… Only tippy paddlers.
At least that’s what I used to tell students …. before I tried a K1 sprint kayak.
So why a K1? I’m working with computers again — great for cash flow and rebuilding bank accounts, but not so great for long trips and expeditions. However the silver lining is that there is plenty of time to train and complete in the local races, grow stronger, and learn some new skills. Also, my interest was piqued by what I have heard about these slender hulls. Surf the web and you will discover comments such as “the K1 is the formula 1 of the kayaking world”, “separates the men from the boys” , and “if you can paddle a K1 you can paddle anything!”. While it’s best to treat what you read on the internet with healthy skepticism, that sounds like a challenge if I ever heard one!
I always find it rewarding to branch out into other aspects of the diverse world of kayak-sport. Being a “beginner” again in a new discipline is humbling, keeps you grounded and you experience the thrill of rapidly learning and improving. That’s great fun if you have been doing something for years or if you feel your skills have plateaued.
I’m comfortable in 19″ width Greenland skin-on-frame kayaks, a tippy waveski, and train on a balance board. How much more difficult could it be?
As it turns out – more than I imagined!
Unlike Europe, the K1 scene is not very developed in the states. I have paddled for over 20 years, with many groups and in many disciplines and have only seen a handful of K1′s in that time here. Sprint kayaking is regulated by the International Canoe Federation (ICF). An ICF K1 must be 5.2m (17.06 feet) long and weigh 12kg (26.4 pounds). The kayaks are usually built much lighter than this and have precise weight added to meet the requirements. In 2003 the ICF Congress abolished the minimum beam requirement and designs quickly changed. The kayak shown here is an “old rules” kayak with “wings” (diamond shape) to satisfy the obsolete beam requirement.
K1 hulls vary in stability, they are given a stability rating from 1 – 10. At the lowest level are the Olympic sprint kayaks (part your hair the wrong way and you have a problem). The higher stability ranges overlap with sea kayaks.
I was looking for an Epic Legacy or Nelo Vintage, but the waiting period was long. Fortunately, my good friend Russell Farrow at Sweetwater kayaks had an old K1 that was left behind in Florida after spring training by a European team. South Florida, especially the Pines resort in Melbourne, hosts a number of Olympic hopefuls each year, looking to escape the Winter cold (snowbirds in the local lingo), to train.
The boat is a Bootsbau Berlin K1, year of manufacture unknown. Its condition was a little rough, but after some gelcoat patching and elbow grease it cleaned up pretty good and the hull is sound. I didn’t want to complicate an already challenging process with a leaking kayak!
Coming from a sea kayak background where I prefer a skeg, rather than a rudder, another different aspect to learn is the steering. Unlike “gas-pedal” rudder controls on a surfski, or some sea kayaks, a K1 (usually) employs tiller steering. Paddling barefoot, the idea is to cradle the tiller bar between your feet. You gently nudge the bar right to go right and vice-versa. Although this setup does let you push hard on the footboard without activating the rudder, it takes some getting used to as there is precious little room and your feet are (optionally) secured by a pull-bar or strap.
Tiller steering takes some getting used to. I prefer to push with my heels so will be modifying the footbrace to a full footboard system. I’ll post some pics when done.
So had did the maiden paddle go? Did it involve some unintentional “swimming practice” or did I keep the bottom side down?
Please check back soon to find out!
I’ll be including some technique tips in the future as well, including some coaching techniques popularized by the great Imre Kemecsey.