Be the Coxswain: Paddling in Tandem

    Having your own kayak to yourself makes it really easy to paddle down a beautiful lake, doesn’t it? While kayaking might be a great way to enjoy yourself and it is possible to solo paddle in groups, it would be nice to also paddle with someone else in the same boat. However, as you might imagine, it is pretty difficult to coordinate and turn a kayak with someone else. These are some tips to help make it easy to paddle in tandem.

    Usually the person who sits in the rear will have more experience. This provides the newbie with the opportunity to steer a little more, while secretly the one in the rear has a lot of power with steering as well. If experience is not an issue, a kayak should be balanced meaning weight should be evenly distributed, but when in doubt, let the heavier person take the back. The front of a kayak tends to be a bit less sturdy so the back should always be what is filled up. Teamwork is the most important part of tandem kayak. A good tool to enforce teamwork is communication which can be the person in the back can’t hear the one in the front speaking, but a simple solution is for the front paddler to turn their head to the side. Make sure you and your partner communicate your goals and next moves since you cannot just anticipate each other’s next strokes.

    Another integral problem is rhythm, easily accounted for by singing a little song called “Row Your Boat.” If you’re not the singing type, you could just say “Row” every time you want your partner’s paddle to hit the water. Whenever a turn comes up, continue singing the song, but change one of the words to “right” or “left” to let the partner know which way to go. The weaker or lighter person in the front can do a sweep to one side while the partner in the back can do a reverse sweep on the other side which can turn the kayak fairly quickly while stationary. What’s great about a tandem is if you bring a child along for a ride, they don’t have to paddle as long as they sit in the bow allowing the more experienced person with more power in the back.

    With all these tips in mind, the most important thing is to just have fun. Keep the strongest and heaviest person in the back and communication is key, just like marriage. Make sure you both keep the rhythm the same to ensure that your paddles do not clash and make sure that when you turn, one sweeps forward and the other sweeps backward on the other side. This team effort can very well be handled by the stern paddler alone so anyone from a baby to a dog can enjoy kayaking with a front row seat. No matter how difficult it is at the start, paddling in tandem should always be an enjoyable experience with a friend.

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