Reflections from the Cockpit
"Old and the New"
January 2003

New Year's eve is very quiet around the Horodowich household. Hadley & I plan it so we can be together and do some reflection upon the past year. American tradition looks at the New Year celebration as a time to ring out the old and bring in the new. As an experiential educator I believe so much is learned when we take the time to reflect upon what we do and how we do it. I want to share some thoughts I have when I think about the "Old" and the "New".

Before I continue with this month's reflection Hadley & I & the USK staff wish to THANK ALL OF YOU who have taken the time to e-mail and call us with your comments about our videos and web site. The tremendous positive feedback is very much appreciated. Our goal is to promote sea kayaking education. From your responses it is clear we are accomplishing our goal. We feel we have only scratched the surface and we have so much more to contribute. We have an ambitious agenda (new videos, expanded web site, books, clinics, trips) planned over the next few years. The best way to keep up with us is to visit the USK web site at least once a month and read the latest reflection, skill of the month and featured events. As always, please feel free to contact us with your comments and ideas.

I specifically entitled this month's reflection "Old and the New" rather than the "Old vs the New". While I genuinely appreciate new materials, techniques and ideas I am concerned about forgetting the lessons of the past. An expression that illustrates my concern is "Don't throw the baby out with the bath water". I believe we need to take the lessons of the past and make sure they are not lost while incorporating the new.

I will share some appreciations and concerns with you and the questions I ask myself and perhaps you should be asking yourself. My goal is to have you taking advantage of the NEW while incorporating the OLD collective experience. You may also consider asking if the new or old is even appropriate given your needs.
The new falls under different categories. Lightweight materials, new designs, new packaging, new devices, new techniques, new strategies are all part of our daily lives. Is the NEW appropriate for what YOU do when sea kayaking? Does the OLD address the current demands? Do you know the reasons for the OLD and the NEW?

The new lightweight materials in kayaks means we have to lift less when moving our kayaks thus reducing fatigue and more importantly strain. It even makes it possible for more paddlers to get their kayaks on their car tops without assistance. We also have less weight to move through the water thus increasing speed over distance with less fatigue and possible strains. However, can your new lightweight kayak handle the stresses of where YOU like to paddle? Should you even be purchasing a lightweight kayak? Should you be thinking of a stronger custom lay-up if you paddle or play in rougher conditions? I wanted a lightweight lay-up in my new kayak. The manufacturer informed me they did not recommend it due to my paddling needs and my size. In fact they recommended a reinforced lay-up. Even though I appreciate lightweight equipment I have to bite my tongue when I see the decks of some kayaks folding down when paddlers do re-entries during basic recoveries. This is a good time for a stronger kayak or altering techniques so not to compromise the deck.

Over the years front and rear bulkheads have become the norm in sea kayaks. Performing capsize recoveries, in many cases, has become easier because of the less water to drain and the greater buoyancy provided by two bulkheads. As a result, there are many kayakers who have never had to empty water from a kayak that did not have bulkheads. Yet, due to entry level kayaks now being produced by the manufacturers, there are brand new sea kayaks out there without forward bulkheads. Will your new skills serve you when trying to solve old problems? (i.e. practicing TX recoveries with bulkheaded kayaks vs non-bulkheaded kayaks)

Are the techniques you have learned and use appropriate for your new lightweight paddle? Do you still push of the shore using your paddle? Should you push off the shore with your paddle? If not, how do you push off? Do you still use paddle bridges? Can your paddle take that? Can your paddle take the stresses of the surf zone, rock gardens, caving and stirrup recoveries? Can you find alternative techniques that still meet your needs but not use the paddle as before? Keep in mind (remembering the OLD) many of the techniques used today are based upon heavy (almost bomb proof) paddles of the past. Just because you see a picture in a book, learn a skill in a class or see a technique on a video doesn’t mean your equipment can handle it. There are many equipment specific skills out there that one finally realizes when their equipment breaks or they repeatedly fail at performing a skill even though they are doing everything correctly.

The new wing paddles have been produced for efficiency and speed. They have come from a racing environment. If you are racing your sea kayak a wing seems appropriate. However, can you perform your bracing, sculling, and draw strokes effectively with your wing paddle?

Much of the NEW comes from the racing world. The efficiency concerns are paramount because races can be won or lost in a hundreth of a second. I love new technology and techniques. While this new stuff may be a necessity in racing, does it meet my needs in my full range of sea kayaking environments? How can I incorporate it into my world?

Given the wide range of garments available for sea kayakers it is incomprehensible to me to still see reports of paddlers dying from exposure due to not dressing for immersion. Here is a definite case of not taking advantage of the new. I know the real culprit is ignorance and stupidity for exposure deaths. The new clothing choices provide us with greater protection while still allowing for performance.

Electronic devices
I applaud the availability of the new technology and the greater options provided by these devices. Radios, cell phones, GPS units, EPIRBS, can help us call for assistance, fix our location and aid those trying to help us. Given the potential for electronic devices to fail around salt water I would make sure you use these devices to augment skills necessary for sea kayaking. If you become lax on your self-sufficiency skills and assume outside help will bail you out because you can contact them, then you are defeating purpose of such devices.

I firmly believe one cannot get enough training. There is always something else to learn. That is why I am always fascinated by the history of the sports I pursue. The rich history of kayaking is no exception. What can we learn from old techniques? How can you modify an old method to make it user-friendly in the present? A common theme in my teaching is, "Don’t do it just because it has been done that way." Know why you are doing it and change it as needed to meet your needs.

As I read my recent copy of Sea Kayaker Magazine (Feb 2003), the article written by Greg Stamer captivated me. If you want to get into shape for sea kayaking perhaps you may consider Allunaariaqattaarneq – Inuit Rope Gymnastics. I loved the article and the pictures. I can’t wait to get the video mentioned at the end of the article. I can definitely say I will not be setting up ropes in my back yard (which could be a real kick for a club picnic event) but I will be trying to see what I can adapt to present conditioning programs and equipment. There are hundreds of years of wisdom and experience in some of those exercises.

I can continue but I feel I have addressed the areas of greatest concern during my own reflections. As you paddle in this upcoming year keep up with all the NEW that comes into our sport. In addition try and remember the OLD because most of the NEW is adapted from the old and "why should we have to re-invent the wheel?" Most importantly, use the OLD and the NEW to best meet your needs as a sea kayaker.


Wayne Horodowich


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