A Freshman’s Guide to K2 Paddling

Kayaking Etiquette… Isn’t that an oxymoron?

Change. It’s synonymous for any paddler due to the nature of our watercourses and comes standard with the time of the season. Whether you embrace or shun it, is irrelevant.

How we react is what makes our sport so exhilarating, as every day on the water is unique. K2 paddling is very different to K1: the handling, turning and tactics. Adjusting to these differences however, is not easy. It requires considering one another, often some sacrifice, and when meticulously executed can be very enjoyable. With the change of season, has your mentality changed from K1 to K2? Consider these five hard-earned pointers well before jumping into a team boat in your training for the 50 Miler and Dusi Canoe marathons.

K2 Pierre-Andre Rabie going down chuteg

Pierre-Andre Rabie and Andy Birkett make it cleanly down Double Trouble chute at the Hansa Fish River Canoe Marathon
photo mouton van zyl / gameplan media

1 Differences

Few crews (if any) do not have some niggles. These niggles can originate out of weight, fitness and personal racing style differences. Vital to establishing a healthy K2 partner and friendship is about collaborating and seeing how well you can adjust. Some sacrifices are bound to be needed from both sides, communicate them and agree.

2 Tactics & Goals

It’s also about managing each other’s strengths and weaknesses, not just your own. Front paddlers set the pace and stroke rate and hence need to be conscientious with pacing. Have consensus about goals.

3 Position in the boat

For a better trim, the heavier partner usually sits in the back, with the more seasoned paddler driving in the front. (Does this imply that the more seasoned you are, the lighter you become? – Ed)

4 Synergy

It’s not about individual efforts but the combined effort, spending time together in the boat as a combination is paramount. This is not just to adjust to one another but, a well-trained combination often out performs a less–trained combo consisting of two better individual athletes.

5 Communication

Good communication, positive feedback and being of one accord are vital for enjoyment in a team boat environment. A ship can have only one captain; likewise the front paddler (at the helm) usually leads as he or she can see lines and obstacles better.

Input from the back can be beneficial, especially if local river knowledge is involved. Refrain however, from backseat driving unless absolutely certain about a better line or if imminent peril is involved.   Apart from being extremely annoying and creating conflict, it can make the driver hesitant and lead to even worse outcomes.
Remember no matter what the outcome of a decision, you’re a team and have a common goal so back one another.

Whatever happens, it is as the saying goes “Water underneath the bridge”. It’s past tense – refocus and keep going.

Just like marriage, choose the right partner, as it’s for better and for worse!


Race hard, push one another to the next level but do not get off the water as enemies. As a K2 combination you’re bound to have eureka moments and have less satisfying ones too. Enjoy the camaraderie and paddling first and foremost. Whatever results may come will only add to the enjoyment.


Other articles posted in this period

About 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.”

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