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What is in their mind? -fast lead paddler on the trip.


Oct 3, 2006
Lynnwood, Washington, USA
I just want to know why they do this.
This happenes a number of ocations I participateed group paddling mixed skilled paddlers. Almost always some fast paddlers go way ahead ( way ahead where they can't hear us) when newbies and weaker paddlers left behind.

Do they just want to show how fast they can go?
Do they not want to be second fast paddler in the group?
Don't they care about newbies left behind?
Do they think the slower paddler can keep up with them if only they want to?
Don't they know that by the time they catch up with the faster ones ( while the faster ones taking break), they need some break too?
Although I'm new to paddling i don't think this is a paddling specific problem. There are always going to be people who are not as responsible, as others. Its not your fault but you can do something about it. Ideally we would paddle with folks we know and have an understanding of the plan for the day or every day. If your going with a group and aren't sure what's going to happen then before you take off voice your concerns , and request that for safety sake the faster folks stay closer to the group and break more often to allow the slower folks to catch up. Sometimes you just have to point it out and things work out but if they say" no" then you have the choice to make.
Good luck
Yes, this can be a difficult situation in group dynamics. I have been, at different times, on both sides of this coin in hiking and in paddling.

As a member of the faster group sometimes it does feel sometimes that maintaining a faster pace may encourage the slower to speed up. If you always need to go slower to accommodate others then you can miss out on getting a workout challenging to your skill level. You may miss out on developing your own skills, and you may miss out on making the summit, destination, etc. It is frustrating.

As a member of the slower group you feel frustration because you never seem to gain on the others. And when you do reach them you get less of a break even though you are working hard to keep up and probably need more rest. When I am the lagging one I am sometimes inspired to pick it up a notch, but if that notch is too high to reach sometimes I will give up, or my technique becomes sloppy and I inadvertently slow even more and even risk injury.

The reality is that rarely in groups will everyone be happy all of the time. Traveling in groups requires compromise. When planning trips you can start with inviting people with similar rhythms. But in club or some types of group outings this isn't always possible.

I have a had a few situations in the context of hiking. On one message board organized dayhike I advanced to hike with the leading group and we summited. My friend stayed behind with a slower hiker who, in the end, refused to go up the final hill. My friend stayed with this individual but would have much preferred to go and summit as well.

On one backpacking trip me and another guy joined a larger group of people who often hiked together. They would often accelerate ahead, but stop for breaks periodically when we would all catch up together. On the decent I was hiking alongside the guy when he was stung by a bee. He told me he was allergic and we rapidly got him an antihistamine and were waiting to see if he would need his epi-pen. The rest of the group started trouping by and I explained the serious situation. They continued on the trail 10 minutes to a lake. Focused on the situation at hand, I later reflected that not one offered to stay and help monitor the situation. I thought this quite odd. In the end, the guy felt well enough to resume hiking and the whole group descended. As we got closer to the bottom the problem of people breaking off became more and more of an issue. There were no breaks to regroup and the group got to the bottom in many fragmented groups by several different trails. In a way, all was well, and there were no serious consequences for that trip, although I decided that I would prefer not to hike with these folks again.

Sadly, half a year later I heard that this same group was involved in a situation where a snowshoer got well ahead of the pack on a descent and took a wrong turn. That situation turned out to be fatal and no one knew until they arrived at the parking lot and that person was missing. This caused a serious re-assessment of their group dynamics. It was also a reminder that the fastest person is not immune to getting in trouble.

So on one hand we have personal goals and expectations for trips, and on the other hand we have group and personal safety. Like the arms of a scale we need to weigh our own personal needs against the needs of the whole. Although these situations can arise in any group, due to human nature, I think that this balance is more likely to be skewed toward personal needs in the case of a message-board organized type of outing where people have not yet established personal relationships. Quite frankly, when people aren't friends they are sometimes less likely to look out for one another.

In the end I think we all know there are no easy answers. Situations can turn for the worse with no warning. We can decide to behave differently and look out for others. It comes back to the golden rule, doesn't it? And we can decide not to go play outside with those who we cannot trust to look out for us.
I will admit, I have been the fast paddler on a few trips.

I will say that there was nothing nerfarious about it. I just happened to paddle a little faster than everyone else. A little extra speed, over a long period of time, means a good amount of extra distance between us.

Of course, when you are paddling from the front, it is rather difficult to keep tabs on what is going on behind you. It is very easy not to look behind you, since you are usually keeping your eyes forward. That's not calculated, it's just human nature. The result is when you do look back, the nearest paddler can often be quite a ways away.

That said, I have on occasion been in groups where I know I will be the fast paddler, so I intentionally go to the back of the group, and refuse to paddle faster than the slowest paddler. That way nobody can accuse me of being the faster paddler. Well, it rarely works out for me, as I am often frustrated, wanting to get going, and can't figure out why these slowpokes insist on stopping and examining every single sea urchin and starfish. Different strokes for different folks I guess.

In short, it's not that I have anything to prove, or am intentionally being mean. Usually it's just a case of that's my comfortable pace under the circumstances. Anything else is...uncomfortable.

That being said, I have definitely been on the other side of the fence, where I have been struggling to keep up with the pack. That is no fun either. I feel rushed, and tired, and fear falling back and either embarrassing myself, or getting into a situation where I need help, but nobody will be around to help me.

I find that in mixed group situations, it is usually best to let the slower paddlers (hikers, runners, whatever) either go first, and the faster paddlers will catch up with them at the destination. Or have specified stopping points for the the group to rest and regroup, and let everyone go at their own pace, so nobody feels held back, yet everyone is accounted for every so often.
Thanks for the insights and recomendations.
I liked the Rene's article, and the experience Blondie has. That is what exactly my frustration paddling with bunch of people who are way faster than me, or just paddling the faster designed boat with longer arms with stronger muscles.

To keep it simple and being focused, I will start branched out thread for " how to herd the paddling kitties" soon.

So far I gethered,
*Some get frustrated if they can't paddle with their own pace.
*Some just don't notice what is going on behind.
*Trying to encourage slower paddlers to paddle faster.
*Some just don't want to be bothered by any incidents happened within slower paddlers.
*Some are too busy focusing to acomplish their agenda, like getting work out of the day done or making it to the camp/watering hole as fast as possible.
* some don't have respect for slower paddlers ( as mutual respect is suggestied)

More information from faster kayakers will be appriciated!
To make my reply short - I use a Greenland Paddle, and to me, it doesn't feel so good unless I'm moving a bit through the water, say 1.5 to 2 KN. Otherwise it's just like accelerating from a stop, for every paddle stroke, for the entire section of a paddle. Couple that with the fact that I need some forward motion in rough conditions to feel stable, and that's why I might get ahead of part of a group for a crossing of a rough straight or bay.

It seems to me there's an efficient pace, and too far above that, or too far below that, one expends more energy than desired, to cover a set piece of water. My efficient pace in the rough conditions example above was most likely a too-fast inefficient pace for the slower group that day.

The choice was 8 paddlers stick together at the pace of the slowest, or three faster ones stick together, and 5 slower ones stick together. Separated during crossings of 6. to 1.2 NM.

In a calm condition, sight seeing paddle, the slow pace isn't as much an issue to me.
i don't paddle in groups. at most, one or two other guys.
one guy that i paddle/trip/camp with has the "work-out" attitude. i find myself having to remind him to slow down so we don't get seperated.
i believe that paddling in groups is for the support that a group offers. be it actual or percieved. therefor, i feel, that the slowest paddler of the group is the one that sets the pace. the group stays together, or it's not a group. just a bunch of solo paddlers on the same water at the same time.
if someone takes on the responsibilty of leading a group of paddlers, he'd better stay with them, or his leadership skills are at question.

The problem is that of inexperience by the people who want to get going and that of inexperience by the leader that results in no adequate ground rules laid out for everyone.

Our kayak community doesn't really promote leadership. That's partly because kayaking is an individual sport and leading kayakers is like herding cats. Best thing the leader of a group (formal or informal) can do is assign duties such as 'sweep' or 'navigator' to faster hikers or paddlers. It helps to set ground rules ie no one is to go past the lead or fall back of the sweep, and, the lead and the sweep must be able to communicate by voice. If it is set up as a group activity then people should be ready to abide by group norms and paddle together. All it usually takes is someone to say so.

Its the same for hiking. I've seen more than one group get spread out over a long trail with individuals getting into difficulty due to level of energy, lack of fitness, and shock of being all alone in the middle of nowhere. Easy problem to get around; keep the group together by making the faster stronger hikers take up the rear or at least insist they stop at intersections or designated time intervals. If they don't abide then weigh them down with more gear. Nothing worse than being at the tail end by yourself with someone who needs more help than you can give him (except if you are stuck helping someone in that situation from a different group).
This is a great topic.
It's best to learn while paddling in a group, but this problem makes that more difficult.
What ken_v describes is what clubs do, and it really helps.
Club paddles, like the canoe clubs, try to discourage this sort of group behaviour, but it's often difficult. Where it's most important is on river trips, and the ground rules are spelled out at the start, lead and sweep assigned, signals reviewed. All essential.
Clubs schedule paddle trips, some poor soul volunteers to "lead" or coordinate the trip. The sort of undisciplined group dynamic is hard on this person too. They are volunteers, but it's often no fun.
Then too, group paddles are often meant to be social, mainly, not workouts.
Sometimes the faster paddlers on an easy trip do practice stuff, paddling backwards, 180's, 360's, etc., but it's the experienced club members who help most with keeping the group together.
But all the points about paddling being a solitary sport, as well as the many reasons why we pursue this sport does complicate the issue.
Perhaps the most important thing to emphasize is safety, and more safety. Clubs manage this, the structure makes this easier. There is less uncertainty about suggesting rules. Like, no PFD, then you can't paddle with us.
The more informal groupings often miss this opportunity to suggest structure during a paddle trip and an everyone for themselves attitude follows.
Not that the clubs get it right all the time, and we all have anecdotes of just this sort of thing.
Lots of good exchanges on this.

I've got two modes for group paddles:

MODE ONE: For paddling on "serious" water, I am still using the same rule I learned 40 years ago as a novice climber: when climbing (paddling) with a person new to you, you stick with him/her, under all circumstances, for the first trip. What happens on the first trip determines whether I will consider a second trip with that person.

(As an old curmudgeon, I rarely paddle with people I don't already know. When I do, and it is an "all comers" gig, I accept that fact and use mode two.)

MODE TWO: On an all-comers paddle on easy water, I find the slowest, most inept paddler, and stick with that person like glue, until that person is safe ashore, either at the conclusion of the paddle, or when that person has decided (with or without "encouragement") to quit.

Some of this is an outcome of living by the Reverend Billy Hults' three rules for life (and baseball):

1. Everybody eats.

2. Nobody hits.

3. There are no other rules.

NB: Billy's rules are somewhere in this list of quotes, recommended reading for those upended by the preceding discussion of "serious" stuff: http://kossik.com/misc/quotes.html
ken_vandeburgt said:
The problem is that of inexperience by the people who want to get going and that of inexperience by the leader that results in no adequate ground rules laid out for everyone.

Our kayak community doesn't really promote leadership. T.

here here

effective group and personal leadership is a skill that is learned and practiced, just like hard skills. it is something that the vast majority of paddling clubs make no effort to embrace or impart on their members.

it can be learned through ongoing paddler education ie certification courses (Paddle Canada, BCU, ACA etc). it can be learned through taking an assistant guides course, even just as an interested party with no ambitions to ever work as a commercial guide. It can be learned through mentorship with highly experienced paddlers who have been in leadership roles on the water for thousand of coastal miles. it can be learned through instructor courses, where one not only learns how to effectively teach others how to paddle how also teaches you how to lead on the water as well.

and lastly, it can be practiced each and every time you go for a paddle with friend or friends - continuous risk/group/environmental assessment while on the water (and off the water as well!). it can be practiced as a club member who imparts their newfound knowledge to fellow club members and speaks up for what is safe. it can be practiced by the solo paddler out on the water who sees other users who are clearly unsafe, and chooses to engage and educate in a thoughtful, sympathetic manner so as to not antagonize.

this is a tall order for the vast majority of paddlers, but it is an ongoing, worthwhile and exceptionally rewarding direction for paddlers looking for new challenges to follow.

I have many more thoughts on the subject, but in the interest of brevity will leave it at that for now.
As everyone, I have been at both ends too, of the line of paddlers or hikers - have felt the frustration of trying to keep up or catch up and the frustration of wishing the ones at the back would hurry up.
Most of the club paddles that I attend are for all levels - and probably the best outcome I've seen is if a few experienced stay behind with the newcomers and the more experienced/faster paddlers stay in their own group but do go ahead.
With the hiking club - newcomers are clearly asked to attend one of the routine Thur evening hikes before they attempt a weekend hike - so that they can see if they are of the fitness level to hike on the weekend hikes and to see if the newcomer actually wants to hike as fast and as far as the weekend hikes aim for. On the weekend, we usually have plans for a peak, and inevitably someone shows up that is new to the group and thinks we are going for a "walk in the park". This is very frustrating for both.
So, I think that it is most important to know what the aims are for the paddle or hike, and the fitness level that it is aimed at...and adjust to that.
BUT, in my own experience - my favorite thing about paddling with a group, or even more so, hiking with a group - is that I am encouraged to work harder and become more fit so that I CAN keep up to the faster group....side effect being that I become more fit! :D Otherwise I could paddle or hike forever and not improve my skills and speed and fitness level. :wink:
The fine line is to balance safety with pushing the newcomers to improve, I think.
As a novice paddler I havent been in this situation kayaking but I have seen the same dynamic in hiking, canoeing, bicycling and motorcycling. As a hiker I have a long and easy stride and can go 3.5-4 MPH on level ground all day long. As a bicyclist the 20 years I spent smoking dogs me up every hill... so hiking I lead, bicycling I follow.

The best way to deal with this I have found is to have two lead people- one leads the other sweeps. Sweeper is last... last last as in no one gets behind them. Ever. Pre-arranged meeting point for the entire group Everyone waits till sweeper shows up. Then you eat.

As lead and sweep are probably the two most experienced, they switch at the meeting point. The sweeper will get to lead for awhile and the leader can take it easy.

works best if lead and sweep have coms.
I've led quite a few all-comers types of trips, and I have heard more complaints from the faster paddlers than from the slower. Both have responsibilities to the group.

Most people can learn to paddle fast enough to keep up with a moderate group pace. The reason why people fall way behind is almost always poor forward stroke technique. Decent technique, getting power from torso rotation, not stopping paddling, can be learned. I think it is only considerate for people who find themselves falling behind regularly to learn better technique and build up the fitness needed to steadily paddle the distance. Sometimes, the problem is boat type, rec boats are not compatable with sea kayaks.

No one should abandon a group paddle by disappearing ahead. Faster paddlers should circle back to re-join regularly.

One way to keep diverse groups together is mandatory towing for those really falling behind. If a paddler can't keep up, faster paddlers will hook on, no refusing tows. Another way is to clearly state in advance if it is going to be a faster or a slower pace, so participants can self-select.
wow.... maybe not everyone wants to go fast? maybe someone got hurt? didnt know they were going to get winded so easily or is getting over being sick, maybe they are new, older or have a chronic injury that suddenly flares up? There are any number of reasons why not everyone goes the same speed, lack of skill may be among them, but it is far from the only reason.
What would the appropriate space be in most circumstances and why do we all have to paddle as a group the whole day? You should really only rely on yourself and be thank full when others are there if you find your self in trouble .
wetelvis said:
What would the appropriate space be in most circumstances and why do we all have to paddle as a group the whole day? You should really only rely on yourself and be thank full when others are there if you find your self in trouble .

I really can't believe this is coming out from someone who has fair amount of experience.
Oh, well, people forget what was like when they are just started learning some new skills... :shock:
( I'm not responsible for your disaster...he he he )
I'm saying people need to take responsibility for themselves on the water and off.
Each situation is different and should be evaluated separately.
Not saying this is the right way but just how I see it.
There is room in the ocean for everybody! Even me :evil: