5 tips on how to row a tandem kayak

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One of the best things about kayaking is the freedom it gives you, Being in the water is an extremely pleasurable feeling because you feel at one with nature and the kayak gives you the ability to enjoy it even more.

You have the option of a solo kayak or a tandem kayak. Most paddling enthusiasts will tell you that it is easier to paddle a solo kayak than in tandem.  When you paddle with 2 or more people, your synergy has to be well aligned otherwise you’ll find it very difficult to paddle together.

Tandem kayaks are wider and therefore more stable and are great for beginners. They also allow you to achieve great distances because you have two people rowing the boat thus more power.

So, how can you make sure that you’re able to enjoy the experience when you are paddling a tandem kayak?

 

1. Decide who sits where.

The rule of thumb is that the more powerful person takes the back seat. If you are, for example, paddling with a child or someone who is physically not as strong as you are, then they should take the front position. This is because the person at the back has the responsibility of correcting any directional changes as well as steering the kayak. Most of the forward propelling motion actually comes from the person at the back.

Other factors to consider when deciding who sits where is the weight, one’s preference, how practical it is, and how you’ll be able to keep harmony while paddling.  Those with the most experience tend to sit behind because they are the ones who can tell the direction of the boat, and make the necessary decisions while paddling.

If you do not balance the weight well, it can bring some problems. The best way is to have a little more weight in the rear, due to the design of some kayaks; someone with a lot of weight cannot sit in the front. The bow should be lighter than the stern although this also depends on the type of weather you are paddling in, if you’re paddling in strong winds, then it is better to have more weight at the front.

It also depends on the activities you are doing while on the kayak. If for example, the idea is to go fishing, then the person who will be doing the fishing should sit at the bow leaving the one at the stern to handle the boat.

 

2.  How to position the paddle.

A kayak paddle, unlike a canoe paddle, normally has a long shaft with a rowing blade attached to one end. Place the paddle across the kayak when not in use, and when in use, make sure you rock your grip along the shaft to dip it into the water and pull through a current.

Choose paddles that are similar if you will be paddling together, there are different shapes and designs to choose from, whether flat or curved, ribbed or smooth.  The concave and smooth side depending on the design you choose is the power face. The power face determines the amount of power you get with each stroke and you need to keep the power face facing you. Think about it this way, look at your hand, while keeping your fingers and thumb together slightly curve it, that is the face of the puddle. To pull through the water, the carved face needs to work with the current of the water.

You also have the option of asymmetrical or symmetrical patterns. This will affect how the water flows. Symmetrical blades are the best when using vertical strokes. If you’re going for a lower angle stroke, then you should use the asymmetrical blades. For the asymmetrical paddles, the top edge is normally slightly longer than the bottom.

With your arms at a position slightly wider than the shoulder width, grip the paddle. Using a sweeping motion, move the left paddle at a downward angle into the water and out again. Follow this by moving the right paddle in a sweeping motion so that it does the same as the left thus giving you a complete stroke.  Each person should practice before you actually set off into the water. This allows you to become more aligned in the rhythm and gives you a chance to get used to the movement. Only when you feel comfortable should you start to coordinate your paddling motions.

 

3.  Agree on which side to start on.

Decide between the two of you which side you will start paddling on and then start in a synchronized manner sweeping the paddles as you did when you are practicing. The person at the front sets the pace of the paddling and the one at the back needs to synchronize their movements to those of the one in front.

 

4. Watch your timing on the forward strokes.

If you do not match your strokes you will end up zigzagging across the lake or river. There is also the possibility of tangling your paddles or hitting each other if you do not move the paddles at the same time and in the same direction. This is because the space between the paddlers in a kayak is small when you compare it to the space between the paddlers in a canoe. It is therefore important that you master how to do the strokes, and these include;

Who has control of the rhythm?

Setting up rhythm is up to the paddler who is in the front. This makes the most sense because he or she cannot see behind but the one behind can follow what the one in the front does. The one in the front should not try to steer the kayak because it will not have any impact and may end up messing up with the rhythm of the paddler at the back.

If they synchronize their movements, there will be no tangling or hitting of each other with the paddles. The kayak will also be able to go straight. If it starts to veer, the one at the back needs to synchronize his or her movements better with the one in front. He or she also has the added function of using a more powerful stroke forward in the opposite direction to that which you want to go. So, if the boat is veering left, take a powerful stroke on the left to correct the error.

Who should make the course corrections?

When the direction requires any correction, the kayaker at the rear or stern should do it. A strong forward stroke in the opposite direction may be all you need while other times you may need to use reverse or backstroke on the side you want to go. Once you’re done with making the correction, try and synchronize your movements again to the movements of the paddler in front of you.

If you have a rudder on your kayak, it’ll help you run straight as well as make light course corrections. However, if you need to turn the kayak around you will find that you’ll achieve more by working together than when you use the rudder.

Co-ordinate your turns.

If you need to change direction, the front paddler should swing the paddle in a forward motion while the one at the back does a reverse motion.

 

Final thoughts.

Tandem kayaks are a great way to have fun with another person while on a kayaking trip. This can be a friend, a spouse, or a child, just to name a few.  The fact that you have someone else along for the trip will let you have someone to talk to and you can also be able to achieve great distances because you’ll have someone helping you paddle. This reduces the fatigue that comes with a solo kayak.

However, you need to be able to talk to the person you are paddling with because you do not have the freedom to do as you wish. If you cannot agree, for example, on the direction, you will find yourself going round in circles because for the boat to move forward you have to have synchronized actions. It can also lead to frustration if you both cannot agree. Remember, even if you are the better kayaker, you should not impose your ideas upon the other person. Talk through things and make the decisions together so that you can have a more pleasurable trip.

Tandem kayaking also allows beginners to learn how to kayak because they will have someone with experience to take them on the trip. It is also a great way to teach teamwork because the only way you can achieve movement and enjoyment out of the whole experience is to work as a team.

However, with the right mindset and the right technique and the right equipment, you will have a great time, and using our five tips above you will not have any problems when you go on a tandem kayaking trip.

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About Author

Steve has been into sports all his life. As a young boy, he started with swimming; this only propelled him into more water sports. When he tried kayaking, the thrill captivated him and now, it is his favorite sport. As a ranger, Steve is always in the outdoors where he likes it. He became a ranger right after college. He is married and has three kids whom he loves going to expeditions with. When he is not at work or with his family, he loves writing. He is now the lead blogger at Tandem Kayak Report, always writing about his passion.

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