Saturday, January 26, 2013

Gear for short 2 - 4 hour kayak paddling adventures!

 As kayak paddling season approaches, paddlers need to take inventory of their gear. You want to ensure that you have the correct gear for your paddling adventure. Make a list, check off each item, and be sure you take and / or wear the gear while on the water. Odds are you will not need to utilize some of the items on any paddle... but if you don't carry the gear with you... you certainly will not be able to use it - especially safety gear in times of an emergency!

Here is a list of what I always pack for short 2-4 hour day paddles on flat water. Gear may vary slightly depending on water and weather conditions, but this list is what I consider essential gear to pack for any paddling adventure.
Mike's Gear List

PFD (wear it always)

Neo skirt

Pump or bailing device

Throw rope or towing line

Spare paddle (strapped to deck)


Sun screen (apply before paddle and carry on boat)

Paddle leash

Cell phone




Waterproof camera w/ spare battery (or camera in a dry bag)

Change of clothes (dry bag)

First aid kit

Water resistant paddling pants (or shorts) depending on temperature

Water resistant socks

Water shoes

2-3 water bottles

Trail mix

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Saturday, January 19, 2013

Buying a PFD for paddling

One of the most essential pieces of safety gear that persons should wear, at all times, while paddling, is a personal flotation device or PFD.  According to the United States Coast Guard, almost 75% of all persons killed in boating incidents drowned. Of those, 84% were not wearing a life jacket.  In my opinion, a PFD is NOT optional safety gear, but mandatory. Both Rachel and myself always wear a properly fitted PFD when paddling and I urge all my readers to do the same!

So, what should persons look for when shopping for a PFD for paddling? You should always seek out and work with a paddle sport expert to get "fitted properly" for a PFD. You should also arm yourself with good information before making that trip out to your local outfitter. Here are three basic tips to help an adult paddler make the right choice when shopping for a PFD.

Tip #1: Fit should be snug and tight: Use your chest measurements as a guide. Loosen all the straps and than zip it up. Tighten the straps around the waist first and than the shoulder straps. The fit should be snug and tight. Have another person grasp the PFD by the shoulder and pull up. If the PFD moves above your mouth and nose, try tightening the straps. If the PFD still moves above your mouth and nose, it is too large. Wear clothes you would normally paddle in to get an accurate feel and fit. Sit on the floor, or better sit in a display kayak (if allowed), with a paddle, and mimic a paddle stroke while wearing the PFD. The PFD should feel snug and tight without riding up as you paddle and move.

Tip #2: Designed for paddling: PFDs designed for paddling sports have large arm openings for freedom of movement. Air vents on the sides help your skin to "breathe" and allows air to move and cool your body as you paddle. Reflective tape on the front and rear of the PFD help boaters see you in poor lighting conditions. Choose a bright neon color (yellow, green, orange, or red) for a more visible "you," while you are paddling your low profile kayak during daylight hours. Some PFDs have a plastic lash tab for attaching a paddle leash, so your paddle does not get away from you. Deep front pockets are good for carrying other items such as energy bars, navigation map, safety whistle, multipurpose tool / knife, or a cell phone (in water tight bag).

Tip #3: Use correct PFD type: The United States Coast Guard lists five recreational boating PFD categories. Search out and use Type III and Type V PFDs. These PFDs are commonly used by kayakers.

"TYPE III PFDS / FLOTATION AIDS:  For general boating or the specialized activity that is marked on the device such as water skiing, hunting, fishing, canoeing, kayaking and others.  Good for calm, inland waters, or where there is a good chance for fast rescue."  (Source - USCG)

 "TYPE V PFDS / SPECIAL USE DEVICES:  Only for special uses or conditions. 
See label for limits of use:
Hybrid Inflatable PFDs. Canoe/Kayak Vest. Boardsailing Vests. Deck Suits. Work Vests for Commercial Vessels. Commercial Whitewater Vests. Man-Overboard Rescue Devices. Law Enforcement Flotation Devices" (Source - USCG)
Again, PFDs will only work if you wear them at all times while on the water! A properly fitted PFD will fit snug and tight on you, but will be comfortable for long periods of paddling. You will not go wrong by following these three tips when buying a new PFD. Stay safe out there and enjoy your time on the water!
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Thursday, January 17, 2013

How to choose the right kayak paddle for you

One of the most important purchases in paddle sports, aside from the kayak, is the paddle. This is the one piece of gear that you will hold and use each time you are paddling. A hasty and uninformed purchase will come back to haunt you many times over on the water! Simply stated, a paddle can either "make" or "break" your enjoyment on the water. You should always seek out and work with a paddle sport expert to get "fitted properly" with a correct paddle. You should also arm yourself with good information before making that trip out to your local outfitter. Here are five basic tips to help you make the right choice next time you are shopping for a paddle.

Tip #1: Get one that feels right: This tip may seem simplistic, but let's face it. If the paddle is not the right diameter, length, weight, balance, or shape for either your body type and kayak cockpit dimensions, than it will be both awkward to use and tiring during paddling. You'll have less enjoyment and have to work "harder" during your paddle and who wants that kind of workout?

Tip #2: Less weight equals more price: Paddles are made from wood, fiberglass, aluminum, plastic, carbon, and other composite materials. Rule of thumb. The lighter the weight of a paddle, the larger the price tag. But, the lighter the paddle weight, the less arm and shoulder fatigue experienced by the paddler. Be careful of "kayak packages" that include inexpensive, aluminum paddles as part of the deal. Aluminum paddles are some of the heaviest paddles on the market and will quickly fatigue paddlers. I recommend that you always "upgrade" your paddle to the lightest one you can afford. Use the aluminum shaft paddle for a spare. Carbon shafts are a good compromise between weight and price tag. Carbon shafts weigh less than aluminum ones and can be purchased in the $100 price range. I don't fixate on the materials used in paddle construction. Wood is esthetically pleasing, but requires more upkeep. Aluminum is too heavy. Some of the composite materials can be rather fragile. Again, my main criteria is weight and the less it weighs, the better!

Tip #3: Length matters: Blade design and length, kayak beam or width, your size, and your paddling style will determine the length of the paddle shaft. Blade design and length can add several centimeters to the overall length of a paddle - even if the shafts have identical lengths. You need to be able to sit in your kayak cockpit and be able to comfortably submerge the blades with each forward stroke. Kayak beam and cockpit dimensions will also determine paddle shaft length. A 21 inch diameter cockpit will require a shorter length paddle than a 26 inch one. The paddle length should be long enough that the shaft does not scrape against the hull with each stroke. Your size will figure into shaft length too. You don't want to be dwarfed by your paddle and forced to leverage your entire body when paddling as it will quickly tire you out. Finally, your paddling style will impact shaft length. An aggressive, fast stroke paddler can get by with a shorter paddle while a more leisurely, cruising paddler may prefer a longer one.

Tip #4: Grip and shaft size matter too: You want a non-slip grip area where you commonly hold the paddle. Some paddle manufacturers will have indentations or slightly raised areas on the paddle shaft for your hands. You can also purchase rubberized grips that slide onto the paddle. I've used "Yakgripes" that provide both grip and comfort for my hands. Also, your fingers should comfortably grip and wrap around the paddle shaft, regardless of using a rubberized grip or not.

Tip #5: Two-piece or one?:  Paddles may come as a one-piece or break down into two-piece (or more) sections. One-piece paddles have the advantage of a simple design and strength that comes with a non-sectional shaft. Disadvantage is that one-piece paddles can be awkward and difficult to transport in vehicles and in storing them. A two-piece (or more) sectional paddle has the advantage of being able to break down for transport and storage. I recommend that you not purchase a sectional paddle that uses a spring-loaded button to hold the sections together. The buttons tend to rust and the springs lose their "spring" qualities, especially if paddlers don't drain out water that may collect in the shafts after a paddling adventure or, as I've seen some folks do, store kayak gear unprotected outside or in poorly ventilated storage areas that can suffer from built-up moisture. A superior sectional design allows the two paddle shaft sections to slide together and lock tightly, without use of a spring-loaded button.

Other Stuff: I have highlighted some of the basics when considering a paddle purchase. I have not talked about Greenland paddles, blade design, or feathering, as these topics can be quite lengthy to cover and not readily fit into a basic primer for paddles.

Paddlers will not be steered wrong if they follow my five basic tips on what to look for when buying a kayak paddle. And always remember.... to take life one stroke at a time!

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Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Welcome to 2013 and Other Random Thoughts!

Howdy everyone! Welcome to 2013! Aren't we all glad that 2012 is behind us? So, why the big smile (or is it a grin?) on the Durhamblogger's face... you may ask? Lots of reasons!

But the most important reason for the smile...


I've also started "hinting" to Rachel that it's time to start thinking about the purchase of another single-seat kayak! Currently, the Durhamblogger flotilla contains two kayaks -  a Mainstream Escapade (the blue tandem kayak Rachel and I are paddling in the blog header photo) and a single-seat yellow Aquafusion Liberty - featured in many blog photos). It would be nice for both of us to have our own kayaks when embarking on our 2013 paddling adventures!

So, while you are waiting for the 2013 paddling adventures to start populating these pages, don't forget that Durhamblogger offers lots of resources (Gear Reviews & How to) for the paddling enthusiast! From posts on how to buy a kayak... to installing seat cushions.... to rating that latest water shoe... to evaluating local put in areas... Durhamblogger has the informed posts written by an experienced paddler (me!) for your information and enjoyment!

If you tire of the Durhamblogger resources posts, don't forget that you have over four years worth of paddling adventures to read... from lakes... to rivers... and streams in eastern North Carolina and Virginia. Lots of good stuff for everyone! 

So, stay tuned! The Durhamblogger blog pages will start to shake "themselves" free from the Winter doldrums... and new paddling adventures will be written on it's pages for 2013! I can't wait!

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