| Family Vacations, Summer 1996|
Bulging biceps are not required for sea kayaking, so if your arms are completely trashed at the end of the day, you're probably not paddling correctly. The muscles doing the bulk of the work should be the abdominals; your arms do little more than facilitate the transfer of power from these big muscle groups to the paddle. To paddle most efficiently, remember the mechanics of a cyclist with toeclips: The downstroke leg pushes, while the opposite leg pulls up. The same is true in kayaking: The ideal stroke is a simultaneous pushing and pulling.
Wad your jacket or shell and cram it under your thighs: Now your jacket is not only accessible, it also supports the hamstring muscles (the kayak bench you sit on is only six inches wide at best). This relieves pressure on the lower back and sciatic nerve, which improves your posture and, therefore, your paddling technique. To further help the lower back, get a Therm-a-Rest to pad your back from the cockpit's wall.
So how long can you reasonably expect your child to paddle? Ben Miltner, owner and operator of Gulf Island Kayaking in British Columbia, says it's best to stop at least every hour to hike and run around on the beach. He says that kids younger than age 14 need an occasional diversion, though they'll be fine in a kayak once it's made clear they won't be there for hours. As for paddling enthusiasm, they're "usually good for 15-minute bursts but then inevitably give up," says Miltner. Which isn't a problem if you aren't planning to cover significant mileage. In fact, it's well documented that kids frequently pull in their paddles, wiggle down into the cockpit until their life vests are positioned as neck-supporting pillows, and suddenly doze off.
Copyright 1996, Outside magazine