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Getting Back on the River

Guess what? Something incredibly exciting just happened….. I got to go kayakinggggggg!!!! 

This winter has been the longest time I have EVER been without kayaking. Minus 25°C isn’t exactly the ideal conditions to be out in, not to mention that the rivers were frozen solid. So when I got to go kayaking the other day, it was the most excited I have been in a long time. I felt rusty, I felt weak, I felt like I had forgotten how to boof, but honestly, it did not matter one bit. 

I know that a lot of people are in a similar boat to me. Whether due to the winter season or due to covid rules and lockdowns preventing their kayaking trips, there are many people shaking the dust out of their gear and the rust off their bodies to get back on the water.

For me, it has been weird having so much time off and it has been a bit of a learning curve starting up again. So, I decided to write down some of my lessons into my 5 top tips for getting back on the water. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but just a few things to have a think about.

1. Warm up properly

You all know the story – you get to the put-in, maybe it’s raining, maybe it’s cold, maybe you’re late, or maybe you’re just too excited to be kayaking again. For whatever reason, you rush to get changed and jump straight onto the water. 

It really doesn’t matter if you’ve got corona-fit or corona-fat over the winter, the muscles you will be using on the water are different to the ones you may have worked in other ways. You need to make sure you look after these muscles and don’t overdo it straight away. The last thing you want is for your season-opener to also be your season-closer (take it from me – I twinged my shoulder on my first trip down my local run. Just as I could kayak every day again I had to take some time off).

So, a good warm-up is key. Use dynamic stretches and movements to activate your muscles and some star jumps (jumping jacks for all you Americans) to bump up your heart rate. Also, don’t only focus on your shoulders! Make sure you get those ankles, legs, hips, wrists, and neck feeling nice and warm before you put on. 

Shuttle time = warm up time. Don’t forget those hip circles to warm up your hips and lower back.

2. Stretch afterwards

For the same reasons as above, make sure you take some time to stretch those tired muscles once you’ve finished to stop yourself waking up sore the next day! If you’re lucky enough to not be the shuttle driver then the shuttle time is the perfect opportunity for your warm-up and stretches. If you are the shuttle driver, then just make sure you find a time. Trust me, you won’t regret it.

3. Take a step back

Whether you were just starting to get into kayaking or the next hot-shot class 5 boater, no one will come back from months out of a boat and be exactly where they were before. You must have heard the expression “off-the-couch”? Well, if you haven’t paddled in months then that is taking “off-the-couch” to a whole new level. And yes, some people are off-the-couch class 5 kayakers, but they still are not as good and as solid as they are when they’re kayaking regularly. There really is nothing like time in a boat for your ability and confidence. 

So, my advice is to take a step back. Start easy. Try making hard moves on low consequence rivers and build yourself back up from there. What is “hard” and what is “easy” will vary from person to person, so just be honest with yourself and, most importantly, don’t compare yourself to anyone else!

Epic scenery and chill whitewater is an ideal combo for a return to kayaking.

4. Focus on form

We’ve all got those bad habits that we need to shake. The problem is that when we kayak all the time, they are so ingrained into our muscle memory that it is incredibly difficult to change how we paddle, especially when paddling under pressure. Whether you lean back too much when you boof, bring your head up first when you roll, or don’t rotate your core enough, our guilty secret of bad technique will haunt us every time we push ourselves out of our comfort zone. But, after a long time off the water, your muscle memory will not be as sharp as it normally is and that is the perfect opportunity to make the changes that you need to take your paddling to the next level. 

This is also another good reason for taking a step back. By paddling well within your comfort zone, you will be able to really hone in on your technique and focus on improving the little things. 

5. Be kind to yourself!

Remember, it is absolutely okay to not be at the same place you were before your enforced time off. It’s okay to miss-time your boof, to not feel so confident, to walk a rapid that you’ve run 100 times. It’s okay to give yourself a break! We kayak because it’s fun right? So if you’re not having fun then maybe take it easy, paddle with your friends and remind yourself why you enjoyed kayaking in the first place.

Don’t forget to have fun!

So, there you have my top tips for getting out kayaking again. I hope it helps – let me know how your return to whitewater goes and if you have any lessons or tips of your own to add!