Friday, April 29, 2011

Drifter vs. Driver

There are lots of different ways to categorize kayakers. When it comes to river running, I think you can divide everyone into one of two camps: Drifters or Drivers. Some folks like to drift down the rapids, making corrections when needed but not moving with a lot of speed. These are typically the playboaters - they are used to moving slowly and using the river features to push them where they want to go. When I first started kayakers one of my mentors who I followed down many a river was a drifter - normally in his playboat regardless of how hard the run was. Following behind him I would struggle to be as patient and not run him over in my creek boat.

I recently was following him down a river he first led me on years ago and once again realized that without a thought I was charging past him. But this time I didn't try to slow down and imitate his line - I am a driver and that is how I enjoy paddling and what works best for me. Drivers don't constantly charge all out but they keep moving actively with a blade in the water, keeping the boat on line instead of having to make adjustments. It's just a different style, no better or worse, but a good thing to know about yourself.

I've seen many people try to copy other boaters, those they perceive as better. I've done it myself. But at some point you need to be your own paddler and understand how you should do things for yourself. It's fine to learn from others but make it many others - try to watch a lot of different good boaters and see what makes them good. Go ahead and try both styles and see what feels right and what gives you better results. Don't be afraid to mix it up when you can but when you get into serious water (whatever that is for you) then you are better off playing your best card and using your strongest style.

Villain on the left; Hero right
Another good reason to know if you are a Drifter or a Driver is to get the boat that complements your style. Planing hulls are generally slower downriver but can carve and steer easier; displacement hulls require more constant paddling to stay online and more work to correct but reward you with more speed and better tracking. Of course most creek boats are a blend of the two concepts but will lean more towards one than the other. I recently took a short break from my Villain (semi-displacement) to try out the new Hero (planing). While I was quite impressed with the Hero and paddled it fine - it just wasn't as natural for me (full review). I'm much more comfortable in my faster, rounder boat. And that comfort and naturalness translates to better paddling whatever your style.

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