30 Nov 2016

Don’t hang up your paddles over the winter months (B.Turnbull)

As the cold, dark days of winter training arrive Brian Turnbull shares with us his approach to getting the most from the chilly part of the year.

Don’t hang up your paddles over the winter months

by Brian Turnbull

A cold winter's day on the reservoir (Image courtesy of Alan Hunter)

The days are growing shorter, temperatures are on the decrease, the sea and rivers are losing some of the gentility they showed us over the past few months. This usually means we start to get that urge to stay in and ease off on the paddling – but why stop paddling over the winter? If we do then we are likely to have lose a lot of the physical conditioning we had built up towards the end of the previous summer. With a little imagination and some enthusiasm I believe it’s not that difficult to keep a degree of fitness over the winter months. Lots of things get in the way though and seem to conspire against us to prevent any sort of regular paddling activity, the weather, floods on the river, boisterous seas, long dark nights not to mention an 8 to 5 job! The excuse are endless. With all this going on it is all to easy to say stuff it and just get parked in a comfy chair in front of the tv! We need to try and overcome this desire to vegetate and get out there and work with the elements, use the adversity to advantage and turn it round to use it as a positive and constructive element to our training and enjoy what the weather gods give us.

Getting motivated and staying motivated can be very difficult but need not be an insurmountable obstacle, making the activity interesting and something that we can look forward to as much as we do our fair weather paddling I find helps hugely. Winter training needn’t always be in a kayak, there are many ways to keep a decent level of fitness up. I am not a lover of the gym but wouldn’t knock this if it suits and is convenient. Winter activities for me consist of cycling indoors on rollers, cycling outdoors and of course paddling when I can, I mix in a bit of core strengthening exercise as well. Time constraints prevent any more than 2 to 3 sessions during the week with a longer session at the weekend, the evening sessions during the week are usually no more than 1 to 1 ½ hours. To be able to get the session in with a minimum of fuss it helps if it can be done without any excess travelling, to have to travel somewhere to train can be an excuse not  to go, so whenever possible my sessions take place at home or within 20 minutes travel time.

I find it helps to have a sort of flexible schedule to my training, in other words I know my time commitment for the week and when I would like to fit my training in but equally happy to move this around to fit with the weather or other things going on. Training buddies have both advantages and disadvantages; it usually means some discussion has taken place about where when and what is to be done but it can also add an element of inflexibility to the equation. Having someone to train with though can be a great motivator and help drive things on when you would otherwise start to slack a bit. I don’t believe training needs to be overly complicated or very scientific for the level that I paddle at, I am not aiming to compete at the Olympics, but,  like most folks I simply want to enjoy my paddling. To have a decent level of fitness that allows me to get the best out of my paddling is good enough for me, in fact if it becomes too serious then some of the pleasure would be lost.

Of all the activities that I use as training tools indoor cycling on rollers is probably the least exciting, but there are things that I use to make it more interesting. Probably my most important tool to keep things interesting and fresh is to use a sports watch that will display and store various data. I find this piece of kit indispensable, this display of data during exercise can in itself be a great motivator. Some watches have training buddies to gee things along a bit, or you can simply try and improve on previous efforts. This data can include things such as heart rate, forward speed and pedal cadence. Having this information to hand allows us to experiment with different gears and cadence to find our optimum zone. Interval sessions are much easier to manage with this type of information to hand. These watches allow us to store and view data on a pc and compare efforts. When you think about it what a great motivator this is; next time on the rollers I will try and get to 10km in a quicker time, basic I know, but I find it a challenge and a reason to get back on. Using this watch as a training aid can be made as complex or as simple as is desired, the important part as I see it is its ability to motivate. You can link up this information with others as well and compare results which inevitably means a bit of competition will creep into the game; why not set up a 10k contest with your buddies!

Rollers also allow us to just dump the bike on them and get pedalling; no faffing with clamps such as are found on turbo trainers, no hassle from traffic and no need for lights. An added bonus is the balance element - we are subconsciously working on our core strength. How often we do this really depends on how much time we have at our disposal but because it is so convenient even several 15 to 20 minute sessions would see us improving on cardiovascular ability, indeed short sessions of about 3 mins duration at high intensity have been shown to produce improvements in cardio ability and also in fat burning. I find I do fewer road cycling sessions over the winter months but again when I do, the sports watch or the phone app Strava allows comparisons to be made between sessions and also to compare our times with others over the same segments on or off the road. What could be better than being a few seconds behind a segment time of another rider to get you back out there and try a bit harder next time?

The sessions I look forward to most are the paddling ones. I suppose I am fortunate in that the River Tweed is on my doorstep and so I use this for my training sessions when the sea is venting its anger and can be heard before it can be seen. I shouldn’t really call them training sessions because I don’t see them like that, they are just another paddling trip, or not just another paddling trip but more of a little mini adventure!

 The  winter months usually see the river levels fluctuate wildly; recent months have seen it swing between 2’ and 10 +’ above normal levels, having the river on my doorstep allows me to keep an eye on the level and so pick the best times. Any level works but it is probably wise to avoid the rising river as this will usually see logs and the occasional dead sheep getting washed downstream. River paddling can be very good for improving our skill level as well as keeping up fitness; it is a very dynamic environment and can teach us many of the skills we need in sea paddling, once we have these skills the river is a great place to hone them. To be able to read a bit of water and to feel how the boat interacts with a bit of moving water is invaluable. Not only is this training it is also great fun and challenging. We might not think of it as training but if we learn how to handle a back eddy on the river we can use this skill to anticipate potential flows and counter flows when working along a rocky headland on the sea. Experience on the river with moving water and reading surface textures will help us greatly when we transfer these skills to the ocean.

On the River

The stretch I use for winter evening sessions is about 8km total, this consists of a 4k upstream paddle against the current followed by the return. I try to get 1 or 2 of these in on weekday evenings. Keeping an eye on the river levels and weather I will select the best evening for the job and it would normally go a bit like this ….

The river is high but steady at about 7’ above normal flow, the weather is half decent in that it’s not raining and about 3 degrees C, the moon would be visible but blotted out with cloud at the moment, I get the boat off the roof as a dog walker passes by and gives me a puzzled look, I dither a while until the dog walker disappears all the while wondering what they must have been thinking…..  I get myself organised. I launch about 50 metres up into a small tributary of the main river which allows a few minutes to just check everything is in place and functioning, I head off towards the main river, my eyes adjusting to the darkness as I progress, I have the backlight on the Garmin set low and will  try not to use the light as this spoils night vision. I press start on the timer and ready myself for the main flow by adjusting the boat angle to slice out upstream into the main flow, the first few hundred metres in the main river are fairly benign with only one or two minor back eddies. I glance down at the Garmin which reads out at 8.5 km hr, this speed varies a bit as I make progress up the side trying to make use of all the little eddies that I  know are there… I can see a semi submerged bush up ahead and the sound of water rushing through it becomes louder as I approach it…this is an area where I know a small croy sticks out into the river and disturbs the flow a bit…my speed drops a bit as I pass the bush all the while keeping clear enough to avoid mishaps. I make steady progress towards the first bend where I know there is a very narrow and well defined back eddy….I think about paddle technique as I glance at the Garmin to view paddle cadence, it is just a glance as I feel the boat moving easy under me and the left paddle strokes are very easy suggesting I’m right on the fence of the eddy…. I must ready myself…the boat will be fired out of this back eddy at over twelve km hr to be met with a head on flow of something in the order of 6km hr……I get the angle right and the boat shoots out into the main flow…..it feels like the boat has started to go faster….this is something I notice with the Taran which is probably a result of the higher water speed over the hull helping it up onto the plane….Oh if only I could generate that sort of speed with the paddle! Safely over this section I work my way up the side using the eddies when I can.

Soon I reach a fairly major bend in the river which when lower can be difficult to paddle upstream because it looses a bit of height here. My nostrils are filled with the stench of rotting flesh – this area on the inside of what is a large horseshoe bend has a fairly thick willow growth, the smell is from rotting salmon flesh, these are fish that have completed their spawning and have failed on their return journey to the sea or have succumbed to the “ fungal” disease that so many salmon die of, the inside of the bend here being a bit slower allows things to drop out of the flow and get tangled in the willow bushes. I think when our vision has been impaired our other senses become heightened, had this been daylight I probably wouldn’t pay much notice of the stench!

Moving water practice (Image courtesy of  Neil Turnbull)

Safely round the bend where progress was slow I now make steady time up towards a metal pole where the salmon cobles get tied up on…..it stands out against the filtered light in the sky. Being a prominent mark I usually glance at the Garmin to get an indicator of how  well or otherwise I have done to this point, it has just gone 19 minutes, I’m happy with that. Progress from here through the next few hundred metres can be slow….the eddies are very skinny and the river relatively steep but with the higher river level I get good depth on the paddle blades and so concentrate a bit on technique. The flow eases off a bit as I approach a series of croys and then a weir across the river with a chute slightly off centre to river right….this bit of river can be confused in terms of flow and sharpens the senses, at this river level I know if I move across to river left from my position here on the right I know I will be able to paddle over the top of the weir… I find myself easing off a bit and getting my heart rate and breathing down a bit in case of mishaps during the traverse! The main chute safely negotiated I head over to the left bank where I use a good back eddy to propel the boat towards the weir – over it goes with no fuss. When the river is lower this part usually means getting out and wrestling the boat over the weir and past some bushes! I glance at the Garmin again….it shows 30 minutes, not particularly quick to this point but I am happy. Progress to the turn point is now a case of following the left bank using back eddies when I can, I push things on a bit from here. I can make out the shape of some Swans up ahead and begin to curse them under my breath…. They fly a few hundred metres upstream only to be disturbed again….they eventually follow the only sensible one in the flock and turn downstream! I like to get to the turn point inside of 45 minutes, not always achievable, sometimes it ticks past the 50 minute marker. Destination reached I press the timer stop button and rest for a few minutes.

The return journey can be under 15 minutes as opposed to the 45 minutes it took to get up here, speeds on the return can be as much as 20 km hr. I ready myself and swing the bow out where the flow of the current helps with the turn, the anticipation of the roller coaster return seems to get the adrenaline pumping and I seem to be paddling harder….I temper things a bit and try to concentrate on technique…..I aim the boat towards the faster runs to take advantage of any assistance from the river. The weir looms up very quickly and I try to judge the position of the main chute to take advantage of the main flow and to avoid punching through the stopper behind and the resulting back tow which would slow things down……I get the chute and slide through to be met by some confused waves and very boily bits that see a few bracing strokes being used…..nearing the tail I glance at the Garmin and it shows 19 and a bit km hr. Staying with the main flow I reach the horseshoe bend again but his time I just career through the main run where if things fall into place 20km hr is possible. I am now into the last few hundred metres and the lights from the town reflect from the surface and help with the boat position in the main flow….very near the end and I glance at the timer which shows 59 mins….it’s a good time but I am not going to get a PB even although I push things on a bit towards the finish point. The end is reached and the timer is stopped, I save the data and look forward to analysing the information later.

Chart showing an example of the information available to the paddler when using a sports watch paired with a cadence sensor

Loading the boat onto the van I feel content from the physical toil, the activity seems to clear the mind of the days clutter… I think about the hour that has just passed and already I am looking forward to the next time and run it all over again. A session such as this one can do so much for us from a training point of view…..it has given us intervals of intense activity mixed with more relaxed parts, it lets us concentrate on paddle technique, not only just good efficient forward technique but also a whole gamut of other strokes to keep the boat moving in the right direction and prevent the paddler from getting a wet face! It has been a paddling activity in a real paddling environment and as such brings to use all the skills we need that will ultimately help us to get the best from our paddling.

Finding a paddle venue suitable for use over the winter months that can be considered a safe training environment during darkness as well as well as daylight is not easy, obviously it very much depends on distance to travel and as I mentioned earlier if any great distances are involved then this can deter us from making the effort. So finding a place within a few minutes travel is best. It is also advisable to build up an intimate knowledge of your training venue; almost to the stage where it could be paddled blindfold. If its deep enough to float a boat then it could probably be used for training …….sheltered estuaries, rivers, canals and reservoirs can all be used. Perhaps the most important thing of all is that the activity must be made to be enjoyable so get out and have a look around your patch and see what’s available and work with the elements and conditions, include them in your training ventures. It might be raining with a horrible headwind, don’t let it defeat you, look on it as something that makes us stronger and fitter and ready for the better days ahead.  

Brian Turnbull - Nov 2016

Winter Warm-Ups (J.Willacy)

Winter Training – Effective Warm-Ups

by John Willacy

In the moderate climate of the UK, paddling and training throughout the winter is reasonably straightforward. That said, the weather can still make things a challenge or on some days downright uncomfortable.

The trick to paddling through the winter is to get warm and stay warm; training performance will be enhanced and the whole affair can be more appealing. It’s so obvious, eh?

Like so many areas of paddling and training it’s not really rocket science, but a little thought and consideration goes a long way. Sometimes we need a little reminder of what we can do to make life better for ourselves.


  • Get warm, stay warm – once you are warm you are likely to stay warm for the session, even in pretty poor conditions.

  • Have a structured and practiced warm-up routine, something that’s familiar and efficient. This may be as simple as 10 mins of steady paddling, or may incorporate sprints, a technical focus, flexibility exercises and so on. Find what works best for you and develop it into a regular routine.

  • Minimise the chat – just because the spraydeck is on it doesn’t mean you are getting warm, the least you have to do is get moving! And if you can easily chat during your warm-up paddling then you may need to lift the pace a little too. However you don’t need to go mad; suddenly going off and paddling at top speed isn’t the best way of going about things either. Warm-up at a useful intensity – get moving, keep moving.

  • Get your hands warm. Use pogies or gloves/mitts. If you are blowing on your hands, sticking them under your armpits or in your pockets, then you need to get your pogies on. Even if the weather doesn’t seem too bad, putting your pogies on will speed the warm-up along. Once you are warm, take them off and stick them in a hatch, cockpit or pocket for the session.

  • Wind and rain have a greater cooling effect than just low temperatures. Protect your hands and try to warm up out of the wind. If this is not possible then run downwind or crosswind to minimise cooling effects.


  • Start at home – get thinking of the session, this wakes the body and mind. It also minimises time wasted later sitting around on the water or standing in a cold car park, trying to plan what to do – think ahead.

  • Change into base-layer paddling kit before you leave home. You can arrive warm and then just throw the waterproof layer on before getting on. You are also less likely to forget your favourite fleece or those crucial thermal knickers if you are already wearing them.

  • Consider a short run, or fast walk before getting on to help get the blood flowing – or even just take the boats off a little more briskly! Don't hang around.


  • 10 min overheat – once you start exercising, the body temperature starts to rise, but it takes a little while for the cooling side to catch up. After 10 mins or so you may well feel too warm. Be patient, don’t re-arrange any clothing yet. After 15-20 mins everything should settle down to a steady temperature. Now is the time to remove clothing if you still feel too warm.

  • Stay Warm – keep moving between intervals. Again, minimise the chat. It only takes 2-3 mins stopped to feel the chill – it takes 4-5 times that to get warm again.

  • Work in areas out of the wind if you can.


  • Gloves v Pogies – that’s up to you. Some don’t like pogies, feeling that they are too restrictive. I don’t have a problem with that personally. Get a decent set of pogies – hands are completely removed from weather and water, in a way that open palm gloves don’t do. Pogies also give you full contact with paddle shaft.

  • Pogies – keep them simple and lightweight. They are there to help speed up your warm-up and keep the wind off during the session on the coldest of days. Warmth comes from making the blood flow.  Simple pogies designed for marathon racing work best for training sessions. Pogies are so essential in winter that I keep a spare (old) pair in the car just in case.
  • Fleece lined – too warm and too heavy when wet.
  • Neoprene – good for lowest temperatures and strong winds. Can be heavy when wet . Thin neoprene can be a little clumsy.
  • Nylon – simple and easy. Lightweight, but may not be warm enough in arctic conditions.
  • Keep them short – they only need be long enough to cover the bare skin of hands and wrists, up to the cag cuff.  Longer just means more weight on your paddles and more material to get in the way.

  • Clothing - Dress for safety, effective training and comfort.

  • Dress for the weather – use thicker fleece layers for wind/rain. Multiple thin layers for fast /short work on still-air days.

  • Dress to match the activity – a dry-suit may be the order of the day for winter open water paddling but it may be overkill for a high-intensity interval session in sheltered water, dump it for a lighter cag perhaps?

  • Dress for the training area not the changing area. Just because you change in a warm clubhouse or a sunny car-park, it doesn’t mean the rest of the world is like that – dress for the windy and exposed place you are going to train in.

  • Don’t overdress – if you sweat a lot early on this will over-cool later.

A few simple, common-sense measures can make winter training much more useful, and helps you face the challenge.

John Willacy - Nov 2016

Random Shot

Lunch on the float then...

25 Oct 2016

Effective Training (J.Willacy)

A look at how to get more out of our training

Effective Training

by John Willacy

Time is precious; none of us have enough of it. Training time eats into family life, work commitments, social life, study time and pretty much everything else. The trick is to get the most out of training with the least amount of time committed.

So we need to make training efficient and effective. Train hard, then get off the water and head home to get on with life until the next session.

To get the best out of training takes a little reflection and bit of application. So let’s take a look at how to make the most of our training time.

The four cornerstones that have made up my training for the last 3 decades or so are:

  • Industry – how much work I do
  • Intensity – how hard I work in those sessions
  • Quality – how I plan and review to get the best out of each activity
  • Repetition – endlessly repeating these activities for subtle but steady long-term improvement

Each of these characteristic is important in its own right. Performance improvement: physical, technical or mental, will come from working any combination of these four. However only when all four are brought together is a long-term significant gain on the cards.

However, before we get into the details, let’s take a slightly flippant look at a side to physical improvement – i.e. fitness gain.

The body’s Fitness Foreman (FF) sits around managing our energy reserves – balancing energy commitments required for physical activity and those required for fattening up for the next ice-age. (The FF is a climate-warming sceptic it seems). When, out of the blue, we suddenly go for a jog or jump on the bike, or even go for a sweaty paddle-  the FF is taken a little by surprise - ‘Whoa! What’s all that about?’

But then we stop, the panic is over and calm returns to the office of the Fitness Foreman. However next week we do the same thing again, the FF is worried that a pattern is forming – ‘Hey boys, better send a little more energy down to the good chaps in the Fitness Department  to help us with this. They can buy a bit more Lycra or whatever they do...’

The pattern continues the following week and the FF diverts even more resources to the Fitness Department – our fitness levels improve a little and as energy is diverted to do this our bums, tums and hips get a little smaller too  – the weekly jog, bike, paddle etc. seems a touch easier too.
Eventually things balance out – the FF gets a grip on things, anticipating the weekly session, the energy the FF sends to the Fitness Department is enough to cope with our training session. Our fitness improvement plateaus, it’s higher than where we started from, but to go further we need to get the better of the FF and stress the little beggar a bit more.

Now to further improve physically we need to do one of three things with our training sessions:

Increase the Frequency
Increase the Intensity/Quality
Increase the Duration

If we do this our fitness level will increase once again. Of course sooner or later we will reach another plateau, and, you’ve guessed it, the cycle continues. Eventually we can’t raise things any more – family, work or our bodies won’t give any more - we’ve reached our limit.

But what happens if we don’t do this? In fact what happens if we go the other way and reduce the number of our sessions say? Of course the catch is that fitness levels will lower without work.

Well, the Fitness Foreman is quick to act, very quick unfortunately. The FF cuts down the energy going to the Fitness Department and diverts the difference back to his fixation of Ice-Age Preparation – bums, tums and hips get bigger and we get slower. Fitness levels drop – our now not-so-weekly session starts to feel a little tougher, a little less pleasant.

Ok, so what does this all mean?

Basically, regular training is going to improve our fitness levels (and, if we don’t eat too much helps us lose some weight). After each episode we have a short period of grace as our body takes the exercise stress as a prompt to improve our fitness levels in order to helps us cope better the next time the activity is repeated.

Our fitness levels are like a saw-tooth, rising and falling with periods of activity, followed by inactivity. These fitness levels peak a short time after the activity, and then our body starts to regress and fitness starts to drop steadily away from that peak. The trick to the training programme is to get the next session in before the fitness level falls back to, or below, the base-line level -where it was prior to the previous session.

If we manage this we get a steady, long-term increment  in fitness. If we leave it too long before the next activity, part of the benefit from the most recent activity is lost in just bringing us back up to the base-line, any remaining benefit still goes to improving our fitness – just to a lesser amount.

So, onto the Cornerstones:


Basically how many training sessions in a training block – which can be a day, a week, month, year or whatever. Industry relates to the frequency, but more importantly, the regularity of these sessions.

It’s fairly obvious that the more we train the fitter we get, that’s not quite the full story of course but it’s a pretty good starting point - 3 sessions per week will get us fitter than 1 session per week - all things being equal. However, the often overlooked and important factor here is regularity – consistency in training. This is significant.

As we saw, a short period after we finish our activity our fitness levels start to fall back – we need to get that next session in before we return to the base line. So if we miss a session we lose fitness and we have to train just to return us to our previous level, rather than developing fitness.

How long is this interval? Well that depends on many factors, including: the type of training undertaken, training intensity, each individual and the current fitness level of the individual. Rather ironically, the highest levels of fitness drop off the quickest...

The important point here is that fitness drop off is measured in fixed finite time periods (days/weeks), and not in a ratio or percentage relating to the amount of training currently being undertaken. To illustrate this:

Paddler A trains in a boat 1 session per week, each week.
Paddler A can’t train this Wednesday because there’s something important happening in the omnibus edition of the Archers. So that’s 1 session lost, that’s all, 1 session, no great drama – but, here is the catch, that 1 session actually means 2 weeks between paddling sessions...

That 2 week gap is a long time in the world of Fitness Regression. I would suggest that a 2 week gap means a fitness drop-off equivalent to around 4-6 weeks development at 1 session per week. So missing only 1 weekly session means that Paddler A has lost perhaps between 1 to 2 months of training development, at 1 session per week. A few gaps in a season can mitigate many weeks, even months of work.

Paddler B trains 3 boat sessions per week, each week.
So if Paddler B stays home to listen to the Archers and also misses one session, but now the time lost from training is actually only 5 days at the most. This means a much lower fall-back – perhaps equivalent to between 1 and 2 weeks development.

The important point is that it is not so much the number of sessions missed as the number of non-training days between sessions.

For high-end daily training I work on a rough benchmark that 3 days missed means a fall back of 7 development days for me. Add to this the actual 3 days off and you now have lost 10 days of training development for a 3-day break.

It’s not the end of the world, life’s like that, shut happens. But it may start to explain why sometimes you just don’t seem to be getting any faster. Some form of training diary here will highlight just how regular your training actually is.

If you know you've got a break coming, then squeeze a session in as late as possible before you go, and then one as soon as you get back. Minimise the number of days between sessions, and if you can fit in some form of exercise during the break to help stop the Fitness Foreman larding you up for the Ice-Age.

Industry – train frequently, but more importantly regularly. Otherwise you redo the work, again and again.


This is how hard you train, both within sessions (micro-level) and also within training blocks (macro-level). It can be difficult to get the intensity level right – always train slowly, always race slowly. However, train too hard and over-training may head your way – fatigue, loss of training quality, de-motivation and possible injury.

The intensity needs to be correct both at the micro-level and at the macro-level for effective training.

Sessions just bimbling around chatting, with the odd sprint thrown in to make you feel better, probably are not classed as a useful intensity. Likewise neither is 60 hard sessions in a month without a rest day. That’s going to end in tears.

A good way to maximise the overall intensity is to use contrast training. For frequent training, follow hard sessions with easier ones i.e. a hard time-trial may be followed by a shorter sprint session. Also blocks of paddling sessions may be separated with cross-training – bike, swim, run, S+C (strength and conditioning) or whatever. Try to alternate different types of training and different intensities of training. Hard day - Easy day.

This principle also works at the micro-level within sessions – a hard session of 6 minute efforts say could be finished off with a number of 15 second sprints perhaps, and these would likely still be worthwhile – contrasting different body ‘systems’..

Intensity – Train hard, but balance this with rest and lower-intensity work.
Train slowly – race slowly. Train too hard and things will go bang.


Plan and Review
Every session should have an aim or goal, as should every training block (day, week, month or year) and likewise every activity within a session should have an aim or goal too.

At the end of each activity, session or block, performance should be reviewed to ascertain if the goal was achieved, and to see what action is needed to correct or improve further this performance.

Now that may sound a little deep, but it is not that bad. Yes, some may sit down every Sunday night (usually in the racing world) and write-down what they achieved in the last week, how they can improve on it and what they are going to do in the next week – specific goals and aims. Phew!

 For others it may just be as simple as, ‘well that was a crap week, need to make sure I get down to the club on Wednesday instead of listening to the Archers again.’

In a session:
Session Goal – ‘I’m going to practice my ferry glides tonight.’

Activity Goal – ‘I’m going to cross the flow and finish by the old tree on this effort.’

Activity Review – ‘How did it go? Well I dropped a little low, so next run I need to point the bow further upstream before crossing the eddy line’.

Activity Goal – ‘I’m going to cross the flow and finish by the old tree again’.

Activity Review – ‘How did it go? Yep, that better angle worked, I finished where I wanted to’.

Session Review – ‘Yes, practiced the ferry glides, did 10 with 7 good ones. Learnt not to leave the eddy with too little angle. Remember this for next time. Pleased that my ferry glides improved through the session. Job done – let’s go home’.

Plan and Review – for some it may mean time spent in written consideration, for others it is no more than a few seconds of mental self-questioning and encouragement. It becomes easier and should eventually become common place for everything you do.

Think things through. Ask yourself questions and think through to the answer. Don’t wait for others to tell you how or what to do. Take responsibility and work it out yourself – you will learn so much more. It’s important for the long term.

Discipline is necessary here too. Make sure you achieve what you set out to do – exactly. Nearly is not good enough – make it happen and do not sit back until it does.
 If you accept slalom gate penalties in training, then why are you surprised when you get them in racing?
If you always let the boat eddy out before the shore in ferry glide practice, then why are you frustrated when it won’t go into the eddy when you need it for real in the big tide race? There is a pattern here... Standards in training equate to standards in racing.

Focus - Spraydeck on, session starts... Keep a focus throughout your session – save the chatting for the before and after (or social paddles).

 Make time for chat outside of training, waffling on at length while on the water - about work, the Archers or life in general does not help with the job in hand. Once the talking starts, paddling intensity drops, mistakes creep in (What? Aah, that rock! Oops.), mental and physical warm-up suffers, focus and quality trickle away. Time is wasted.

Qualityplan and review, analyse, discipline, focus.


All of the previous cornerstones are linked to this one – Repetition.

Practice makes perfect so the saying goes. Or perhaps for some, more sceptically, practice makes permanent. If you have an eye for quality in your training it should be the first one, there is no reason why not.

The modern ‘instant-fix’ world is a little at sorts with the mechanics of long-term training and development. Long-term improvement doesn’t happen overnight,  the clue’s in the title. There are no short-cuts here. Let’s say that again - there are no short-cuts.

A skill can be learnt in an afternoon, but it may take a lifetime to master it...

It takes a long time to get good at paddling and as you get better, more skilful and fitter it takes even more work to move up to the next level. The pain-in-the-arse law of diminishing returns comes into play. To get seriously good at something - the difference between the good and the very good, takes not just weeks or months, but years of regular, quality repetition. Think about that one.

So our training is formed around this endless repetition - to improve our skills and technical ability, to improve our fitness and familiarise us with countless varied situations.

While we can see the need for repetition to improve our skills and fitness we also need to understand the value of familiarisation. Just spending time in the boat helps us improve our skills and fitness sub-consciously – passive development, rather than the active development that comes from the specific Plan and Review approach of sessions.

The more times we cross a start line the better adjusted we become to race-day nerves...

The more we paddle, the more fluid our forward stroke becomes...

Somehow, the more times we paddle open-water, the better we just seem to get at running the boat down-wind or cross-sea...

 Strange that...

We don’t get this passive development from watching YouTube videos, or even reading books (Youngsters, ask mum or Dad about them...) – To be a good paddler you need to get in a boat. A lot.

Go paddling. Once you’ve been paddling... go again.

But doesn’t all this repetition get boring? Not if you have an imagination, are prepared to analyse and reflect, and are constantly looking for improvement. Every time.

Repetition allows us to experiment. We can try different  methods and approaches, and learn from them. If we repeat more than the other guy, we can try more different methods than they do. We will learn more.

 No matter what they tell you about learning styles, as a paddler there is no better way to improve than to be out in a boat and just trying things...

Repetition - Go paddling. Try things out. Once you’ve been paddling... go again.


Industry – Frequent and Regular – Regular is more important

Intensity – Work hard, Rest hard.

Quality – Plan and Review, Analyse, Focus, Discipline.

Repetition – It never ends

John Willacy - Oct 2016

Random Shot

Cardinal Sunset

Paddling Out of Depression (D. McGonigle)

This rather frank and honest article comes from Dan Mcgonigle. Dan has a lifetime background in sea and surf paddling; more recently he has become known on the UK scene for his 2015 circumnavigation of Ireland with Steve Miles and latterly for his two 2016 circumnavigations of Anglesey - the first with Jonny Eldridge and the second solo. 

Paddling Out of Depression

by Dan McGonigle

I have thought long and hard about a suitable subject to write about and decided...in the end to show a little skin. Something that I have struggled with over recent years is my Mental Health, more notably in the form of depression. So why not write about my experience and how it relates to my paddling and vice versa. Hopefully it will be received well and might help those paddlers in a similar place to where I was, only a year or so ago. 

 The Ireland Trip in 2015 was the turning point…but it was only after months of living back in the real world that I saw the real value of our big circle. The circumnavigation began with an inherently narcissistic motive, thinking about how people would see me after we had completed it. But long days on the water, chasing headlands in marginal conditions forced me to think. The importance of how I was perceived in the eyes of others dwindled and the importance of my own self-worth began to shine through.

It’s been a long day face… Ireland 2015 

When it comes to the subject of depression and mental health we as a society are very closed off. There is a stigma that surrounds it and people tend to put you into a proverbial box (Or at least it felt that way). The systems of support are inherently flawed…so much so that to actually get some real help, you either have to pay through the nose, be on the absolute edge or have already passed the point of no return.

 This lesson was driven home hard during my last year of University now 3 years ago.… The pressure had built up due to workload and I didn’t understand the way I was feeling until I was close to my limit. I went in search of help, in the form of my GP….. I left that appointment feeling even more confused but I had medication so everything was ok (sarcasm). I Struggled on…just about graduated and went into working life still unable to process my feelings. I would go through bad patches and people kept on asking me the same question. What’s your trigger?

 A trigger is loosely described as something that sets the negative cogs turning within the brain. Someone once explained triggers to me by getting me to imagine the mind as a train station. Visualise now, the busiest train station that you have ever been in…. No people…just Trains. Each train that comes in is a thought…It stops at the platform and in a matter of seconds is gone again. 

 These trains come carrying all sorts of cargo and head down some very dark tracks. My negative train seemed to arrive when I felt directly responsible for messing something up…. Somehow ending up on this “Self-Critical” track heading to the next station that was full of similar thoughts. Once this process begins it is very hard to stop and I would find myself hours later in a really low mood and in a very different station to where I began. I could feel myself getting on the train but I simply didn’t know how to get off. 

 That is where paddling comes in. 

 “Relentless, repetitive self-talk is what changes our self-image.” – Denis Waitley

 Expedition paddling, especially the kind encountered on a trip like Ireland, where time and daylight are short, definitely couldn't be deemed as fun. It’s an uncomfortable, repetitive and inherently arduous experience. Pressure sores, blisters, chafage, sun burn and crusty eyebrows are not what any normal person would think of fondly. This can only really be categorized as type two fun...the kind that is enjoyed later...in a masochistic sort of way. At the time however the individual has to numb themselves to the pain and boredom of watching a headland that just doesn't seem to be getting closer. Everyone will react differently...but generally the bigger questions in life rear up and come to the forefront of the mind. Inevitably leading to reflection on one’s own life. This was an important thing for me to grasp and the idea of challenging my own thoughts became more appealing than daunting.

A day spent with the hood up – Ireland 2015

I realised...after succumbing to the boredom and accepting my thoughts for what they were, that my triggers where simply due to over personalisation. I would get really involved in things because I care and when they don’t work for whatever reason I see only myself to blame. This was the train…Now how do I get off it earlier or, even better prevent myself from getting on in the first place. The Answer, for me at least, is time spent thinking. Now don’t get me wrong, sitting in a room staring at a wall isn’t what I’m getting at. I mean Proactive and Constructive time with my own thoughts, where I can face my demons. This happened every day of the trip in some way, shape or form. Experiencing my whole bandwidth of emotions in a matter of hours.

Penrhyn Mawr with Steve after our big adventure.

Post trip I found that actively trying to recreate a long day on the water is difficult, given jobs, and life in general seems to get in the way. This being said I found it was possible to get little fixes. Like competitive runners and cyclists and with advice from John... I decided to see my kayaking as a form of training as well as recreation. As I work beside a lake, I partially get my fix by having dedicated training sessions…roughly 4 evenings per week against the clock. Structuring the sessions by using set goals, timings and heart rate mean that what may seem to some, as a mundane lap-fest actually has a purpose. Giving a session purpose and structure gives me a chance to replicate the conditions that encourage thought. I found, that this combined with my normal recreational paddling helps to both keep me motivated and active.

Training on the lake with Rich Griffiths Hughes

Getting out on the water, sea or lake, no matter what the weather, stops me getting on that train. By recording my own times I can compete directly against myself and no-one else, not an ego booster, simply a constructive way of tracking progress, both physically and mentally. These sessions provide that valuable time where I can process any thoughts that have niggled at me during the day.

 Proactive, constructive time to think.

 A really significant place for me over my whole struggle with depression is the Menai Straits and Telford's bridge. I used to go and sit on Church Island to try and process things. The turbulent water that can be found in the “Swellies” is daunting to an untrained eye. Its waters, build and die, in surging, boiling confusion but yet an underlying feeling of predictability shines through. I didn't know it… but it showed stark similarities my struggles at the time.

Entering the Puffin Island end of the Menai Straits with Jonny Eldridge – Anglesey 2016

The water moves in set ways around defined obstacles, as different on the ebb as it is on the flood. To a novice paddler heading into the area it can be overwhelming…flat one minute and fast moving water the next. Over time however you become used to this confusion…you plan for it, read the water, use it and expect it…rather than battle against the tide all the time. This paints a true representation of depression in its stages, as at the beginning of the process we get confused and fight the flow, not knowing how to effectively read the surge of emotions...over time however we build up a knowledge of our thought process...where the eddies are and the exact time and place where the flow of emotion will be strongest. At this point we can choose to play in the flow rather than fighting it....embracing the surges and learning. The more time spent here playing and exploring with different levels of emotion gives a greater understanding into how we process our thoughts.

 Depression and everything associated with it can be overcome. The one key thing to remember is, at the end of the day, it is up to the individual to take their wellbeing into their own hands. Don’t hide it but embrace it and play in the flow. Find out what your triggers are and what settles your mind. When that level of understanding is reached, a better, stronger individual will be created. I still have low days and I still suffer from depression, but that’s ok. I can live with that. The important thing is that I can catch myself before I fall. If it wasn’t for slogging around Ireland, sea kayaking and the sea in general I fear that I wouldn’t have anywhere near as much clarity.

 I would still be stuck on that train…unable to get off, stuck in the flow….battling a building tide. This is how paddling has helped me deconstruct and process a very rough part of my life. I want to inspire anyone (Paddler or not) who is currently where I was, to actively look after their mental health and to see, that at the end of the day… recovery begins and ends with you.

Dan McGonigle - Aug 2016

30 Jun 2016

Self Confidence and the Psychological Fundamentals (J. Males)

This months guest article comes from Jonathan Males. Jonathan is a sport psychologist and executive coach, who I met through our mutual work with the Canoe Wales Slalom Team.  He has been kayaking since 1975, covering pretty much every aspect of the sport. Over the years his delight in paddling has been interwoven with a fascination for the inner world, the psychology of Performance.  Perhaps this was kicked off when he first realized how much his own performance as a slalom paddler was influenced by his thoughts and feelings. Jonathan offered to write an article for the PSK Journal after we had a lengthy discussion about the role of Self-Confidence in my 2012 and 2015 UK Circumnavigation trips. This article is based on writings from within Jonathan's book - In The Flow.

Self Confidence and the Psychological Fundamentals

by Jonathan Males

My own performance paddling has tended to take place on slalom courses, but growing up in Tasmania provided plenty of opportunities to paddle on the sea. In fact one of the best days I’ve ever spent in a kayak was trip around Cape Pillar on Tasmania’s exposed and beautiful south-east tip.  100 metre high cliffs, a touch of sea-sickness, a tricky landing on Tasman Island, and a total distance of 50+ km made it quite an adventure. 

I’ve learned that self-confidence is the single most important psychological factor in successful sports performance.  Self-confidence is based on how you think about a situation and assess your chances of success.  It’s the realistic knowledge and belief that you are capable of achieving what you set out to do. Self-confidence is more than bravado or na├»ve optimism – although it’s easily confused with both. Truly self-confident paddlers don’t need to talk themselves up or talk their competitors down.  Truly self-confident paddlers know how to weigh up the risks, and understand that some crossings are better left to another day. They also understand that no matter how confident they are in their own ability, that the force of the ocean remains outside their control, so results or safety are never guaranteed. Being self-confident doesn’t mean you never feel anxious or scared, but it does mean you can deal with these feelings productively rather than them hampering your performance. While some paddlers seem to possess natural self-confidence, the reality is that everyone’s self-confidence fluctuates – whether you’re a veteran sea kayaker or a raw beginner.  So it’s important to understand where self-confidence comes from and how you can develop it.  

Through my research and over twenty-five years practical experience with top class competitors and coaches in a wide range of sports, I’ve identified the four core psychological capabilities that any paddler needs in order to be self-confident. Self-confidence comes when you have the right attitude and goals, know that you have planned and prepared well, you know how to focus under pressure and you trust the people around you.  I call each of these factors the Psychological Fundamentals and each has an important role to play by itself and as one of the foundations of self-confidence.  

The Fundamentals that underpin Self-Confidence

Here is a brief explanation of these terms and their significance for sea kayaking:

Mastery Motivation

This is your attitude, determination and commitment to achieve mastery over yourself, your competitors and your environment. Mastery Motivation underpins your fierce will to win and provides the drive to challenge yourself to find the limits of your ability. 

Decision Making 

This is the ability to plan ahead, think clearly and to learn from experience.  Making good decisions means more than whether you break a record – at sea they can be a matter of life or death.


This the ability to remain totally focused so you can perform under pressure.  Being able to execute your skills automatically will help you when you’re tired, facing an un-expected change in conditions or when you need to dig deep on a long stretch.


This allows you to build effective relationships and get the support your need from coaches or paddling buddies.  Having a good relationship with your coach, for example, helps sustain your competitive career, and getting on well with your mates on a multi-day self support sea kayaking expedition is pretty useful too.  

The Fundamentals work together to support your ability to paddle confidently, and developing competence in one area will have a positive knock-on in other areas. The quality of your Decision Making influences your ability to Execute well, especially when these two components are powered by Mastery Motivation. When good Teamwork is in place too, all four Fundamentals come together to create self-confidence.

In my book In the Flow I look at each Fundamental in turn, and help you understand what it is and how it helps performance, the warning signs that suggest you need to work on it, and some practical things you and your coach (if you have one) can do to improve.

Jonathan Males - Jun 2016

In the Flow is available from Amazon, or directly from http://performance.sportscene.tv

Wings – can they make you fly? (J.Willacy)

by John Willacy

A question that is often asked on the edge of the Performance sea paddling world is - should I paddle wings? Closely followed by – so which wings should I buy?

For me, the first was a question I asked when I was preparing for an attempt on the Anglesey Circumnavigation record, back in 2005. I had been paddling wings for about 15 years at that point but I was still unsure whether they would provide a useful advantage in the specific world of sea paddling. I asked around to see if I could find an answer. Figures were banded about, 2%, 10% even 15% faster. I heard plenty of opinions, though I realised that none were backed up by any reliable figures.

So in the end I headed up to the lake with my sea kayak and a car full of blades – flats and wings.

I set an out-and-back course on the lake, and using a heart rate monitor to paddle at a constant pace, I measured the time taken to paddle the course, repeating runs with different paddles. This wasn’t a great scientific experiment, it was just little old me with a pile of paddles. However as the test was repeated a number of times, averaging out various factors, it did come up with a result.

For me, there was a measurable and reproducible difference between flats and wings. I measured a time advantage of between 4 and 6 % in favour of the wings, not huge but significant.

So if we lay down the cash and buy a set will they change our world? Not exactly, but they might help. Let us look in a little more of detail.

The difference

A flat paddle blade ('flats' - sometimes known as European style) is what most of us would know as a standard kayak paddle. The front and rear face of the blade is relatively flat, often with a central reinforcing rib running the length of the rear face. The blade face may be slightly curved both in cross section and longitudinally but not greatly so.


 The difference with the wing blade is immediately obvious; the blade face is deeply curved in cross section with a concave drive face and a matching convex rear. There is a pronounced overhanging lip along the upper edge and no obvious reinforcing rib along the rear face. The blade looks a little like a stretched spoon.

 The wing paddle evolved from the competitive desire for efficiency and advantage. The wing paddle was first developed by Stefan Lindeberg in Sweden, with the Swedish national team starting to use the paddle in the mid 1980’s.  It quickly caught on across the racing world and is now de rigueur in both the flat and wild-water kayak racing disciplines.

Wings derive increased forward efficiency by reducing slippage of the paddle through the water  and also by allowing the paddler to generate drive better from their torso rotation, so bringing larger muscle groups into play. When a flat paddle is combined with pronounced torso rotation the paddle blade starts to slip sideways through the water, losing forward drive.


How do they work? A little more detail...

You may hear stories of how wing paddles generate ‘lift’ or you may even hear that they move forward  during the stroke. Grab a handful of the old sodium chloride at this point. Wings tend to give an advantage for a couple of reasons, simple reasons:
  1. Wings ‘grip’ the water better than flats. The lip on the upper edge of the blade, combined with the convex cross-section of the blade, helps prevent slippage of water across the blade and over the upper edge – this removes blade flutter, and so energy losses during the stroke.  If you are a regular wing paddler and switch back to flats, blade flutter is probably the first thing you notice. You miss the way the wing blade ‘locks’ into the water. The lip and cross-sectional shape also minimise 'slip' of the blade through the water, further lowering losses.The blades 'lock' into the water rather than slipping through it.

  2. A good wing paddling stroke will encourage the paddler to use torso rotation, and hence larger muscle groups during the stroke. This in turn will give more power and less fatigue. This is arguably less of a gain and more of a stroke efficiency improvement. Either way you look at it though, it still gives a (slight) advantage.

The Stroke

 An effective wing paddling stroke is a little different from a flat-blade stroke. It’s not difficult, just a little different. Wing paddles tend to guide the movement of the blade through the water themselves. They also tend to move away from the boat as the stroke develops, though this varies from one blade design to another.  This movement is partly what encourages the torso rotation and in turn the use of larger muscle groups as mentioned above. That said, the modern wing stroke (and modern blade design) has now evolved to move much closer and more parallel to the edge of the boat. We don't need to get too stressed about that however.

You do need to have a reasonable paddling stroke to get the most from the wings, it doesn't have to be perfect but it does need a little time to nurture.

The Ups and Downs

So let’s take a look at the advantages and disadvantages of using wing paddles over flat paddles.  If we look at the modern racing world we see that virtually the entire field are using wing paddles, so they must be’ better’ surely? Well, as is often the case, there is a little more to it than meets the eye.


Going back to that advantage figure again of between a 4-6% advantage (let’s call it 5% say). So if you are out for a 1 hour paddle with your buddies, paddling wings will get you home around 3 minutes earlier – everything else being equal. That's all, 3 minutes - not exactly something to write home about.

But then if you are out for a 10 hour record attempt, then those same wings may get you to the finish line 30 minutes earlier - now that is a bit more useful.

Paddlers also grow to like the way the paddles grip the water. In a fast-sea kayak, flat-blades may feel ‘under-geared’.


From the sea paddler’s point of view there are two main disadvantages:

As we heard wings are good for forward paddling strokes, after all that is what they are designed for, what they are optimised for.

However they are less effective than flat-blades at steering strokes, such as sweep strokes, stern-rudders etc. They are also pretty poor at slicing strokes - sculling-draw and bow-rudders for example. Rolling is less effective with wings too, as is reverse paddling.

You could probably sum it all up by saying that wings give an advantage to forward paddling strokes, but a disadvantage to pretty much everything else.

Wings are also different in rough water. Those less effective turning strokes can become significant here, and the fact that support strokes can become a little trickier isn’t exactly a positive characteristic. Wings don’t take too well to allowing the blades to sink below the surface, getting them back out again can be awkward.  None of these factors is a great problem in it’s own right, but you need to be aware of them, they can catch out the unwary. If your life revolves around ‘gnarly’ days in big water, lots of falling in or surfing, then life is going to be more comfortable with flats on the whole.

Wings also need a high paddling style; they do not work well with a low style. So if you drop to a very low style on a windy day, they may not give you too much help.

What few mention also, is the fact that for wings to be effective then you need to paddle at a certain pace. That does not mean that you always need to go at hairy-bears race pace, but you do need to keep the boat ticking along smoothly to gain that advantage. If you are out for a gentle bimble, chatting and taking life easy, then the wings are probably less efficient than a good set of flats. If this is your sort of paddling, then well, save your money.

That grip that is characteristic of the wings can become a downside when paddling a sea kayak into a stiff headwind too. The blades can feel as if they have been set in concrete, or suddenly doubled in size; after a while it can become tiring.


How hard is it to switch between wings and flats? Well, with a bit of practice it really isn’t. A paddler with frequent experience of paddling both sorts of paddles should be able to switch between them and be paddling along happily within a minute or two.

Wing Blade Characteristics

Blade Shape -

Basically this can be broken down into ‘parallel’ or ‘tear-drop’ type designs. Parallels may also be


known as Rasmussen, while the Tear-Drop may also be known as Burton or Gamma. These terms basically refer to the way the upper and lower edge relate to each other. The parallel blades tend to be the older style of designs, while the tear-drops tend to be viewed as more recent designs, and more performance based. Both styles of designs are quite happily paddled on the sea and moving water; from the sea paddlers point of view the following factors tend to have a more significant effect on blade handling than the outright shape.


Layback - 

This is the angle that the blade 'lays back' from the shaft - i.e. the blade is not a direct extension (or parallel) to an extended centre-line of the shaft. It is actually angled forward, away from the hands, so the tip of the blade lies ahead of the shaft centreline. Larger angles of layback tend to be found on flat water racing wings with an aim to give a better/cleaner entry and increased power transfer. From a sea paddling point of view, layback can make the paddles more unpredictable on moving water, and more awkward for stern-rudder surfing.

More Layback

Less Layback

Twist – 

A rotation along the length of the blade, so it is twisted a little like an aircraft propeller blade or a screw thread. Again the aim is to improve performance and power transfer during the stroke. Twist is less of a problem than layback on the rough stuff, but differing amounts of twist can make designs handle very differently from one another. An example of this is seen once again on the stern rudder where twist can give the blade hydro-dynamic lift, i.e. it may rise vertically out of the water when surfing – it can get tiring to always have to push it back down into the water. Some levels of twist can also make a blade more difficult to return to the surface when it has sunk below the surface.

Twist Compared

Lip -

The lip along the top edge of the blade tends to give the blade ‘grip’ in the water (along with pure blade size of course) - more lip makes the blade 'solid' in the water, less lip allows a little slip. Too much lip (and hence too much grip) is not a good thing. With a heavy sea kayak, into a strong headwind, too much grip can become uncomfortable - it becomes tiring as the stroke rate drops and places an increased strain on the joints.

Lip on upper edge

Tips -

If your wings become damaged at the tips it makes a big difference to how they enter the water and how much splash they make, so a metal tip can be a good idea. Some alloy/aluminium tips take the knocks well, but some also corrode badly in the salt environment, eventually causing delamination and ruining the blades. A stainless steel tip is expensive and a little heavier, but will make your blades last much longer. There are no corrosion problems with Composite tips either, but they do wear and if you hit rocks on a regular basis they are not going to last just as long as the metal ones.

Blade Choice

Blade choice for wings can become a difficult, time-consuming and possibly expensive affair. The wide variety of wing designs makes a much greater difference to the paddling experience than is the case with differing flat blade designs.Finding the right blade for you can be difficult.

General selection pointers

A blade that has been designed specifically for Wild Water Racing or Surf Ski Racing is usually a good starting point as it usually has quite friendly/average handling characteristics. Some people paddle successfully with flat-water racing wings, but I tend to find they don’t take the knocks quite as well and, more significantly, they tend to be a bit of a handful on rough water. I tend to go for rather ‘average’ designs, leaving the more advanced ones for flat-water.

Wings will grip the water more than flats, after all that is what they are designed for, so go with a smaller rather than larger blade size if in doubt. Likewise a little shorter overall length, and a more flexible shaft is not a bad idea. I tend to avoid split shafts if I can; to me they feel too stiff and lifeless, and if they are too stiff they can cause injury problems.

Wings on the rough


So are wings the choice for you? Well only you can make that choice...sorry.

Wing paddling is not difficult, but it does demand a certain level of skill and technique. It does bring advantages and reward but these may not be as significant as first thought.

Think back to the figures. Earlier we said that wings give around a 5% advantage.  So for a 1 hour paddle we will arrive 3 minutes earlier with wings (everything else being equal), over 3 hours it will be around 9 minutes earlier. For that advantage we have to take a performance penalty on much of our stroke repertoire, including steering and rolling. Is it worth it?

 That depends on our skill and what we have planned of course.  If we have a 3 hour race or a 10 hour record attempt ahead of us then it probably is. If we are looking for expedition paddling, racing, records, fitness training or just all-round efficient cruising then wings are likely the way to go. Likewise wings can be an option to broaden paddling horizons or to help improve our paddling stroke.

However, if our paddling is predominately gentle cruising, group coaching or heavy white-water playing or surfing then those standard flats are probably the better choice.

Wings can be, and are, paddled successfully in all areas of sea paddling – rough and smooth. However it must be realised that they are just a set of paddles, there’s no magic involved here. Sometimes they will be the better choice, sometimes flats will be. You pays your money...

One thing that does stand out though, once a paddler gets acquainted with their wings, they rarely want to swap back.

John Willacy - Jun 2016