August 25, 2017

Team Canada Open Women

By Kamini Jain

“The paddles of Team Canada are more upright; meaning there’s no bend near the bottom. Of course the bend is used to reach a bit further, and so you see how straight the paddle is,” explains the commentator referring to our Kialoa single bend Nehu paddles at World’s last month.

It’s good to stand out in a crowd, and these days in international distance racing it seems that one way to do so is to use single bend paddles.   We didn’t know we were being different when we asked Kialoa for single bend paddles (which of course do have some bend).  And we loved our paddles!  We had a solid performance coming in 4th in Open Women’s V-6 but the commentator’s comment raises the question: would double-bend paddles have made us faster?  Who knows. Five of the six of us have been using single bend paddles for our whole careers, despite popular opinion on the ideal number of bends swaying back on forth over time, so I have no doubt our paddle choice was the right one.  Both types of paddles have their selling points so the important things I believe are to use the same type of paddle as each other, understand what it requires to be used most effectively and practice with that paddle.  Then train hard and cover every other strategic base you can, as our equipment choice is, after all, only one of many considerations in maximizing performance. 

The race course at World’s was awesomely dynamic with a loop completed three times: strong flat headwinds - buoy turn - big swelling cross waves - buoy turn - nice following downwind, choppy strong ama side wind - buoy turn - flat portion and repeat and repeat again.  Crews tended to have some conditions they excelled at better than other conditions which helped keep a diverse field closer together.  A crew that excelled in all conditions won the race.  This type of every-condition race brings to the forefront what I feel are corner-stone philosophies to developing a successful athlete:  

  1. Training strategy trains fitness but training fitness does not necessarily train strategy and, 
  2. in equally committed athletes, strategy can make up for fitness but fitness cannot make up for a lack of strategy.  

An athlete must develop his or her strategic sense – and not just specific to one seat but to that of a whole crew and the whole canoe.  How does a canoe run in different conditions, how does it turn, what helps it goes straight, how does energy run through it.  Understand this and you will better adjust to different conditions and make better canoe placement choices. If everyone has this understanding, crews communicate better, allocate their energy better, execute better and perform better.  The responsibility and pressure is shared.  This is how it is for Olympic kayak paddlers who train mostly in K-1’s and combine for a K-4.  Striving in demanding single crafts teaches us the skills we need for crew excellence. This scope of understanding is less developed in the adult culture of OC-6 paddling.  But, in Tahiti, where kids start young in OC-1’s without rudders (V-1’s) you see something amazing.  In a V-1 field with many of us making obvious and often desperate steering strokes, you see the Tahitian paddler subtly placing the canoe where he or she wants to with an apparent lack of effort.  Of course these paddlers also have great fitness, most of the international field did, but to witness how they steered their canoes was to marvel at how they did it.   It is no surprise when these paddlers get into a crew together and excel in every condition. I wonder, if the rest of us used these challenging V-1’s as the vehicle for paddling fundamentals where we would be as performers in bigger canoes….or, do we just need double bend paddles.

Experimenting with different equipment is a fun part of our sport. Whatever style of paddle you choose, or the number of paddles in your quiver, look to Kialoa’s collection for a broad and successful selection. My choice for OC-6 is the Nehu, a paddle which comes in either single or double bend. As you know, for now, I choose the single.

Thanks to Kialoa for you support and to my fantastic teammates Leanne Stanley, Mel Conrad, Jill Kelly, Tara Hastings and Laurel Archer and our team leader Lynda Roberts.




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