I’ve been paddling for a few years now and have gone through a few different iterations of paddle-craft and techniques; flat water kayaking, canoeing, rock gardening, white water, Greenland paddling and surfski paddling (to name just a few). Other than a day of basic sea kayak training and some good mentoring by paddle-genre specialists, I’ve never had any real coaching, and from watching my paddling technique from the many videos I’ve made it’s becoming embarrassing looking at how rubbish my forward stroke technique is.
With the 111km Hawkesbury Canoe Classic coming up and the prospect of doing it this year in a surfski, I figured it was time to get some real coaching. Many of the Team Fat Paddler crew are in the same boat as I so with this in mind, I contacted my friends at Sydney Harbour Kayaks to to book in a group session with one of their pro-paddlers. With flat water in mind, they suggested ex Polish national kayak squad member Mat Gorzkiewicz.
Mat’s background is solid. Having cut his teeth in the uber-competitive European paddling scene, Mat spent several years with the Polish national kayak team being coached by current Polish Olympic coach Tomasz Kryk. Between 2004 and 2010 Mat won medals at the Polish Nationals in K2s and K4s across most of the sprint distances including 200m, 500m, 1000m and 2000m.
But Mat’s not what you think of when you picture a typical pro flat water sprint paddler. There’s no chest beating, no major personal claims, no trash-talk or cheesy motivational clichés. Just a quiet, unassuming young man with a wealth of knowledge and a relaxed delivery method that helps to get his knowledge across.
Three of us took to the water for the session – Grumm and I on our Stellar surfskis, and new Team Fat Paddler member for this year’s Hawkesbury Canoe Classic, Dee in her plastic sea kayak. With introductions out of the way, we paddled over to Chinaman’s beach before going through a theory session on the beach. Then, with our heads swimming with all of the different things we had to think about, we hit the water to practice.
There are so many different components of the paddling motion, or what Mat called the “paddling system”, so having an expert run through them all is great to put it all into perspective. I’d come to some self-derived conclusions on what made up the forward stroke, and it became apparent most of them were wrong. To go through each piece step by step made it far easier to think about what needed to change once we hit the water again.
Besides the different mechanics of the paddling system to think about, we all had a far more urgent problem – existing bad habits from lots of previous paddling. Mat spent some time with us running through our stroke and then pointing out where our old habits were causing us problems. With me, despite overall crap technique, my right arm seemed to have an even crapper technique all of its own. It was lazy, uncoordinated and very difficult for me to correct.
Over the course of two hours we worked on drills and specifically on individual issues. Whilst we were all a fair way off correcting them by the end of the session, we’d all been given some clear direction on what we needed to practice to continue to improve. It also became clear to me that the best way to improve would be to work with a coach regularly to keep correcting the issues that come up. With that, I’ll be organising some more group and one on one sessions to continue our paddling development.
I’ve never been big on coaching but all of us agreed afterwards that it was hugely beneficial. And like many things, it would have been so much easier to start off with correct coaching rather than coming to it later and having to change bad habits.
That being said, it’s never too late to learn. If you want to improve your stroke, or are starting out and want to get things going right from the beginning, you could do far worse that learning from Mat or one of the other pro paddlers down at the Spit.
If you’re interested in lessons for yourself, contact Sydney Harbour Kayaks via their website or call them on +612 9960 4389. Cheers, FP