Capsizing: When A Swim Is Not Cool

paddling page_61_860x300River paddling and mountain biking share three mutual characteristics. To excel in these sports an athlete is required to successfully navigate, while maintaining their stability which fulcrums on their weight displacement and is influenced by their power-to-weight ratio.

Ineffective maneuvering leads to a loss of stability culminating in capsizing which is generally referred to as “swimming”. As inviting as swimming may sound, paddlers rarely opt for a casual swim in rocky or freezing rivers. This involuntary exercise (although it may sound appealing to some) is regularly associated with broken or lost equipment and bruised bodies and egos in paddling circles.

Apart from the above mentioned risks, recovering from an incident can take considerable time and severely hamper the hopes of paddlers.

Paddling is arguably one of the most equal-footed (fairest) sports for a diverse range of people. Heavier individuals (usually more power) have to displace more volume through the water, due to the deeper waterline and resistance of their boat. Lighter athletes on the contrary have less drag to overcome, but not necessarily less power. So it ultimately boils down to a power-to-weight ratio.

This magical ratio in paddling is important as it greatly influences the force a paddler can generate. This force, combined with effective weight displacement or control, vastly determines the velocity the boat can attain. The greater the velocity of a craft relative to the river you are paddling on, the greater your steering ability. So the better you can manage your weight, the better your stability will be, as well as your navigational skills.

Remember to go into most obstacles with:
– Speed (navigation is easier)
– Confidence (nothing is more vulnerable to catastrophe than a doubtful captain)
– Commit to your decision or line (last moment deviations usually lead to broken equipment and swims)

What to do when things go wrong (As they sometimes do)
– NEVER let go of your paddle. It’s like losing your legs on land – grasp it with one hand.
– Always keep your feet up and lie on your back when swimming downriver. This will prevent your feet lodging into a rock crevice – and possible drowning.
– Hold onto the back of your boat (with one hand) when swimming down rapidly moving water. It makes steering the craft into an eddy easier.
– Climb into your craft at the bottom of an obstacle (rivers usually make a nice eddy or whirlpool here).
– Try to stay calm and composed – rational decisions are always better than frantic ones.

by Pierre-André Rabie
This passionate river paddler, full-time Maties MSc student and small business entrepreneur was runner-up at the 2011 Berg River Canoe Marathon. His motto: “The will to persevere is what makes the difference between failure and success.”

Originally published in the July/August 2013 issue.

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