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Kayaking vs Rowing: The 5 major differences

kajak vs rudern

Many people who are not very familiar with water sports confuse the sports of rowing and paddling. It is often said, for example, that kayakers row across a lake. Or the oars of a rowing boat are mistakenly called paddles. Rowing and paddling, however, are different sports that differ in far more ways than they share commonalities.

At first glance, these sports seem to be closely related. When rowing or paddling, you sit in a narrow boat that is pushed through the water with rowing or paddling strokes. In addition, kayaks, rowing boats and Canadians can be driven solo as well as by several people. At this point, however, there is already an end to the similarities.

There is no more overlap between the two water sports. Quite the opposite: there are a lot of differences between rowing and paddling, which we have broken down to five essential points:

1. Rowing vs. Paddling

The first big difference is the sports equipment itself. Paddles are used for paddling sports such as kayaking, stand up paddling and canoeing. In rowing, on the other hand, paddles are used.

The oars sit in a rowing dollet, which is the base for the pushing and pulling movement during the stroke. On the other hand, paddles are completely free and not fixed anywhere. The paddles are moved freely through the air and touch only the hands of the paddler.

A paddle is also not necessarily equipped with two paddle blades. Stand Up paddlers and Canadians go straight despite the one-sided paddle. The paddle side has to be changed regularly. Rudders, on the other hand, are always equipped with a paddle blade at both ends.

2. Different direction of travel

In paddling, the athletes are always turned in the direction of travel. In rowing boats, on the other hand, you sit with your back to the direction of travel. This means that technically, paddlers go forwards while rowers go backwards.

3. Different controls

SUP boards and canoes are steered by using stronger paddle strokes on one side. For fast turns, paddle strokes can also be made backwards. This turns the nose of the boat or paddleboard quite quickly. Some kayaks can additionally be steered by a rudder at the stern.

In rowing boats the rowers sit with their back to the direction of travel. During some training sessions and competitions a helmsman sits in the back of the boat. This person is the only one in the rowing boat who looks in the direction of travel. Unlike the rowers, the helmsman does not row. The main tasks of the helmsman are to steer the boat and to keep the rowers in time. If there is no helmsman, the rear-seated rower takes over the steering by means of a foot control.

4. Strained muscles

The type of drive used for paddling and rowing differs greatly. When paddling, the movement of the paddle is mainly a strain on the muscles of the upper body. When rowing, however, the arms and legs are used. Contrary to the frequently held view, most of the force actually comes from the legs. The arms serve more to transfer the power.

In order to facilitate the cooperation of the legs, the seats in rowing boats can slide back and forth. In this way, the strength of the strong leg muscles can be converted into even more powerful rowing strokes. One advantage of this design is that the leg muscles are very durable and can hold out for a long time before they become weak. This is a consequence of the fact that we constantly train the leg muscles while walking and running.

The seats in kayaks and canoes are fixed. A more active paddling style is also possible here, but is much more demanding. With narrow kayaks, active leg use increases the chance of the boat capsizing.

5. More Differences

Rowing boats are narrower than Canadians and kayaks, but due to the long rudders they lie very broad on the water. The stability with which boats lie in the water is mainly determined by the centre of gravity (the lower the more stable) and by the width (the wider the more stable). Due to the long oars and the low centre of gravity, large rowing boats are the best in terms of stability. Capsizing is almost impossible with these boats.

Capsizing is possible with kayaks. Especially narrow touring and race kayaks are much more unsafe in the water, so that an unplanned watercourse can occur even with a little carelessness.

Nowadays, many people no longer row on water, but use a rowing machine to specifically train the muscle groups they use. You don’t have a trainer at your disposal to work on the rowing technique, but the machines are still a good thing to have a short session without much preparation. With a rowing machine you are also independent of the weather and the season.

For paddling sports such as stand up paddling, kayaking and canoeing, there is no such possibility. Paddling cannot be practiced comfortably in your own four walls or in a fitness studio. Paddling sports such as kayaking and especially stand up paddling are much more popular with the general public. For the average athlete, paddling is much more accessible than rowing, where most of the activity takes place in clubs.

The inflatable SUP boards and inflatable kayaks have contributed significantly to the popularity of paddling. Instead of struggling with the big, bulky rowing boats and canoes, more and more paddlers rely on the so-called inflatables. The inflatable boats are inflated with an air pump and are ready for use within about 10 minutes.

The comparison to air mattresses does not do Inflatables justice. The inflatable kayaks and especially the inflatable Stand Up Paddling Boards are extremely tearproof, robust and durable. When inflated, beginners can hardly tell the boat apart from fixed models. The covers are so hard that they even withstand light collisions with rocks or jetties.

At the end of the tour the air is simply deflated from the boat or board, the empty hull is rolled up and stored in a backpack, which is often supplied with an inflatable kayak or SUP board. Also included with most models is a divisible paddle that can be disassembled for transport and storage and is height adjustable.

There are a number of other differences between rowing boats, kayaks and canoes, such as historical origin and development over time. There are also a number of different types of kayaks, canoes and rowing boats, which differ in their characteristics and are suitable for different applications.

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