Saturday, December 25, 2010

A reflection on advances, innovation in the outdoor and kayak -industry...

Blowing the dust off the (more than 20 year) old set of Cross-country skis some days ago, I remembered a blogpost about "innovation" I started to write 2 years ago. For some reason, I never finished and published that post. The intention was to write a few words about the internal struggle in dealing with the fascination for "new" ideas - especially when it is "gear/equipment-related". On the one hand I am a gadget freak, early adaptor: interested in new technology - always one of the first to play around with new stuff (the SNS binding on XC-skis, the self-inflating Therm-a-rest, suspension and click-pedals on the MTB, the first series Garmin GPS, the first series PDA/pocket-computers (remember the Psion in the early 90's?), the Waterproof Digicam - this list is endless...). On the other hand I can also be pretty conservative. I appreciate good quality stuff that functions for a long period. Once happy with some good piece of equipment I usually stick to it. I don't easily swap to something new. This can grow pretty extreme: like the old ice skates - which I bought at the age of 16 and I have used 30 years...

In the perfect winter 2 years ago, I rented a pair of modern Nordic skates and discovered that, for an occasional ice skater like me, the Nordics are a far more better choice. The comfort and handling of the Nordic Skates were a revelation. OK: on a closed track, on perfect ice and a short distance I am able to squeeze out a few kmh extra top-speed on the classic racing skates. But on everything longer than 400 meter, on natural ice I am faster with the Nordic Skates. And finally I skate with painfree feet and ankles! Totally convinced by this experience and with sweet memories of all the tours I made with my old skates, I swapped to the Nordic skates. I regretted afterwards I didn't make this decision years earlier...

In the blogpost of 2 years ago I made a parallel with kayaking and compared the skate-story with a similar experience in kayaking: I discovered that I paddled faster and more confident and comfortable in a modern touring-surfski than in my old competition-racing K1.

A quote from the draft of the blogpost 2 years ago:
The run with the K1-racer reminded me of my skating experiences earlier this year. Just like my old speed-skates the kayak is a twenty years old design made for competition racing. Made for speed, not for (any) comfort. Trained athletes don't bother and just go for maximum performance on the racetrack. Recreational/incidental sporters in suboptimal conditions put a lot of energy in stability and hardly manage in the beginning to perform a proper technique in this kind of specialized gear.

Comparing designs with different goals is not fair. The point to make is: look around, be open for new developments and don't mind crossing borders.

And now to the sea kayakers: that's a quit conservative community in the Netherlands. To some extend I appreciate that: it's good to see that some classic design still perform great, that you don't have to paddle with the latest stuff to have fun, happy not to follow every hype.
But what I regret to see to often:
  • beginners struggling in old second-hand Baidarka's and Nordkapps - great kayaks, but it's so much more fun to get into the sports with an easier handling and more forgiving kayak;
  • the (older) paddler squeezing himself in a small cockpit - the modern keyhole cockpit makes life much easier;
  • smaller persons with dated paddles: too long, too big (blades), too heavy - even in Dutch shops also paddles shorter than 215 cm are available and a solid paddle doesn't need to weight a kilo nowadays...
  • experienced paddlers with old bleached-out PFD's - it's not only that modern PFD's are far more ergonomic and offer more freedom in movement, but it's also a safety issue: ever wondered what 10 years exposure to UV and salt-water does to foam and nylon?
Btw: I still enjoy experimenting in the old K1 and I have good fun these days with the vintage XC-skis (though I do regret that the shoes of my Nordic skates don't match with the bindings on my skis... ;-)


michielv said...

Hi Hans,

Just a thought: I recently replaced my old Struer CleaverX with a modern design (Vadja Accelero) and although the Accelero is a lot smaller it is much more stable.

So I guess your experience with the modern surfski being much stabler is similar.

BTW: I do feel that it is better to learn to paddle in a less stable kajak like an SK or something. If you can manage that any touring boat is a piece of cake and it also provides a good start for getting into a racing K1 if you want to.

But then again, I'm really old school in this ;-)



Daqua said...

Innovation beyond paddling:

G'day from Aotearoa New Zealand; Your thoughts on kayak sailing?
I'm designer of Kayaqua~Kayaks start up business. Will be playaking new yak in couple of days but not with sail yet. Sail is 4 sq meter spinnaker with one handed control to gybe. Average speeds on test yaks 15kmh and wind speed surfing. Planning on a 100 km distance speed test later and also to develop formula one style outrigger designs with mainsail etc.