I never thought much about carrying my kayak because it was something that my peers in the sport have always expected of me. My understanding from the start was that I needed to be able to carry my kayak by myself if I wanted to participate in the sport. When I first started teaching women I held that same expectation for my students. I remember feeling amazed at the fact that some women really struggled with carrying their own kayaks. I wasn’t very aware of how the different physical make-up, age, history of each student and weight of the boat could affect their ability to carry their kayaks.
Now that I’m older and more experienced I’m more willing to admit that the boats are pretty heavy, especially creek boats, and that the ability to carry a kayak can be a barrier to entry for some people, especially older women. I’m also more sensitive to how carrying my boat affects my posture and my body alignment. Shouldering a 40 lbs boat for years can create pain and misalignment in the body. For people who come to the sport with previous injuries, carrying can be very challenging. Unfortunately the impacts of carrying kayaks is rarely discussed within the sport of whitewater. Mostly, I think, because paddlers feel that it’s something they have to do to be successful. And, it is to a certain extent, but perhaps we can soften to be more inclusive of new and diverse paddlers.
Yes, if you’re a class IV-V paddler you need to be able to carry your own boat for obvious reasons. Fair enough. I suggest paying attention to your alignment when you’re carrying on one shoulder. Try to keep your spine and hips as straight as possible. Don’t sacrifice your body to keep up with others. If you know you need more time to hike in then start earlier than everyone else. Don’t be stubborn about switching shoulders half way. You may feel cool at the time, but as you get older you’re body will revolt. You can also explore carrying your boat on your head or using a pack for really long hikes on expeditions.
If you’re a class II/III boater that paddles Rivers that have easy access there’s no reason why you shouldn’t ask for help if you need it. Double carrying your kayak is a great way to get to the river. I know that most older women I teach prefer to double carry. I would rather they double carry and enjoy kayaking than decide that they don’t want to kayak at all because they can’t carry their boat and feel that it’s absolutely expected of them. One advantage of double carrying is that it’s easy on the body. If you can carry your boat on one shoulder, place a piece of foam, sponge or your PFD strap between the boat and your shoulder to alleviate any pain. And if you feel like you’re struggling right now when you carry your boat, know that it does get easier the more you do it. It build strength and stamina that will also help you on the water.
I do push my students to carry their own boats because it gives the paddler more freedom to move around and get where they want to go without having to wait on others. It also gives paddlers, especially beginners, an idea of what the sport entails and what level of physical strength can be developed. However, I’m much more available and willing to help students who are struggling. And I don’t expect them to carry their own boats at all times. I feel like there’s a balance I can strike between encouraging my students to carry their own boats and allowing them to enjoy kayaking without feeling the pressure of having to be proficient at it right away. Awareness, compassion and understanding are key to inviting and encouraging new paddlers into our sport. And this is one area where we can help beginners feel more at ease.