More advanced paddlers or those interested in competing often seek out river runner kayak racing events. Many local clubs offer competitive events. Becoming a spectator at venues, such as paddling festivals, is a great introduction to get a feel for what types of events are available.
Competitive Kayaking Events
Competitive river runner kayak events are held on both flat water and white water. Events vary in length, with shorter distances running 200, 500 and 1000 meters. These sprint races take place on flat, calm waters and usually run a straight course. Distance races include marathons (26 miles) and other events that are much longer. These events on lakes and rivers usually involve maneuvering around obstacles and may even be broken into stages. The longest race is the Yukon River Quest, running 461 miles and takes place over several days.
Slalom and downriver river runner kayak events are held on white water. Paddlers navigate through and around a series of gates to make their way to the finish as fast as possible. Grades and class designations are assigned dependent upon the danger, difficulty or severity of the river rapids. Freestyle kayaking is a relatively new kayaking event and involves acrobatics such as air loops and flip turns, all done in white water.
Olympic Paddling Events
River runner kayak events were introduced into the Olympics in 1924. One of the most popular paddling events, the slalom, was added in 1972. Men and women are currently eligible to compete in 16 flat water and white water paddling events using both kayaks and canoes.
Training for Competitive Kayaking
Preparing for the sport of kayaking involves both aerobic activity and upper body conditioning. Elite athletes will train both in and out of the water to build up strength, speed and endurance.
Allowing eight to thirteen weeks to train on the water prior to an event will allow for maximum performance in river runner kayak event. Of course, the longer the preparation period, the better it is. Starting with a well-defined program and then building on specific areas depending on whether the focus is on speed for a sprint event or endurance for a marathon event will greatly improve a paddler’s power and strength. Investing in a paddling coach is also beneficial. Seeking advice from others involved in kayak racing can greatly improve form, technique and overall performance.
Spending time training out of the water will help to build the strength, speed and endurance needed to meet the demands of maneuvering quickly on the water. Diet and nutrition are just as important as training. Eating meals that are high in protein will maximize lean muscle and minimize fat, ensuring that the body is healthy and working efficiently.
Paddling is a full body workout, especially focused on the back, chest, shoulders and core. Competitive kayakers can burn between 800 and 1400 calories per hour, depending on the intensity of the workout and the weather and water conditions. Whether competing for fun or fitness, kayak racing offers the additional benefit of being outdoors surrounded by nature.
Types of Ultralight kayak and Average Costs
There are two basic types of ultralight kayaks. The sit-on-top model allows kayakers to sit above the water and is considered to be more stable. This ultralight kayak is designed for use on the ocean and is easier for divers and snorkelers to get in and out of. The ultralight kayak is designed with drain holes in the base of the kayak that allow water from waves and spray to drain away.
The sit-in kayak rides lower in the water and is faster and more maneuverable. Paddlers can stay drier in this type of craft but it can be more difficult to get into and out of. When a sit-in kayak overturns it can be difficult to right if it fills with water. Most sit-in kayaks can store and hold more gear in special watertight compartments.
Canoes are still popular with some paddlers and can get almost as many places as a kayak. They are usually longer and handling may be a bit slower especially in windy conditions due to their higher profile. Surprisingly, many canoes are lighter than most kayaks.
For the typical person just looking for something to paddle around in, kayaks are relatively inexpensive at around $250 starting price. Prices on specialized ultralight kayaks such as racing kayaks or whitewater kayaks can soar into the thousands. Canoes fall into the same basic price range. It’s all a matter of what model of ultralight kayak or canoe best suits the needs of the buyer.
Where are the best places to paddle? It’s all a matter of preference. Many paddlers like the open freedom of the sea and bays, while others enjoy exploring creeks, estuaries, lakes, and islands. A convenient way to find the best places is to join a paddling club. Paddling clubs can be found just about everywhere, and they are perfect for those not wanting to paddle alone. Many of these clubs also offer classes on techniques and safety.
Invite a few friends for a Saturday afternoon paddle around the bayou. Before long it may turn into a regular event.
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