Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Crystal and the physics of kayaking

I went kayaking last weekend! Never thought I would kayak because a) the kayaks look like flimsy, non-reliable contraptions of doom and b) I have very miserable hand strength. I struggle with sealed water bottle caps…yes it is that bad.

But then I met Buck’s friend Chip. Chip is in his 50s (or 60s?), very active, athletic and enthusiastic about kayaking. He convinced me to give it a try and I thought okay, it can’t be that bad. I have rowed a boat in Powai or somewhere in Mumbai and I can swim albeit frog style. So I should be able to handle it. Happily I agreed and made my way to a kayaking lesson.

Chip of course was very excited and when we got to his house, we were confronted with 3 kayaks locked and loaded on top of his Jetta. How do you fit 3 kayaks on a medium sized 4-door car you ask? Apparently you need some basic knowledge of trigonometry, a little bit of integration and derivatizing and then multiply the whole thing with Plank’s constant to get a unique number that does not appear in the Fibonacci sequence. So obviously it is yellow, green and white from left to right, left and right being relative terms which you can figure out using Einstein’s constant of relativity. It is good to know all the constants, it evens out all the equations and stabilizes them. Man, was I glad I took all those math and physics classes or we would have never headed out to the water. Then to remember the order in which the Kayaks go on the car Chip came up with an acronym. Of course later on we forgot the acronym, so then we had to come up with another acronym to remember the first one. It is all very hazy now.

Lesson 1: Getting into the kayak.

Yeah, it starts there. How do you get into a wobbly kayak that is more tipsy than Jack Sparrow at 10 in the morning? First you take a journey through time and go back to the buoyancy lessons you took in the physics class. Multiply the kayak with the buoyancy constant to make the kayak stable and then leap ‘crouching tiger hidden slip disk’ style and aim to land straight into the kayak cockpit. If you try this, let me know how it worked out for you. Then you find your center of gravity which is usually right under your butt. Now it is time to bid good bye to land sweet land and make way to the watery grave.

Lesson 2: Rowing

Apparently you do not need hand strength to row a kayak if you are doing it correctly. The stroke requires you to use the abdominal and back muscles. I know what you are thinking. An ab workout in the middle of a lake? Where do I sign up?

It is pretty much like learning to ride a bike. You balance the kayak with your knees, if the wave tips the kayak to the right you lift your right knee which is wedged against the kayak side to lift it up. The trick is to not over compensate, coz once you get into a pendulum swing the sin theta will increase and what that means in layman terms is that you are about to swim with the fishes.

So that also brings up the other problem of rowing. The oar is held the same way one would hold a balancing stick on the tight rope. Then without bending the elbows too much you begin to row. To row correctly you need to swing your torso side to side. The problem with that is …you have to move the upper torso. Once you find your center of gravity, you don’t want to mess with the posture too much. So that’s the challenge. Add to that, an uneven strength in the strokes depending on whether one is righty or lefty. I being righty, the kayak kept steering to the left. So navigating was an added challenge.

I kept venturing out in the center of the lake because I felt the water was steadier there as compared to the water’s edge which had more of the ripples and waves. However, I realized that it was a very bad idea for a n00b to do that. Thankfully, my beginners luck spared me the agony of toppling into the water. However, Buck wasn’t as lucky. His kayak took a bad turn with gargantuan sin theta values and Buck was water bound. The important thing is not to panic. Even when you can’t feel the ground beneath your feet, which Buck didn’t. So now there was the task to get Buck ashore and tow the kayak and oar to the shore. Buck pretty much had to swim to the shore because we weren’t familiar with techniques of getting back into the kayak in the middle of the lake. Plus the gravitational constant is too high for you to do crouching tiger. Add to that Newton’s second and third law of motion. Buck as a result was left with little or no thrust.

I will stick with the shore next time.

Surprisingly Buck didn’t get psyched out by the dupki he took in the water and went for another round of kayaking. I on the other hand called it a day.

Lesson 3 is in July.

Meanwhile I found these videos of kayaking on you tube. Simply amazing. Hope you guys will get excited about kayaking after reading this post and put all your physics and math skills to test.


Joy Forever said...

Must have been quite an experience for you! I also went to the seaside this weekend, but thankfully I did not have to get into the water. I had an option of testing my physics knowledge by riding the roller coaster and the free fall rides at a nearby amusement park where my nephew's birthday party was being held, but found my faith in physics faltering trying to calculate the G's and the mu's. So I decided to keep my feet firmly on the ground and munch on junk food (to make those feet firmer).

Crystal blur said...

I don't like roller coasters either. They just make me feel queasy and jittery.

Except for bumping cars, and water slides it is a more of a torture park for me.

Rohit said...

Congrats for moving onto the more exiting stuff in water-sports..
Well, I dunno what you were told, but you certainly were doing things a bit wrongly. The basic trick in kayaking is not to balance using your body but the paddle (not the oar). You hit the blade flat on the side to which you are tipping. And newton's third law follows.
As for getting into the kayak, try stepping in with your stepping foot on the CG. This way you'll be able to stay above water till atleast the first stroke.. :P
Happy Kayaking...

Drunken Master said...

Why calculate stuff when it is given to you?

Then again, why calculate when one can enjoy?

I've started hitting the rowing machines at the gym recently. All the work out, none of the dupkis. But now, I want to try to kayak too...

Crystal blur said...


You are can balance with the paddle or the knees as I had mentioned in the post. But as a beginner it was very easy to lose balance and moving the upper body was screwing with my balance. This video shows how beginners most commonly lose balance.

As for getting in (and out of) the kayak...I was entirely kidding in the post...I learned the technique where one uses the oar to anchor the kayak and stop it from moving. Here is a video of it:

Are you also into kayaking?


Woah that ride is insane! I have also used the rowing machines in the is a great workout. Did you know that there are places that give kayak lessons in heated pools where they teach you a lot of the basic techniques? I didn't know that such a thing existed before my first attempt at kayaking. It would make your transition from the gym to the lake a lot easier :) I'm thinking of taking these classes is better to practice in a safe and controlled environment.

Rohit said...

Spent some memorable years at the COEP Boat Club, Pune and some Regattas. As for the your escapades, it is fun to watch oneself rolling and falling in water the first couple of times. You'll never laugh at yourself any better..

Karthik Sivaramakrishnan said...

LOL@Crouching tiger hidden slip disk! :))

The white water stuff is more fun! White water rafting is fun and white water kayaking I haven't got the balls yet!

nidhesh said...


AG said...

When the kayak flips over, do we come out of the kayak or are we held below the water, unable to escape from it?

Crystal blur said...


I was on a break when I had returned to blogging but it has become super hectic again.


It is rare to get stuck under water from what I hear...luckily I don't have any personal experience in this area so far :)