Difference between sea kayaking & wwk.it

Hi: Could anyone tell me the difference between sea kayaking and white water kayaking? Specifically, I am wondering if learning or trying white water kayaking would help me to improve my sea kayak paddle strokes or would it just mess me up. My personal kayak is a 16.5 Tsunami. The one time I was in a ww kayak was in a pool, and all I did was spin around in circles. :frowning: I have been wanting to head out to Zoar Outdoor in Western, MA to give their ww kayak school a try. I have to admit, ww kayaking looks like it would be quite a bit of fun, although very different than paddling my giant kayak in the ocean or on lakes.

Go for it …
Once you try moving water you will be hooked.

It helps a lot
You learn to paddle better for starters. What the spinning in circles was telling you was that your forward stroke is not efficient. It is just that you aren’t being so penalized for it in a longer boat. And you are more likely to be in a group of people who consider a roll to be not-optional. In fact all it usually takes is a couple of times down your first class 2 to figure that out yourself. It is sooo much easier to roll than to have to be rescued off a damned rock that you can’t figure out how to get off without some help.

And if you ever paddle anywhere there is significant tidal influence, like around the openings of river that go out to the sea, what you learn in class II whitewater is right on the mark for what you need to do in a sea kayak in the tidal zones. This is a terribly under-prepared area for a lot of long boaters. They often find out there is a gap in their skills when they end up on vacation somewhere with serious tidal influence and are unable to get back to where they started. It is not a comfortable feeling.

It is also kind of fun to go out in a WW boat because everything is so scaled down from lugging around the boat and gear for open water.


– Last Updated: Mar-21-14 2:21 PM EST –

All that Ceila said I have personally experienced too. Started with flat water kayaking, then picked up white water. Rolling and bracing in WW become second nature and transfer to sea kayaking very well. WW shortened my learning period for balance and bracing and rolling considerably. And these days I do more ww than flat water - just toss the Axiom in the hatchback and go (no racks, no straps, easy to carry down to the put-in, and usually more fun on the water...)

Preferences vary, obviously, but

– Last Updated: Mar-21-14 2:58 PM EST –

If it looks interesting, you should definitely give it a go. I also started out doing exclusively sea kayaking and now rarely do anything but river paddling, not because I dislike sea kayaking, but due to simple convenience. If you like ocean kayaking, I think there's a good chance you'll enjoy river paddling. Fundamentally, they're really not that different (and there's no rule against taking your sea kayak out on the river).

And yes, river paddling will definitely help your sea kayaking and shouldn't interfere with your existing stroke repertoire. Celia is spot-on with respect to the benefits of river paddling in developing your skills in tidal environments, not only with respect to boat control and strokes, but also your ability to read moving water.

The one small quibble I have is that I don't necessarily agree that spinning out a WW boat indicates a lack of efficiency in your forward stroke in the abstract, but rather simply that you haven't yet learned to adapt to the most efficient stroke for a much smaller, turn-ier boat. Assuming you have a good forward stroke now, you will almost certainly learn to adapt it quickly.

l may have overshot that…
l was responding to the sense that the oper didn’t seem to grab what was wrong with the stroke in the ww boat quickly. But you are right - that is not necessarily the same as their stroke being inefficient in a longer boat

great answer
Celia, thanks for the great response.

I agree about form
I switch from WW boats to touring boats regularly, the only thing that can screw me up is edging in steering, WW boats lean into the turn to edge, opposite of touring edging.

WW padding often has a higher cadence interrupted by catches and altered strokes that really teach good form quickly. Bad form is often punished just as quickly.

The differences feel bigger at first
With practice, paddling either one in a straight line will feel normal. But a WW boat definitely is harder to keep tracking when you first try it.

I’m not even going to try to answer your first question. As for the second question, taking a WW class will not “screw up” your stroke. If anything, it should help you, because the boats are inherently more sensitive (or less forgiving) to asymmetry in your stroke or your sitting position.

The only thing that might be screwy-uppy is that you’re adding more people telling you how to do things, and even within one discipline you’ll already get differing and sometimes opposing advice!

I just tried a sea kayak for the first
time back in November. I found the switch from ww to be a humbling experience. I started off in one of cast offs sea kayak’s and right away ended up swimming at the access point while trying to get a feel for the edges. In the sea kayak I felt like I had to keep my weight centered in the middle of the boat for any sense of stability, and from my perspective the boat only wanted to go straight- not turn, but I was amazed at the forward progress I could make even in windy conditions and how light the boats were, given their length. I liked it and will give it go again. It may be some time before I’m ready for open water.

I think the most important aspect of either paddling experience is risk assessment- identifying and understanding the hazards that each new environment imposes and planning accordingly.

Nothing wrong with commercial outfits for ww instruction, although I like the club clinic route. While the instruction may not be as good, you would be more likely to meet other potential paddling partners, and get additional support for follow up sessions at a pool or on a beginners trip. I’d check for local ww clubs or groups in your area.

BTW, Zoar is a great place to start
I have gotten over to the Deerfirld with a group a couple or three times. There were some alterations after Irene, but reports are that it is still a great training run taught by good people. I can say that all of the folks I saw in their classes (we were in a club clinic) seemed to be having a great time.

There are some iconic smaller smaller family run hotels around there if you don’t want to camp. Don’t expect the Hilton, but we like funky.

Different enough not to mess you up IMO
May help some, but the way the boats are steered and react to paddling is different enough that you won’t be confused between them. After a long hard paddle in each type of boat, while there is a lot of overlap it is a different set of muscles that will be tired.

I have yet another take on the spinning in circles. In a touring boat, you point the boat and paddle to move it in that direction. In a whitewater boat, you stick the paddle in the water ahead of you and pull on it as if it were fixed, placing your feet where they need to be next. Sounds odd, but when I approach it that way I find a ww boat much easier to control.

I’ll just add
that WW paddling is more technical, in that you must frequently make adjustments, execute your strokes with more precision (and timing), and move your body as one with the boat. All that is excellent training for those moments in sea kayaking where you suddenly find yourself in conditions that require precise boat handling.

Anything you do wrong in a short WW kayak is amplified because the boat has (usually) a rounded bottom and no keel. If you have an unbalanced stroke, you will, as you point out, spin in circles. The length and the keel of sea kayaks help the boat resist forces that turn the boat (but it doesn’t eliminate them - following seas or those times when you are on the top of a wave/swell when the hull has reduced contact with the water will reveal imbalances fairly dramatically).

In short, WW kayaking should enhance, not detract from your skills.


Disagree a bit
A good paddle stroke does not change regardless of boat. In all boats, if your paddle is still actively in the water behind your hip, it’ll draw the stern of the boat that way and cause the bow to head in the opposite of the desired direction. In all boats, if you are entering the water with more of a sweep angle stroke than a straight one, it’ll affect the direction of the bow and rob energy from the power phase of the stroke.

The difference is in how responsive the boat is to those habits. In a long boat, especially a less rockered one, its tendency to go straight is such that you can make a bunch of smaller mistakes and not notice it except for some loss of power and forward speed.

In a whitewater boat, it responds much faster to all of these errors. If it is a playboat rather than the higher volume creekers, it will respond faster to the body going off center than a lot of long boats. A lot of folks getting into WW now are doing it creekers or more protective river runners, rather than the smaller playboats that were favored when the new paddlers were a younger population than now.

By planting the paddle aggressively forward in the WW boat, you are probably shortening the distance that the paddle will be drawn back behind your hip. I suspect the way you are thinking about it also creates a straighter draw back, rather than the kinda-sweep kinda-straight stroke that is a common habit in longer boats because of all the automatic corrections for wind and waves.

But a forward stroke is a forward stroke. It is just that the combination of smaller WW boas and pushier water tells you about your mistakes a lot faster than in a leisurely paddle in a long boat.

I agree that the muscles that hurt can be different after each type of paddle, but when I was on my game I often found the difference in my core muscles. I could get lazy on a long paddle in the sea kayak and do some minor barcalounging. Even in my dicier smaller boat we have enough miles that I can relax and let the boat handle a lot of issues. But in a WW boat, because the water is constantly pushing me around, I can’t laze down the river.

Shallow water more dangerous
Generally shallow water (with a current) is more dangerous that deep water. Going far off shore is more dangerous than being close to shore.

As always, it boils down to conditions.

The ww boats I paddled spun on a dime
With a nickel in change ;->

Pointing the boat had little bearing (pun intended) on where I was headed. I moved my body where it needed to be and the boat came with it. In touring or even rec boats, where the boat is pointed has significantly more impact on where I am headed and like you, I have found I can get away with being a little lazier sometimes. I can coast a little here and there, skipping a stroke or two and still maintain my heading or very nearly so.

The “plant the paddle and move your feet” advice often worked for people who were having trouble steering a ww boat, but I am very aware that it is just a way of thinking about it and that you could watch me do it and point out that most of my strokes are still fairly standard forward strokes. Thinking this way just helps keep the core engaged.

Sea vs. WW

– Last Updated: Mar-24-14 11:38 AM EST –

IMO both compliment each other quite well. I'm a better sea kayaker for being a better than average ww paddler as well.

1. My roll has been bombproofed from being upside down in many situations in ww. This translates into surfing on big water in my sea kayak. I can push the envelope more when I'm "playing" in rough stuff. It is also interesting watching some of our strongest club ww boaters fail on their first roll attempts in a sea kayak. The skill is the same, but their brain tells them they have to try harder in a bigger boat. One of our boaters skillfully ww boats the Gauley River and gets nervous anytime she tries to roll a sea kayak.

2. Along with #1, my bracing has has gotten a lot stronger from being in a ww boat, ideally if you don't end up upside down you're better off than having to roll. I can't tell you the number of times I instinctually brace on open water from my time in a ww boat.

3. My paddle stoke in ww is strengthened by my time in a sea kayak. I can attain and catch eddies my ww friends only dream of catching. I compare sea kayaking and ww to sprinting vs. marathon running. Whenever we take my ww friends out in a sea kayak they are gassed in a heartbeat. On moving water their prime concern is the sprint to the next eddy or riding the next line. In a sea kayak they have wind, waves and distance to contend with. Their form usually crumbles within an hour and they are not used to the longer stretches of paddling. I've towed several ww friends home when they've wanted to try out long boats.

4. I ferry all the time in my sea kayak, Ferrying isn't a ww specific skill. Sometimes it's when using my sea kayak on a bigger river, sometimes it's in a rocky area with surf plunging in and out. I also catch eddies all the time in my big boat. I was at a symposium once and we were ferrying between two breakwalls with a slight current, 99% of the sea kayakers in the class had no idea how to ferry. I slipped between the two breakwalls with barely a paddle stroke and by maintaining my angle and edge.

5. My boat control from being in a ww boat only help me in my sea kayak. Holding my edge in a long crossing or surfing into shore are all translatable skills to ww. I also love surfing and carving waves on bigger rivers in my sea kayak. Sometimes this water can be pretty pushy and having a stronger paddle stroke allows me to reach the wave. Exiting a beach with breaking surf, is like attaining in a ww boat, paddle like hell.

Just a few thoughts.

"Ferrying isn’t a WW specific skill"
Yup, and neither is edging on the inside of the turn. Best to think more of water forces and conditions than what labels of boats.

But I think there is another factor at work, namely that of familiarity with the type of moving water the paddler started in first. The environment.

My first combat roll was in ocean surf, then tidal river–both of them in a sea kayak–and only then in a freshwater river. Since I could roll both my sea kayak and my WW kayak equally well in flat water, and since the water was much “bigger” in the sea locations than in the freshwater river, I think the hold-up for me was more psychological than anything else. After that, the mental hurdle got downsized. Not eliminated, just downsized. I may never get rid of the lurking image of one-way nontidal river current sweeping me awaaaaaay past any bailouts. There is something about knowing that waves go back and forth, and tidal flows reverse, that makes it easier for me to deal with those.

Eddies are good :wink:

I thought that was an odd comment also
I don’t know anyone who does any serious touring who can’t ferry. It’s a basic skill to safely navigate a lot of inlets, especially if there are jetties and other structures.

that paragraph reminded me
Of one of my first ocean lessons, kept me out of open water for a long time. His favorite catch phrase was “laugh at the ocean and it will kill you”.