fastest kayak

Choosing the Fastest Kayak – Stability Maximizes Ability

All of us are constantly striving to be more efficient in anything and everything we do and   endurance sports are no exception.   In endurance sports, efficiency is also commonly referred to as economics.   In running we strive to have proper form, in biking we strive to always peddle the optimal cadence, and in swimming and cross country skiing we are always striving to have perfect technique which allows us to achieve the highest speeds for a given level of effort.   Paddling is no different from any of these other sports.   Forward stroke technique is a huge factor of how economical/efficient you will be in a boat.  Additionally the paddles we use play a significant role, which is why almost all surfski paddlers use a wing paddle with a size optimized for the distances they are paddling

The Right Boat

While technique and the paddle are important, the biggest factor may well be the boat that we are in.   As I have blogged about on multiple occasions the mantra in the surfski world today is “paddle a boat that matches your skill level”.   Essentially this is the key to getting optimum efficiency out of your boat.   If you are an advanced paddler you will be most efficient in an elite boat, and more importantly,  if you are a beginner paddler, you will be more efficient in a beginner  boat.

I know it all sounds very logical, but the more I get to know the paddling and multi-sport racing community,  the more I understand they need to see the hard and fast numbers.   I myself was also very curious to come up with a mechanism for measuring efficiency and then analyzing some of my own results paddling different boats.    So I came up with a very simple measurement for an efficiency percentage which is calculated by dividing my average speed by my average heart rate.   The higher the percentage the better the efficiency.

I know there are lots of different factors that can come into play and impact both speed and heart rate,  but I still thought it would be worthwhile to throw together a spreadsheet from my paddles this summer and see what it reveals.

A couple of key notes:

  1. I only selected paddles where I performed an out and back/loop  in order to avoid any data that would be significantly skewed by wind/wave direction.
  2. Some paddles were intentional hard efforts and others were just recovery or technique work paddles
  3. High heat has a tendency to raise my heart rate more than normal
  4. The adrenaline/nerves of racing tend to increase my heart rate
  5. Water conditions are never the same and some days are simply more favorable for high average speeds than other days.
  6. Generally speaking, in an out and back scenario, flat water paddles are going to be more efficient than mixed conditions
  7. Shorter distance paddles may look more efficient when compared to longer paddles as it takes a mile or two for my heart rate to ramp up

Date Boat Miles Avg Speed Avg Heart Rate Efficiency % Garmin Results
29-Jun S18R Adv 5.01 131 4.96% details
30-Jun SE Excel 5.01 7.2 143 5.03% details
4-Jul SES Adv 4 7.1 150 4.73% details
9-Jul V10S – Perf 6 7 139 5.04% details
10-Jul SE Excel 4.01 7.1 123 5.77% details
11-Jul SR Adv 4.01 6.9 131 5.27% details
18-Jul SE Excel 4.14 7 138 5.07% details
24-Jul SE Excel 5.49 7.3 144 5.07% details
29-Jul SE Excel 6 7.5 155 4.84% details
31-Jul SE Excel 5 7 131 5.34% details
6-Aug SE Excel 6 6.8 132 5.15% details
16-Aug SE Excel 4 7.1 140 5.07% details
21-Aug SE Excel 5.48 7.5 140 5.36% details
24-Aug SE Excel 4 7.5 141 5.32% details
27-Aug SR Adv 5.5 7.1 141 5.04% details
9-Sep SE Excel 5 6.7 123 5.45% details
10-Sep SE Excel 7 6.5 126 5.16% details
11-Sep V10S – Perf 4.67 6.5 137 4.74% details
15-Sep SE Excel 19.3 6.7 147 4.56% details
25-Sep V12 Ultra 3.8 6.9 142 4.86% details
27-Sep V12 Ultra 6 6.7 138 4.86% details
20-Oct 6 7 145 4.83% details
23-Oct SEL Excel 6 7.2 141 5.11% details

My Findings:

  1. In races my efficiency factor is not as good as in training.  This is likely due to the higher heart rate caused by nerves and adrenaline.
  2. As with most sports,  in paddling you reach a level of diminishing returns where you have to work significantly harder to go just .1 or .2 mph faster.  This causes efficiency to drop
  3. Generally speaking, the more time you spend in a boat the more efficient you will become as you get comfortable with the boat and what to expect from it.
  4. The Epic V12 was both a new boat for me at the end of the season and less stable than any of my other boats.  You can see in the results that in my initial paddles in this boat I have not been as efficient as the other boats.  I also had a low efficiency factor paddling the Stellar SES which is  a more advanced boat
  5. More time in the SES and V12 will confirm, but my initial thoughts are that based on my skill level I am not as efficient in these boats as I am in the more stable boats


I will stay dedicated to using my Garmin whenever I paddle and hopefully as I get more workouts some more definitive patters and data will emerge.   But as my chart shows,  the average speeds don’t really vary that much between the different boats.   After  8 years of paddling a surfski I am still not at a level where I get maximum efficiency from an Elite boat such as the SES or V12.  Additionally what my chart doesn’t really measure is the fatigue factor from long paddles in the Elite boats.   This can be significant toward the end of a long race in anything but flat conditions and will drive down your efficiency considerably if you are in a boat that is too advanced for your abilities.

Net/Net:  Be honest with yourself and find a boat that matches your abilities and this will lead to your best racing performances as well as ensuring you have the most fun in your boat.   While it may hurt your ego a little bit, just remember,  it is always a great confidence booster to be the guy in the “slower” boat passing the guy in the “fast boat”.

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