This page is a warning to beginners not to rush in and buy kit. The most expensive is not necessarily the best.
The club has plenty of kit that can be hired while you learn. Just rinse it down and return it promptly! Always report any defects to a committee member. Non-members cannot borrow kit from the club, with exception of the pool equipment.
When buying equipment, always try before you buy. For boats, go to a retailer based by a white water course or lake. They’ll usually let you demo first for which any cost will be deducted if you buy, but don’t let this tempt you if it doesn’t feel right. On trips or in the pool ask if you can have a go in someone else’s boat, or try their paddles. If you know what you want the auction sites are worth a look. If you’re a beginner, you don’t need the latest model. A boat designed just a few years ago can be hundreds of pounds cheaper.
The most important question to ask yourself, is what recreational or competitive aspect of paddlesport do you want to get involved with? The choice is massive and it may take several months for you to gain an idea of what direction to take.
Try before you buy. A boat has to fit you. A boat that is too big/wide will hamper your paddle-stroke development. If the back of the boat is continually under water, you are too big for the boat. If the front dives under water while you paddle forward in an upright posture, you are too big for the boat. If your feet don’t reach the footrest, the boat is too big for you. If you cannot get the full blade into the water, next to the boat, the boat is too wide for you.
Long boats are easier to paddle in a straight line, which is good early on while you are establishing smooth proficient forward paddling. Short boats turn very easily which can be frustrating for the beginner. You may also need to consider the shape of the decks, how much storage space is in the boat, grab handles, attachment points. Etc.
The choice of paddle is a crucial decision and shouldn’t be rushed.
The paddle is the equivalent of your engine and steering wheel in one piece. They are now so specialised each branch of paddlesport (e.g. polo, slalom, freestyle, whitewater) has it’s own specially designed paddle.
Here are some of your key considerations.
- Length – With the paddle balanced on your head, and arms bent at right angles, your hands should grip the shaft about a hands width from the blades. Too long or too short the paddle becomes awkward and inefficient to manipulate. Manufacturer’s websites will have size-charts to help you choose the right size but there’s no substitute for trying out a paddle for real. I’ve made that mistake
- Feather – Most kayakers now choose the blades to be offset by about 45° as this reduces the strain on the wrist, but for freestyle 0º is quite common. Sea paddles are often sold as splits with a variable-lock system so you can choose your own feather angle.
- Shape – The shape of the blade has developed along with the different disciplines. Polo blades are highly specialised. Asymmetric blades are more the norm for general use.
- Weight – You’ll feel the benefit of lighter paddles. Unfortunately they cost more.
- Blade Thickness – In polo there is a minimum thickness requirement to reduce accidental injury. In other disciplines, a narrow blade is easier to manipulate and slice through the water. The thinner lighter blades are made from more expensive materials, but the benefit you’ll get from a good set of blades can’t be over-stated.
- Paddle Shaft – The bit you hold onto! You won’t be surprised to hear that there’s choice, choice and more choice!
If you’ve got small hand you may want to consider a smaller diameter of shaft. The material the shaft is made of will determine weight and stiffness. Both of these will affect the handling and comfort of the paddle. Cranked shafts put less strain on the wrist. Other benefits are debatable. You’ll pay a premium so go and make sure they fit before you choose this option.
The deck has to fit you and the boat. Whitewater paddlers use neoprene decks. It should be a comfortable fit around your waist, and not too tight or too loose on the boat. If it’s too tight on the boat, you’ll exhaust yourself before you start paddling, though wetting the deck will help it stretch. Too loose and it will let in water.
Again, a bewildering choice, but at least this time you can get a good helmet at a reasonable price. Make sure it fits snug, but can adapt to allow you to wear a skull-cap underneath in winter. A bright colour like red or yellow is easier to spot in white-water than a black helmet.
Buoyancy Aid / Personal Flotation Device
The PFD has to fit you. It should be snug and not pull over your head when tugged. Check that there are no big loops of strap that could get snagged in an emergency. Modern PFDs have a variety of attachments, pockets, straps, and other gizmos with subsequent increases in cost.
Drysuit / Dry Cag
When the water or air is cold, you’ll appreciate good protection form the elements. If you choose a dry-suit, you may want to consider a comfort zip. It adds significantly to the cost but there’s no quick way out of a suit!!!
A dry suit/cag can keep the wet and wind off but it can’t keep the cold out. You still need some good quality insulating clothing underneath. This is a matter of preference but don’t layer up so much that your arms no longer bend. Personally I find a good quality thermal vest, and a fleece sufficient for winter months. Undergarments will get damp, either from old dry suits that have started to leak, or from sweat.
You’ll appreciate having two sets of undergarments on a weekend trip.
Another alternative is an all-in-one fleece bodysuit, guaranteed not to ride up and expose your kidneys to the cold.
Wet shoes / boots
Try before you buy. Can you fit in your boat with this footwear? You are looking for a compromise of sole-thickness for flexibility matched with durability and protection. Your other main consideration is how well do they stay on your feet. Slip-on shoes could come off if you take a swim or portage through mud. Zip-up boots won’t.
Gloves / Pogies / Mits
When the water or air is cold, you’ll appreciate good protection. Cold hands can quickly make you feel miserable. People have different solutions. Find out what works for you. Personally I hate gloves, as I can’t ‘feel’ the paddle.
Skull Cap / Neoprene Helmet
30% of body heat is lost through the head. Good insulation here cuts down the sudden shock you’ll experience when you capsize. Good head protection is an important defence against the dangers of hypothermia.