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Kai-Yacking!

Author:  Roojin Hooblal

“And so we beat on, boats against the current.”

This is one of the most iconic quotes in English literature. I realized very early on that nearly all the classic books I was drawn to had something to do with water. Moby Dick, The Heart of Darkness and of course, The Old Man and The Sea by Ernest Hemingway.

My first water-induced adrenaline rush was when I first did my first whitewater kayaking down the Batoka gorge in Zambia. When anyone mentions the Victoria Fall, locally known as the Mosi Oa Tunya (‘The smoke that thunders’), my mind immediately remembers my first time on the water. Sure, if anyone has taken on the Zambezi rapids they will tell you that you may be some kind of crazy to start off on such a beast of a river, they will also tell you about the Stairway to Heaven, the Three Ugly Sister, The Devil’s Toilet Bowl, Gulliver’s Travels, and of course the granddaddy of all 24 rapids; rapid number 9, Commercial Suicide!

It started innocently like all great ideas do, among a group of mates, screaming fables over shots of Snake Baijiu in the middle of China. BAD IDEA!! Two months later, there we were, standing at the start point, the gravity of the situation quickly dawning on us as we watched the river crash violently against the rapid number one aptly called Against the Wall. During the expedition I made two vows. The first which I’m certain was going through the mind of a marooned crocodile we came across was that if I made it to the end of the gorge, I would never touch even a cup of water ever again. When We got to the end I made a second vow; that I would have to come back and do it again! Boom!!!! I was hooked. The water had claimed me.

Getting into kayaking could be the most rewarding activity or sport you can get to. Many people may think the kayak is a new way for kids high off energy drinks to do stuff for their YouTube channels. The kayak actually goes back hundreds of years. Man and his affair with the water has a long and fascinating history. The kayak was first used by the indigenous Aleut, Inuit, Yupik and Ainu hunters in the subarctic regions of the world to hunt on inland rivers and lakes. In fact, the word kayak originated from the word qajaq meaning ‘hunter’s boat’. Early qajaqs were made from the stitched hides of animals stretched over a wooden frame and ranged up to approximately 9 meters.

Due to its use in hunting, the kayak was built for optimal maneuverability. The paddler was intended to be able to change direction easily and in the event of an accident, the paddler would be able to rescue a fellow paddler. The kayak’s design focuses on directional stability or tracking Vs maneuverability. The paddler’s body also plays an integral roll in how the kayak will perform and respond. For example, if the paddler is too heavy, the kayak may sin due to excess weight. If the paddler is too light, the paddler may not be able to get the most control of the kayak’s mobility. Ensuring that a kayak is the right size and fit is one of the more crucial steps to an enjoyable experience that can lead to a life-long hobby.

Benefits of Kayaking

Though there are various styles of kayaking, one thing is for sure; Kayaking is a healthy way of living. What is it about kayaking that becomes an addiction to anyone who decides to pick up the paddle?

It is Social

In water sports, like kayaking, I have had the chance to meet so many interesting people from all walks of life and from all over the world. Each with their own stories of how they got into the sport, the challenges they face and how they overcome them. Personally, through kayaking, I have learned to challenge myself and overcome fear and indecision better. It is always stimulating to hear stories from other paddlers after a long expedition around a campfire looking up at the starry sky.

Fitness

Nothing will get your muscles jumping into action faster than behind a paddle. Kayaking is sure to demand you develop a level of fitness. It is also sure to give you a proper aerobic exercise. But best of all, it gives you concentration. You start to pay attention to things like rhythm and cadence. You start to adjust and understand your body better. You learn how to economize your energy output. You start to learn how the paddle is an extension of you. It definitely will keep you healthy.

A Chance at Nature

Very few activities will bring you this close to nature. You become mentally aware of currents and undercurrents. You feel winds and even the slightest breeze makes you make tiny adjustments. This is very meditative and calming. And if you love recreational kayaking or for fishing, very few modes of transport will take you closer to schools of fish without agitating them the way a kayak would. Depending on your location, you could even get very close to seals or dolphins that you can touch them. They may curiously swim to you in ways they may not if you were on a motor powered vessel. These encounters can be very rewarding.

Whitewater Kayaks

These kayaks are roto-molded in a semi-rigid, high impact plastic, usually polyethylene. This type of kayak is ideal for fast-moving water. The plastic hull allows the whitewater kayak to take contact from rocks without breaking or leaking. They range from 1.2 to 3.0m long. Whitewater racing combines a fast, unstable lower hull with a flared upper hull to combine flat water racing speed with added stability in open water. These require the paddler to have substantial skill to achieve stability, due to their extremely narrow hulls. Like all racing kayaks, white-water racing kayaks are made to regulation lengths.

Play boat Whitewater Kayak

This type of whitewater kayak is short, with a scooped bow and a rounded stern. This ensures high maneuverability over speed and stability because they are already in faster-moving waters. These are pretty much the closest thing to a BMX kayak. They are built for performing tricks. They are the primary kayak used in playboating or freestyle competitions which are also known as rodeo boating. You are more likely to see paddles doing airborne tricks with one of these. Pretty Dope, eh?

Creekboat Whitewater Kayak

These are significantly longer than and more voluminous than play boats, making them more stable, faster and higher floating. They are primarily used for speed on narrow, low volume waterways and rivers because of their stability and speed, which enables them to hit rapids at higher speeds.

Sea and Touring Kayaks

In 1932, a German man called Oskar Speck, disenfranchised by the economy, hopped into his kayak and only paddled for seven-and-a-half years and over 30,000 miles to Australia. Only to Australia. Unfortunately, after weathering monsoons, mosquito bites, limited fresh water, and crocodile infested water, upon reaching Australia, he was immediately arrested as a war criminal. Oskar eventually was released and wedded an Australian gal. His mode of transport was a Sea kayak. Embarking on such an epic journey definitely requires fortitude and a lot more planning and substance. Of course this challenge was successfully  taken on recently by Sandy Robson and she had to use a kayak built to handle such an expedition.
Sea and Touring Kayaks
Sea kayaks, also known as Touring kayaks are built for journeys of hours to weeks long expedition. Their volume above the waterline gives them increased security in rougher conditions and even more room for gear.  Yet, the sea kayak offers a low profile to the wind, with a forward-raked design and unique mini-transom, sure to appeal to the sophisticated paddler. Sea kayaks in most cases trade maneuverability for seaworthiness, stability and cargo capacity. They typically have a longer waterline, and provisions for below-deck storage. They can accommodate one to sometimes three paddlers.

Sit-on-tops

These are sealed-hull crafts, developed for leisure use and are mainly constructed using polyethylene to ensure strength and affordability. These have scupper holes which are tubes that run from the cockpit to the bottom of the hull so that water that enters the cockpit can be drained out. Sit-on-top kayaks range from one to four paddlers. They are popular for fishing and scuba diving. A disadvantage with this kayak is that its hull may develop perforations that may fill with water over time without the paddler knowing.
A sit-on-top tandem kayak
Fishing has become a fast growing activity in kayaking. Where a Sit-on-top kayak is not the go-to kayak for paddling for paddling and maneuverability’s sake, it outperforms other kayaks as the best platform for angling/fishing. Its ability to sit shallow allows it to approach schools of fish without scaring them off the way a motor-powered boat wouldn’t. Its very stable and can allow paddlers to spend hours out on the water easy!

Inflatable Kayaks

Inflatable kayaks don’t have to mean boring! Au contraire!!! Inflatables have an advantage when it comes to portability. The paddler is able to carry them to their favourite scenic spots with the help of  a large enough bag.

Choosing Your Kayak

Before you decide on getting a kayak, it is important for you to identify the one that suits the activity you want to be doing, because kayak performance is determined by a varying number of factors. It is important to be practical about how often you think you may need to actually go out kayaking. Is it a hobby you are committing to? Is it an activity you plan to do a few times only? It may be more practical for you to rent rather than hastily purchase one if so. This will allow you to test a wide range of kayaks to find which one appeals to you the most before splurging. However if you are committed to a journey into the world of kayaking, you had better select one that matches the kind of activity you will spend your time doing.
Another important feature for the ideal kayak is comfort. You will most likely be spending hours on end in the kayak and the last thing you want is to have your legs go dead on you. You have to ensure it is the right size for your body and that all adjustments are correctly done according to your particular needs. Most importantly, always be safe and have fun!

Top Kayaking Destinations

In an article for Red-Bull, ten-time world champion Claire O’Hara listed some of these kayaking heavens. I have kayaked on only two of these listed, and based on my own experience I am inclined to trust her judgement and also consider this as my Wish list kayak destinations:

1.  Slovenia

2.  Ottawa River, Canada

3.  Zambezi River, Zambia

4.  Lake Rotoiti Rotorua, New Zealand

5.  Norway

6.  White Nile, Uganda

7.  The Grand Canyon, USA

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