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Equipment

Image of Whitewater Paddle Image of Slalom Blade
Whitewater Paddle
Slalom Blade
Image of Touring Paddle Image of Racing Wings
Touring Paddle
Racing Wings

Paddles

Your paddles are one of the most personal pieces of kit that you'll choose. There are lots of different types of paddles available, whether they're touring blades (long, thin, light blades), slalom blades (with a large surface area and lightweight construction), whitewater paddles (built for durability) or even racing wings (designed purely for paddling forwards, racing wings have a lip along the top of the paddle to stop water spilling over the sides of the blade).

When you've decided which paddles you want, you've got to decide how to get them set up. Paddles vary a lot in length - the old trick of standing them up and curling your fingers over the top doesn't really work any more. White water paddlers tend to favour shorter paddles while flat water paddlers prefer longer shafts. Also, if you're getting a kayak paddle, you need to decide on what you want. Feather is the angle between the two blades - paddles were traditionally set a t 90 degrees to each other so it's easier to paddle into the wind. Now, though, people are realising that it's easier on your wrist strain is to use cranked paddles (paddles with a bend in the shaft), which line your wrists up more ergonomically.

There are loads of different materials that paddles can be made from, and they'll suit all budgets, ranging from plastic to carbon fibre.

Image of Helmet

Helmet

Though you don't need to wear a helmet in a lot of branches of paddlesport, there are other disciplines where it's essential. First of all, check that the helmet has got a CE certification mark. This means that it's been tested and approved for whitewater use. Next make sure it's a good fit. It should be snug on your head, but not so tight it's uncomfortable. If it's fitting properly, it'll cover your forehead and come down to just above your eyebrows. It's very important to wear a helmet on whitewater or surf to protect your head from rocks if you capsize. Canoe players also wear helmets with specially fitted faceguards to protect them from other players' paddles.

Image of Competition Jacket Image of River Running Jacket
Competition Jacket
River Running Jacket

Buoyancy Aid

A buoyancy aid (BA) is your best friend if you do swim from your boat. It makes it far easier to stay on the water's surface and get yourself to safety.

Most buoyancy aids fit like a jacket or a vest. They're filled with very buoyant foam and are designed not to come off in a turbulent river. Look for the CE certification mark to show that the BA had been subjected to rigorous tests. Different vests have different amounts of flotation, depending on what they're designed for. A low profile competition vest will have less buoyancy that a river running jacket.

One other thing to look for on a BA is a harness. If you're planning on doing any river leading or rescues, a harness allows you to clip yourself into a rope system.

Image of Shoes

Shoes

Whenever you go paddling, you should make sure you're wearing shoes; they'll protect your feet and stop you getting cuts and bruises. Make sure that you tuck away your shoelaces so they can't get caught on anything. If you really get into canoeing you can buy special neoprene shoes to keep your feet warm.

Image of Spraydeck

Spray Deck

You wear a spraydeck round your waist and use it to seal the cockpit on your boat. They can be made of nylon or neoprene - neoprene decks keep you drier, but are also more expensive and more difficult to release than nylon decks. Before you venture out with a spraydeck, make sure you know how to release and get out of your boat if you capsize.

Image of Throwline

Throwline

Throwlines are bags full of floating rope that can be thrown to paddlers in difficulty, letting you pull them back in to the bank with the rope. They tend to hold 15-25m of rope. Make sure that there aren't any knots or handles on the rope that could snag, and make sure you carry a knife in case you need to cut the line. It's a good idea to get training to show you how to use a throwline safely.

Image of Cag Image of Cag

Cag

A 'cag' is the British name for the waterproof jacket that paddlers wear. You can buy all sorts of cags, from £30 to £300, but they all do a similar thing. The cheaper models keep the wind off and, to a varying extent, keep the water out. The more expensive models are breathable, have waterproof latex seals at the collar and cuffs and have a twin seal waist system to stop water draining into your boat.

Image of Trousers Image of Trousers

Trousers/Shorts

Legwear is less important, because most of the time it's in your boat. That said, a good sleeveless wetsuit or neoprene trousers or, if it's summer, a pair of neoprene shorts, will make a world of difference. In really cold conditions, a lot of paddlers choose to wear dry trousers.

Boat

Your final item of clothing is your boat. That may sound strange, but you'll find paddling a lot more enjoyable if it fits you. That means that the boat's got to be the right size (it it's too small or two big, you'll find it hard to control). It also means it's got to fit you. If it's a kayak, make sure that the footrests are the right distance to give you a snug, comfortable fit. Also, if there's a backrest, make sure it's supportive and tight so you don't slump down in your seat - placid water boats don't have backrests, but all whitewater boats do. If you're in a whitewater boat, it's also worth taping in a pair of hip-pads to make sure you don't slide around in the boat.

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