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The Workout Boat

I once decided to take up roller-blading at an advanced age. Roller
blades are designed, like every athletic device, to catch the buyer
with a multi-layered (and priced) set of qualities. One quality
mentioned by my salesman was bearings. Which type of bearings did I
want? My answer was that since I only wanted the roller blades to help
keep me in shape for cross-country skiing and that going fast was not
my intention, the best bearings would be the ones that didn't roll all
that well.

In a similar vein one could look at a "workout boat" as one that would
give you the maximum physical exertion for minimum exposure. Under
this definition the best workout boat would probably be a marina dock
but it might get boring and raise some concern amongst your family
members about your mental condition. Although, if you are a paddler,
the threshold for that sort of concern is probably pretty high
already. But out of respect for the other denizens of the marina you
might want to try a white water kayak.

A white water kayak has many qualities but going fast in a straight
line isn't one of them. This, in my opinion, makes them excellent
workout boats; you have to work a lot harder to get somewhere than in
practically any other boat. A person can spend hours paddling around
even the smaller lakes getting a good workout and providing
entertainment for the lakeside residents.

Another advantage to white water kayaks is that the evolution of these
critters has caused a distinct over-supply in older models. I have
purchased several somewhat-scratched w/w kayaks for under $300 and I
bought one kayak complete with Werner paddle, spray-skirt, a PFD and
inflatable bags for $200! (The ad for that boat read, "For sale, one
whitewater kayak complete with gear. Only used once". I'm guessing it
wasn't even paddled that much.)

Plastic w/w kayaks are also almost indestructable. It is a fact that
my son's Perception Pirouette (which would be a perfect boat for your
small size) once blew off our car at 50mph, landed nimbly on the
pavement, cruised downstream for a few seconds and then eddied-out
road-right onto the shoulder. Other than a gash or two, we could find
no damage to the boat and he paddles it still.

One downside to paddling a w/w kayak is comfort. Even an older boat
can be a tight fit for a larger person.  On a w/w run the adrenaline
rush from the constant terror can make you forget just how
uncomfortable the boat is but flat water doesn't provide the same
level of distraction. Foot room is crucial. A smaller-frame person
might need foam billets placed in strategic places to make the boat
fit them better. Try before you buy. Smaller kayakers are easier to
fit than larger paddlers and another advantage is that their kayaks
can be lighter. However, being much bigger or much smaller than
"average" can make the hunt for the perfect w/w boat harder.

Still, the more difficult it is to paddle the bettter, right?  :)

I spent an hour in my RPM-Max last Sunday rounding up milfoil at the
front of the lake house and then sprinting down the lake and back.
After spending time in a sea-kayak you can easily forget just how much
fun and nimble these little boats are (and at 9'2" long and almost 26"
wide the RPM-Max is considered to be a big kayak for the w/w crowd).
Every paddle stroke evoked an immediate reaction in both directiom and
speed. You have to be alert to paddle one of these as fast as you can.

The short length is an advantage when it comes to speed feedback. In
my Nimbus the bow wave is usually invisible. In a w/w kayak the bow
wave is generally right in your face. You can reach out and touch it.
It's size serves as your speedometer.

Oh, and no resting. White water kayaks don't coast all that well. If
you don't keep paddling they have a tendency to turn and once they
start turning they are very, very hard to stop turning. But you'll
become adept at keeping it straight because another thing that happens
when a w/w kayak is going fast and then turns quickly is that the
water rolls up onto the deck and tips you over. All good fun!
Especially for the people watching.

Even better for your workout because now you get to roll back upright
and expend whatever energy your skills at rolling require. :)

You mentioned weight. An advantage to using w/w kayaks is their light
weight. The RPM-Max weighs about 40 lbs and carrying it on a shoulder
is easy. And their small size is an advantage in launching from sand
beaches or docks. In fact, I generally get into the kayak on the dock
and nose-off into the water as long as the drop isn't more than a
couple feet. It's always fun to hear the remarks from onlookers who
thought you were just trying it on before putting it into the water.
On a sandy beach you can easily scoot yourself into water deep enough
to paddle away because there is a lot less of the boat behind you to
drag along.

Almost any kayak-classified has at least some of the older
river-running kayaks at variations in prices. An RPM or RPM-Max (one
is slightly smaller than the other and rated to only 180lbs) runs
about $600 used. Older boats range all the way down to $50 or even,
occasionally, free. My son's Perception Pirouette was paddled
comfortably by a mere slip of a girl on the Palouse River one Memorial
Day weekend and they can be had for $200 to $300. I would avoid
anything labeled "play boat" because they tend to be very small and,
because they are currently "in", more expensive. They do offer the
maximum workout for the effort of keeping them straight and fast,

I've written a lot about being hard to paddle, but don't think you
can't actually cruise around in one. Until I bought my Nimbus I used
my RPM to just mooch around the lake. It's easy to paddle at least as
fast as a person can walk and you can sidle into tight places that you
only can look at in a larger boat.

And finally, river-running kayaks are really well suited to... well,
running rivers. If you want to get a little more comfortable with
rough water and fast currents there is no better training ground than
a river. Eddies, surfing waves, holes and current shears are
everywhere. And for anyone who hasn't mastered their roll, a w/w kayak
is easier to learn to roll than almost any sea kayak.

So there you have it. Cheap, durable, light, fun and hard to paddle.
Perfection in a workout boat. :)

Craig Jungers
Royal City, WA