getting the boat from a to b. Using a benchmak in a book from someone who regularly paddles off the north tip of great britain is probably and unfair meter stick for your own success. but if you're up for a challenge, you can always seek out courses. The way I look at it is if I'm happy on the water, I'm doing a good job. The minute I'm not, I'll figure out how to improve and just move on with gaining experience. No point trying to be superman just for cocktail party trivia, you know?

    In other news, I'm pleased to report I'm no longer living viacriously :) I bought my first boat on Saturday and I can't wait to kit the water for her maiden (to me) voyage. I've got a little paddling journal set up now. here's the link