How to Keep Your Paddling Skills Fresh in the Winter Months

In Connecticut where I live, the river temperature has already dropped to around 40 degrees Fahrenheit, and the air temperatures are hovering just above freezing. As a paddler, you can get a little depressed when the sun is going down so early, and the legitimate brain freezes you get when you flip over keep you from wanting to try anything. However, I like to look at the bright side; the combined temperatures of the air and water means it’s practically summertime!

In all seriousness, if you’re looking for ways to still scratch your kayaking itch this winter and stay in shape for when things warm up, check out some of my tips. 

1.) Watch lots and lots of videos

Chances are you’ll be friends with some really cool people who are traveling to all of the warm places this summer, in which case you can spend a few hours every evening watching the edits of their awesome adventures. Trust me, there are plenty of people going Uganda this winter, plus most everyone is in Argentina for the World Championships, and it seems like they never stop posting about it! This gives you plenty of opportunities to live vicariously through them and pretend that you’re south of the equator once that first snow storm hits.

2.) Hit the gym

I always find that I have all this extra energy when winter comes because I have fewer daylight hours to be active. And although I enjoy paddling until dusk, sometimes it’s just better to hit the gym. You also may be looking for a way to work off some of the holiday pies you indulged in! Now is the time to work on maintaining the paddling fitness that you built up this past season. Don’t let all your hard work go to waste! The last thing you want is to feel like a newbie when you hop into your boat for the first time in the spring (if you choose to sit out for the winter). Work on things like upper body endurance, stabilization muscles in the core and the back, and shoulder strength. There are lots of exercises that you can do in the gym or with your own bodyweight on the floor that when done consistently, can make a big difference in your paddling fitness.

3.) Go paddling!

If you’re like me, and you just can’t stay away from the river banks during those cold, dark months, then by all means, get wet! And although it may not be the time to work on nailing some new playboating moves, there’s no reason why you can’t work on refining your basic techniques like eddy turns, peel outs, and ferries in easy current. Sometimes when you don’t paddle for a while, the most basic skills are the first ones to suffer. Keep things sharp by practicing the basics in easy current. Remember, if you do decide to go out in the cold, dress properly and be extra cautious on the river.

4.) Dive into the pool

One of my favorite parts of the “off-season” is getting to have fun in the pool. Chances are if you live anywhere in New England, there will be a pool session within an hour or so of you. If you don’t live in New England, then it’s worth scouring the web to see where your closest session is being held. Even if you only go a few times to work on your hand rolls, regular rolls, or freestyle moves, you’ll thank yourself later. I personally love going to the pool to do lots of silly things and competitions with other folks like seeing how many rolls you can do in 30 seconds, practicing useless party tricks, and pogoing on the side of the pool to try and do ridiculous tricks. But I always spend some time chatting with friends and of course working on some useful skills as well. 

5.) Gear maintenance

During the peak of kayaking season, sometimes we can let little gear maintenance things fall by the wayside. If you’re in a winter slump, maybe spend some time outfitting your kayak a little bit better or fixing up some of your gear so that you have something to look forward to once the spring melt begins. 

6.) Set goals for the upcoming year

I’m a huge proponent of setting goals. If you haven’t read my blog about goal setting, I highly suggest it. Winter is the perfect time to reflect on your past season as a paddler and then look ahead to what you personally want to accomplish next season. It could be something as simple as paddling with someone new or trying to visit five new rivers. Don’t forget to revel in your accomplishments from last year. Your past experiences are the building blocks for future success. Maybe you nailed some really nice lines this year, and now you want to try a harder rapid to test those skills again. Constructing a review of your past year can really help to focus you for the upcoming season. 

Chances are, if you’re a true kayaker, you won’t be able to get the river off of your mind, and you’ll end up doing one of the things I mentioned above. Stay tuned for some more tips and tales from my winter paddling. I love going paddling in the winter time because it not only puts some hair on your chest, but it also makes the hot showers and hot coco afterwards that much nicer! Be safe this winter and I’ll see you on the river!

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