‘Buy a playboat if you want to get better at kayaking!’ If you are a whitewater kayaker then I am sure that these words will sound familiar. It took me 5 years of paddling before I finally bought a playboat and now I wonder why I waited so long. I had assumed freestyle was not for me and yet there have been so many unexpected benefits of spending time in a playboat. I am sure that the ‘benefits of playboating’ has been covered many times before, probably by people much better at playboating than me. But here is top 6 reasons from the viewpoint of a paddler who enjoys running rivers.
1. Being aware of any bad habits
If you have any bad habits which you were unaware of whilst kayaking a big boat, you sure will be made aware of them once in playboat! After spending just a few sessions in one, I was made aware of two very annoying bad habits that I had. Firstly and most problematically, I lean back. I lean back when I’m scared (approaching a hole for example), I lean back crossing eddy lines and I lean back when I surf (probably back to being scared of catching my nose). You know what happens when you lean back in a playboat? You fall over. Whilst this is something I still need to work on, being in a playboat has helped me to be a lot more aware of it.
Secondly I realised that I did not edge enough, nor did I generally make full use of my positioning in my boat to maneuver the boat. Spending time surfing in holes in a playboat allows you to be much more in tune with your edges. This is itself is beneficial to your paddling. Whilst these were my two bad habits, I can guarantee that some time in a playboat will quickly help you to be aware of what your bad habits are!
2. Excellent for roll practice
I used to count how many rolls I had to take in an HPP session as a sign of how well I had done in that session. A session with no or few rolls meant that I had stayed upright more and so had done better. In a playboat, that’s not really how it works. You are constantly trying things which will result in you going upside down and therefore having to roll up. Going upside down is kind of the whole point! Whilst this may feel exhausting at first and may result in more swims than usual, it is worth it. You are constantly working on your whitewater roll and before you know it, you are rolling 20+ times a session without even thinking about it! Result!
3. It makes things less scary
As someone who had predominantly done river running, I was a bit apprehensive about holes. A hole was something to be avoided in case you got stuck. That view certainly changed after buying a playboat. Last Summer I went to Scotland for a week and we had perfect levels. On a very high Orchy, I found myself getting side surfed in a rather chunky hole. Luckily 2 months of HPP meant that I held on until it let me go. I rolled up and carried on down the river feeling rather refreshed. The time spent playboating at HPP allowed me to be calm and relaxed and treat it like the holes at HPP. Rather than panicking and bailing which would have resulted in an unpleasant swim, I was able to style it out.
4. When you get back in a big boat – it feels awesome!
When I did get back in a big boat, I was worried that I would find it harder to be back in my big boat as it had been so long. I paddled it like my playboat and it was great! Luckily the good habits I had picked up from the playboating could be transferred across. I edged more, I sat upright and I didn’t lean back as much. I felt like my river paddling was on point and it was nice to have that recognised by friends as well. Buying a playboat really had made me better at kayaking.
5. It’s just so much easier
It fits in my car boot. It’s light to carry. It takes us less room. A playboat is just so much easier to deal with than a big boat. I didn’t get it for this reason but it has certainly been a nice bonus!
6. It is fun!
I still don’t consider myself a freestyle kayaker – I just don’t take it seriously enough. But you know what, freestyle kayaking is fun! It is fun to try things and being in playboat can make a paddling session much more interesting. It allows you to play and to try things that you might otherwise not go for in a big boat. That might be surfing, spins or tailees. Or it might be loops and blunts. It is really up to you! Right now all I want to do is be able to loop and it is nice to have that to focus on.(See below!) But whatever it is you want to try – having a playboat is a fun way to try it!
Lastly I just want to say it doesn’t have to be a playboat. Any boat which makes you more aware of the basics of your kayaking such as your edges will help you to improve. (They are often more fun too!) If you do get a playboat though, it is worth finding one that is the right size for you. I felt like I was in-between the small and the medium playboats for most kayak manufacturers. I was very lucky that Exo bought out the plastic GuiGui playboat as the small was the perfect size for me! So try a few out if you can or ask your local dealer for their advice and find something that works for you!