The Evolution of the Beginner Boat - 09-Oct-00
by Eric "EJ" Jackson
What are Reguired Qualities of a Good Beginner's Boat?

Stability: A good beginner's boat should be wide enough to give the beginner a stable platform. A narrow boat is difficult to keep right side up, and the more beginners have to worry about flipping, the slower they will learn. What's an ideal width? That depends on the paddler's size: generally speaking, 23" - 24" for paddlers 90 - 120 pounds, 24" - 25" for 120 - 180 pounds; and 25" - 26" for 180 pounds and over. These widths work well without hindering the ability to roll.
Easy to Control: Shorter is easier. It takes real skill to paddle some of yesterday's older (longer) designs in and out of eddies and so forth. Look at snow skis. If you gave a beginner a set of 250cm skis and told them just to point them downhill because the superior speed would help them make the critical moves, you'd be laught of the hill. A boat that maneuvers easily is easier to paddle, and the easier it maneuvers, the easier it is to make the moves. Period.
The Right Hull: The best beginners boats such as the X and Z, have plaining hulls instead of displacement hulls. Plaining hulls surf better, their learning curve is much easier, and they're easier to make the moves in.
What Moves Must Beginners Master and What Hull Will Help Them?

The beginning paddler has to master three critical moves: peel outs, eddy outs, and ferries. As the length of a boat increases, the leverage the water has against it increases by an exponential factor of three: twice as long, eight times the difficulty to maneuver. And displacement hulls grab the water much more than plaining hulls. The result is that a shorter, plaining hull has much more margin for error when crossing eddylines. In fact, plaining hulls were designed to slide sideways. At the Wilderness Tours School of Kayaking on the Ottawa, we had a fleet that was roughly half new school and half old school. Our new school boats were the X and Z. By day three of every beginner clinic, everybody wanted to paddle the X and Z. Why? They saw that the people paddling them weren't flipping nearly as much, and were making their moves - and those boats were considered competition-only craft not so long ago. The beginner who learns in a plaining hull boat will have three times the skill of a person who begins in a displacement hull boat at the end of a year. Hole surfing is popular now because the new-school boats make it easier and less abusive. Almost all extreme paddling is being done in new-school boats because it's easier to make the critical moves.
I still compete in slalom racing at the highest levels, so I know all about longer boats. They are horrible for everything but going straight and fast - and the longer they are, the more skill it takes to paddle them. What are they good for? Downriver racing. If you're into inflicting lots of abuse on yourself, by all means paddle a old-school longer boat. If you're into serious fun, paddle a modern plaining hull boat. EJ
Source: Wave Sport

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