Why Bigger ISN’T Always Better

Last year, my small Karma felt too small for me, especially on bigger volume rivers multidays and while racing. Often, it felt like my stern would catch and sub-out, or that my boat was slower than my competitors.

Before heading to California last spring, I made the choice to size up into a Medium Zen- plenty of room for my gear, and lots more volume. For a while, I loved it. On the steep, granite slides of Dinkey Creek, the boat flew for me, and the whitewater was technical enough that I could move the boat around without too much hassle… until I couldn’t.

The more I paddled it, the more I found myself at odds with the Medium, rather than in love with it. Paddling on higher volume rivers this past fall, I found my Medium heavy, hard to edge, and hard to boof, especially when I got tired. Right before I flew to New Zealand, I made the last minute decision to swap my Medium Zen out for a Small. Lucky for me, the awesome crew at Alder Creek Kayak had a small demo in stock that they let me try out, and then they let me swap out my boat for theirs the day before I flew to New Zealand. Those guys are heroes! Literally. Once back on the Kaituna, I was stoked on the Small- here are my three arguments for why sometimes, smaller is sexy too.

1.BOAT TO BODY RATIO: Size does matter.
The Small Zen is lighter weight than the Medium (39 lbs v. 43 lbs), which makes it easier for me to carry off the water, and easier for me to move around on the water. I call it the “boat to body ratio.” For those of us who are smaller, moving around a heavy boat is hard work, because the boat is proportionally a larger percentage of our body weight. For example: I weigh between 110-120 lbs (50-54 kg). My boat typically weighs around 40 lbs (19 kg). This gives me a ration of 40 lbs to 110 lbs – meaning that the boat is almost 40% of my body weight. Many of my friends weigh closer to 170 + pounds, yet their boats often weigh a similar amount to mine. 40 pounds: 180 pounds is a significantly different ratio! Risa Shimoda is fabled for once putting weights in her male friends kayaks to illustrate the boat/body ratio difference. Carrying and paddling a boat that is 40 % of your body weight can be hard work! For me, it can mean getting tired more quickly. This is a problem, because when I am tired, I potentially put everyone on the water with me at risk because I am more likely to make mistakes. On the walk into Dinkey this past spring, I definitely felt this. At some points, I needed my friends had to help me portage to speed up the process and conserve my energy for the river. Thanks Friends! But.. it is nicer to be able to carry your own boat confidently, and to not have to work as hard moving the boat where I want it to go. Smaller= Lighther=More Energy Efficent= Safer Lines.

2.POOR TECHNIQUE
Another problem I found I had with the Medium Zen was that the boat was wide on me, and required A LOT of hip pads to fit properly. Once the foam compressed, I had a difficult time edging the boat using my core and lower body. This is because my butt would slide around in the seat, without initiating the edge. I had to really haul my body to lean my boat on edge, which resulting in poor technique and sloppy paddling. It also put me off balance, which made me unstable and paddling reactively. I found that I was so light for the Medium, my edges didn’t engage properly. This meant that the boat spun out on me often, and rather than paddling aggressively and positively, I was using constant corrective strokes. When I swapped to the small, it felt unbelievably light, responsive and nimble. My technique improved, and I didn’t have to work as hard to make things happen.

3.CONFIDENCE
For me, having a boat that fits me, that doesn’t require a lot of outfitting, that is light enough to move around and not tire me out, and that I can put where I want to easily equates to having more confidence in myself and my paddling. Being consistent is huge—and not getting as tired from paddling a larger boat helps with that. When I am confident and comfortable in my boat is when I push myself the most to try new things. This means becoming a better paddler. After all, even if I’m not getting any bigger, I’m getting stronger.

On a side note, I also got to paddle the XS Rockstar this summer. While I would say it was too small for some situations- swapping into the smaller boat gave me a great opportunity to refine my edging and technique, and made trying harder tricks like McNastys and Clean Blunts way easier. The boat was so narrow and responsive, I could throw it around like no-body’s business, which made it a ton of fun to try new things. When I got back in my boat, I had a better understanding of the body movement patterns, and found that the hard tricks went easier, even in my Small RockStar. While I like the Small better for most things, the advantages of being able to play and learn in the XS were huge!

Happy Paddling!

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