Begin paddling forwards, side by side, one to two boat lengths apart. Once the boats are moving at a relaxed cruising speed, paddler #1 will continue at a normal cadence. Paddler #2 will now only take a stroke when paddler #1’s blade enters the water on the left. The effect is that paddler #2 will execute half as many strokes as paddler #1. It may take a few cycles to get the feel since there is a pronounced and somewhat unnatural delay between strokes for paddler #2. Continue along for two to three hundred yards and note what separation (if any) has developed between the two boats. Repeat the process with paddler #2 maintaining normal cadence and paddler #1 skipping a beat.
What most paddlers find:
After two to three hundred yards, teams are usually within a boat length or two of each other. One paddler got there with half as many strokes!
Lessons to learn:
There are two primary factors involved with this outcome. The first is the ability of sea kayaks to glide. If you try this experiment with general recreation or old-school whitewater boats you’ll likely get very different results. We tend to not let our boats glide, not realizing that it is possible to lower our cadence without sacrificing speed. By artificially breaking the cadence, the paddler will focus on each individual forward stroke, making each one more powerful and effective. Consider the physics of the problem: if the two paddlers get to the same location at the same time, then they both exert the same overall force with their paddles. But the paddler using half the strokes must be exerting twice as much force per stroke as the other. She is certainly executing a more powerful stroke than her counterpart using twice the cadence. If she can then take that more powerful stroke and begin to increase her cadence, then she will be going even faster and more efficiently.
What happens when paddler #1 slows their cadence? What happens when paddler #1 increases their cadence, first to a fast cruising speed, and then to a sprint?
Atlantic Kayak Tours, Expert Center
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