My Limited Experience Training in a K1
I’ll be the first to admit that I’m far from being any type of expert when it comes to paddling sprint kayaks (K1) and I’m open to the fact that there could be some major points that I’ve missed in the write up below based on my lack of experience and knowledge about K1 paddling. But in any case, I received a request to write a blog sharing my thoughts on benefits of training in a K1, so what follows is by best attempt to compile what I’ve gathered through interviews with several of the best surfski paddlers in the world.
After eight years of paddling surfskis and hearing from an accomplished paddler that the only way to ever become an elite ski paddler was to paddle a K1, I was convinced enough to order an Epic Legacy. This was the first and only K1 I’ve ever paddled. My first day in the boat was quite humbling but after 3 or 4 spills it started to click and I haven’t fallen out since. Which is not to say that I have total control of my stroke and perfect technique, but more on that later. The Zen feeling when everything comes together in the K1 quickly became addicting and I continued paddling it through fall and winter. While my speeds were never spectacular (likely due to instability) it took so much focus that the time and miles seemed to fly by, the way it never has for me in a surfski on flat water. There is also no denying that the stability challenge of the K1 provides an extreme reference point which makes even the most elite skis feel quite stable. So in my first year with the K1 (I first started paddling it in the summer of 2016) I mixed time through the off-season paddling the V8 in open water and the K1 in the flats.
Over the past year I’ve gotten both more addicted to chasing runs and more comfortable and confident paddling open water in cold winter conditions. As a result, I spent all of the past fall, winter, and spring paddling the Epic V8. On the rare days when there wasn’t wind or there were t00 many free floating icebergs, I took the V8 on the flat water and did nothing but technique drills. I was a bit fearful that paddling only a V8 for 7 months straight, I might lose a bit of balance and struggle to regain comfort in the elite boats. This was in fact the case on my first two or three sessions in the Nelo 560 or Epic V12, but I quickly re-acclimated after just 3 or 4 hours in those boats.
What I like about the K1
- The ability to develop incredible balance
- The immediate feedback you get when your stroke is not symmetrical and clean (i.e. taking a clean exit)
- The pure Zen feeling of being one with the boat, paddle stroke, and water
Why I stuck with the V8 Last Year
- Being honest I realized that my stability is not solid enough in the K1 to really work on perfecting my technique. There were too many strokes that were altered or rushed to compensate for balance, as opposed to doing technique drills in the V8 where balance would never compromise the intended stroke
- While it never happened to me, had I ever fallen out of the K1 in the winter, I would not have been in grave danger, but there were times when it could have been a real challenge to get the boat back to shore after it filled with water
While it is true that many of the elite ski paddlers grew up paddling K1 and in many cases continue to spend a good bit of time training and racing K1 (especially the South African’s in their winter season) I am no longer convinced it is critical to being an elite ocean paddler. Cory Hill who has dominated open ocean ski racing the past couple of years, spent only one year paddling a K1 ,and while Oscar Chalupsky grew up in K1 boats, he has spent very little time in them over the past 20+ years. I believe it is as simple as, if you want to become the best you can be paddling open water and downwind, then that is how you have to train. As Cory describes it in our podcast, chasing any and all manner of bumps, while it may not be perceptible, is always making you a better open water paddler. And anyone who has spent time with Oscar knows that he is unwavering in advocating that you do technique drills in a boat that is rock solid stable. Even Greg Barton who won two Olympic Golds paddling K1, mentioned in our podcast that he doesn’t spend too much time in his K1 anymore.
A Few Additional Thoughts on Balance
It seems logical that developing better balance by paddling in a very unstable boat will make you a better open water paddler, but balance in open water is more complicated than simply being able to sit in a boat and stabilize like you would on a balance ball. First and foremost the brace stroke is the most critical. After that comes having a good forward stroke with heels locking you in and a strong catch and clean and wide exit. Then of course, developing the right timing and feel to paddle downwind in a manner that doesn’t put you into situations that require extreme balance to remain upright. (i.e. carrying enough speed to avoid broaching, not getting stuck in the trough and avoiding the dreaded swamped cockpit)
Despite all of the above, if you don’t have access to open water and are trying to find ways to continue improving your skills beyond pure physical strength, then a K1 can be a great form of Deliberate Practice that forces you out of your comfort zone and to developing better balance and feel for your technique. The only word of caution I would make is to ensure that instability in the K1 is not leading to bad habits with your forward stroke technique. Also be sure that you don’t sacrifice time in a stable boat focusing 100% on drills such as those that Oscar provides for breaking down and honing each of the key components of the forward stroke.