wash riding in kayaks

A question was posted on OCPaddler.com about wash riding and I remembered reading an article on this way, way back when.

If you have learned to wash ride and are allowed to do it, it is very beneficial.

I’ve wash ridden back and forth with other boats for up to two hours and an organized pack of two or more boats will drop the rest of the field very quickly. It makes the race much faster and more tactical than essentially being out there in your own space. For some reason I work harder in a pack than alone, maybe its knowing that if I drop off the back I am truly watching the race walk away.

Not to mention that and turns are no longer simply a change of scenery, they are a time to drop or be dropped!

In flatwater canoe & kayak racing it is an accepted tactic and has significant effects on the race outcome. The wash riding boat is usually 5% lower in heart rate than if they were at that speed and leading and their oxygen consumption is approximately 12% lower.

For those who have a high “professor” or “geek” rating here is the abstract of an article published in 1995 on the physiological effects of wash riding in ICF kayaks.

The metabolic cost of two kayaking techniques (Gray, Matherson and McKenzie) The International Journal of Sports Medicine May 1995: Vol. 16 Issue 4. p. 250-254

A common technique employed in flatwater kayak and canoe races is “wash riding”, in which a paddler positions his/her boat on the wake of a leading boat and, at a strategic moment, drops off the wake to sprint ahead. It was hypothesized that this manoeuver was energy efficient, analogous to drafting in cycling. To study this hypothesis, minute ventilation (VE), heart rate (HR) and oxygen consumption (VO2) were measured in 10 elite male kayak paddlers (age = 25 ± 6.5 yrs, height = 183.6 ± 4.4 cm, mass = 83.9 ± 6.1 kg) during steady-state exercise at a standardized velocity in conditions of “wash riding” (WR) and “non-was riding” (NWR). The data were collected in field conditions using a portable telemetric metabolic system (Cosmed K2).

Statistical analysis of the mean values for VE, VO2 and HR was performed using the Hotelling’s T2 statistic and revealed significant differences between the WR and NWR trials for all three dependent variables.

Mean values for VE (l/min) were WR = 133 ± 16.5, NWR = 126.3 ± 15.7; for VO2 (l/min) were WR = 3.22 ± 0.32, NWR = 3.63 ± 0.3; and for HR (bpm) were WR = 167 ± 9.9, NWR = 174 ± 8.0.

It was concluded that wash riding during kayak paddling confers substantial metabolic savings at the speeds tested. This has implications for the design of training programs and competitive strategies for flatwater distance kayak racing.

Knowing that wash riding is beneficial to your speed is one thing, getting good at it is another and it takes lots of practice to learn how to wash ride properly. From a tactical point of view you may have to think kilometers ahead to the next turn or narrow point on the course to be well positioned in a pack. Even when surfing small waves positioning is important as being on the wrong side of another boat can compromise your race in no time.


Alan Carlsson
Engineered Athlete Services


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