the website of Greg Stamer

There’s no such thing as a tippy boat…

Posted by Greg on January 6, 2012


… 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.






  1. Gil Said,

    So Greg…Where are you taking your Formula-1 for paddles? I have also pondered on the idea of a another kayak style of paddling, but these skinny boats scare the tar out of my out-of-shape body. Are you using the wing paddles. I was warned that those spoon shape paddles will pull you into the water at first. Is that so? Looking forward to hanging out at the Sweetwater Symposium.

  2. Greg Said,

    Hello Gil. The “Formula-1” needs smooth roads only (strictly flatwater). At this point too, I’m not too thrilled about using it in the backcountry as swimming with gators is not my idea of fun. Have you tried a surfski? That would be a much more versatile choice. My epic V-12 ski is considered “tippy” by most but is very stable as compared to the K1. I have tried my skinny sticks with these, but they are best suited for a wing. I actually find a wing very similar to a GP.. I’ll see you at Sweetwater, if not sooner.

  3. Steve U. Said,

    Greg, I see lots of familiar thoughts. Having started in Greenland boats and then British sea kayaks, I thought I could handle “tippy” boats and rough water. Once I got my first surfski, a Fenn Mako6, I realized that tippy came in various shades. After “mastering” the ski it was time to get a K1. I’m now paddling a Nelo Vintage ski and Classic K1 and highly recommend both of them. I’m really enjoying the journey of honing my skills, balance, and stroke, and hope you will too. Later.

  4. Greg Said,

    Steve, thanks for the comments. I may need to take a trip to “the Pines” to get to paddle some different K1s. Do you find that there is a huge difference in stability between the Nelo Vintage and a Vanquish? I’m thinking that a little extra stability would make sense for marathons, although it seems that many of the top performers are using full-on Sprint K1s (Vanquish, Legacy, etc). K1 coaching is also rare here. Have you studied Imre Kemecsey’s work? I have taught a few classes using his concepts and have found them excellent, will good student response. I will be sharing some of that on this blog in the future.

  5. Ocean Kayaker Said,

    It’s all about getting the right balance and having the right yak, isn’t it? How does it compare among all the other kayaks you have tried, aside from it not being tippy?

  6. Greg Said,

    An extremely tender kayak such as an ICF K1 is very sensitive to technique, and you learn things about the forward stroke that are masked in much more stable kayaks. Just as doing whitewater makes you a better sea kayaker, time in an ICF K1, does the same, although in different ways.

    Speed and relative (or not so relative) instability define a K1. For a relatively short length (just over 17′), they are very fast, efficient hulls for flatwater at speed and thus are very one-dimensional craft. Their closest kin is a performance ocean racing kayak or a surfski but my K1 is much more unstable than my V12 surfski (known as a fairly “tippy” ski). Unlike a surfski a K1 is extremely difficult to manage in wind and waves. Recovery from a capsize is usually effected by swimming to shore since the (stock) boats usually have no outfitting (thigh braces) to allow them to be rolled (as this would get in the way of leg drive). They usually have no bulkheads, no hatches, no backrest, no deck fittings and begin to submarine in waves less than one meter.

    A surfski is arguably much more versatile, but a K1 is an interesting challenge and has a different feel, and the ergonomics permit a full leg drive and a full rotation (unlike a surfski where the hump under your legs, and the rudder pedals can reduce the amount of leg drive).

    But the K1 is king at what it does and makes a simple trip around my local lake (a very dull event in my touring kayaks), a fast, exciting experience.

  7. jhstevens3 Said,

    Make yourself a kayak balance stool and practice on it a lot.
    I made mine with an 8″ radius and sit in a hallway so I can catch myself from falling.


    I went from a 23″ wide Cobra Eliminator to a 19″ wide surfski. It took me about 12 hours of total practice to get to where I can stay upright and paddle the surfski.
    It would have taken longer but the balance board work really cut down the learning curve.

  8. Greg Said,

    Great suggestion! I agree, a balance board is a very useful tool. I have used them for years, but still found the transition to a K1 to be a steep learning curve. If I had to do it over again, I would have started with the seat removed from the kayak.

    Here’s an image of Maligiaq Padilla trying to make a balance board even more difficult: http://www.qajaqusagallery.org/gallery/main.php?g2_itemId=31444 .

  9. d Said,

    I’ve just discovered this blog and would like to share experiences with racing kayaks, Yesterday was the first time I took my Sisson Nucleus 60: http://www.sissonkayaks.co.nz/blog/products-page/multisport-racing-kayaks/nucleus-60 to the water.
    I am moving from a touring kayak to something faster, more satisfying in terms of efficiency of paddling effort [for lack of a better description of what I have been seeking]. No problems to get in and out the very small cockpit [22” long] from the shore; no problems with keeping balance especially while paddling [very impressed by the glide and speed]; however, big problems with steering the tiller system and mainly turning around while paddling at half speed, at best. The practice on the balance board helped somewhat but I find that is the coordination of the stroke [involving where to catch the water and where to release, body movement and adjustment strokes to adjust to errors of weight shifting and,,, mainly steering as the boat changes direction due to unequal strokes]. I adjusted the foot support and the cords together with the seat position [pulled everything back so I can enter the very small space]. The cords were not very tight and precisely adjusted so steering right would require some persistence and getting my right foot out of the way as much as I could in the tiny space. One lesson learned. The second is about the control of the tiller– need time to get used to it; for now I learned I need to be gentle with it and focus on changing the paddling together with the edging– coordination is the key. I swam twice in the cold water; luckily close to the shore. Third lesson- be prepared to know what to do once in the water, i.e. have a plan: mine is now- turn the kayak face up, insert the paddle inside the cockpit, swim to the stern and push towards the shore; drag the boat on the beach and get the water out holding from the the side of the coaming [water is heavy and this place is more efficient in getting the bulk of it out than from the ends of the boat]. Then get back in and try avoiding another swim. Anybody has some steering technique non-tippy tips?

  10. claude de paepe Said,

    for now I ame not able to stay in my K1 Baco Exel small for longer then 3 minutes – thow it is possible for me to paddle in a K1 ranger (old model – diamant structure). I ame more then intrested in this blog. .
    I saw on a kayaksite from the Netherlands that keeping balance in the K1 withoujt a paddle would be ideal to start?
    Thanks for the tips

    clodio (antwerp-Belgium)

  11. Elise Conger Said,

    Good post. I learn something new and challenging on websites I stumbleupon every day. It’s always interesting to read articles from other authors and practice a little something from other sites.

  12. Alan Said,

    After 30 years paddling k1 at club level I developed an inner ear problem which has adversely affected my balance.I can still paddle the K1 but have trouble with washes and side chop.I am currently experimenting with increasing the depth of the rudder to make the craft more stable .Adding 2 centimetres seemed to improve things so I have just added another 2.If anyone is interested I can give details and results of experiments

  13. Berend Schilder Said,

    Hi Greg,
    Would you be so kind to give me some advice on how to stay upright comfortably in a 21 inch beam Dawn Treader sea kayak? I have started paddling last year and have overcome the horrors of tippyness on flat water on the local lake. Now I am trying increasing beam winds up to force 5 with very short steep waves of 3 feet but it feels tippy again. I need to make low braces every five seconds or so.
    Other kayakers tell me to let go of my hips and keep my torso in the center line of the kayak shifting left to right a little as the boat heels over counterwise. So that’s what I do. But during my second time fighting force 5 from the side, bobbing, rocking and pitching I still feel I am almost losing it. Is there more to it then just letting go with your hips? What about the knees under the combing? Or should I dare to lean a little? I must say most waves are so short that they keep coming every second. It looks like a giant washing machine so it seems impossible to counteract every wave. But just letting it go results in 40 degree heeving. Is it something that will solve over time, just like flat water tippyness? Just wondering if I am doing something wrong or if I could speed up the learning process.

  14. Greg Said,

    Hi Barend,
    Stability is relative and is improved by “butt time” in the seat. It takes time and directed practice to become comfortable, confident and skilled in rough conditions. Some surfski paddlers add pads to their seat, to raise the seat height, as a way to progressively “learn” stability. Epic sells a series of these training pads. If you have a local instructor, it would pay to have them watch you first-hand. They could quickly determine if there were issues with your outfitting, or whether there are some technique issues at play. Yes, in bouncy conditions it pays to “stay loose”, especially with your lower body, but that skill takes time to develop and you have to practice to build up to bigger conditions over time (hopefully with others who are experienced). The stiffer you are in bouncy conditions the more you will be fighting the kayak and struggling with balance. You don’t just “let go”, rather you relax, stay in control, and don’t fight the kayak. Work on developing a smooth low-brace, and remember that each paddle stroke works as a brace. Your outfitting needs to allow you to brace properly with your knees and feet, while preventing you from getting displaced in the seat. 40 degree water must be taken seriously. Are you using a dry suit?

  15. Peter Shaw Said,

    Hi Greg
    I just bought a K1 Kevlar fiberglass 12 ft kayak its my first kayak never kayaked before alot of time in canoes row boats etc.lived on lake Huron as a kid now in Vancouver B.C. I hate canoes so i found a cheap kayak and bought it now i have two questions first one there was no tags labels anything to tell me brand or how old but it is the body match to your picture above.It has no rudder and a key hole entry,yellow with a big black “S” across the front top any idea who made it?Second I have to agree with you kayaks aren’t tippy I put it in the water and let it float for 15 min [you never know] without me it really was quite stable,I watched a couple of videos on how to get in out paddle etc so basically no training,but did pick a small lake no current warm water and even without a pfd could swim to shore from any point and bought a good quality white water pfd .For not knowing what i am doing I did manage to spend an hour out on the water without flipping it came close too many time to count didn’t put on skirt don’t think i am ready for rolls yet or getting in it out on the water.had fun I love how fast it is ,I can turn and stop it like a canoe so I do have control stability is my problem that’s me I know but when it is floating every now and again it develops a fast wobble like a speed wobble the previous owner said it did it to his friends too.It only does it when the paddle is out of the water,what am i doing or is it something with the boat design ?
    It wasn’t easy by any means and I have alot to learn but if I can not flip it first time out ever kayaking should i keep it or sell it for something easier?

  16. Greg Said,

    Peter, the ICF sprint kayaks are all longer than 12 foot and aren’t outfitted to be rolled, so I’m not sure what you have. There will be a serial number on the stern, you can use that to find the year and the manufacturer (google kayak serial numbers to learn the format). You can usually find some information on the manufacturer inside the kayak as well. Stability is affected by many things, including time in the seat and the quality of your stroke technique. I recommend that you spend some time with an instructor or knowledgeable local kayaker so as to discover what kind of paddling your kayak is designed for and to avoid learning any bad habits. A good instructor can also provide first-hand advice, including what kind of extra flotation is needed (if any) so that you can still paddle safely should the kayak swamp.

  17. John Robin Powell Said,

    Started kayaking in 1944 & still having a little trouble balancing an ICF K1 , in spite of paddleing over 1000 miles a year things are getting tippy , never mind my older brother keeps an eye on me from a more stable boat , & we still enjoy . The club we belong to is in Worcester UK , that was formed n 1953 manly in canvas boats , started raceing in 1960 , & am competing tomorrow 25-9-2016 in the National club championships In a low division , wish me luck ! I have enjoyed reading the artical about tippy kayaks that was published under the website of ” Kayak Vagabond ” by Greg Stamer on January the 6th 2012 . Sorry the comment is so delayed . From. Robin.

  18. John Robin Powell Said,

    Robin again , my E mail address is , robin.marj.powell@hotmail.com if anyone is out there ?