Canoe vs kayak… which is which?

A kayak is a craft that is paddled with a twin-bladed paddle, while the paddler is in a seated position.  The paddler typically has a spraydeck around the waist to keep water out of the vessel, but that is not necessary the case.

In the case of K1, K2 and K4 racing kayaks, the K stands for “Kayak” and the 1, 2 and 4 stands for the number of paddlers that the kayak was designed for.

Recreational kayaks general don’t have a number to show how many paddlers it can take, although single and tandem kayaks are both very popular.


A canoe is paddled with a single-bladed paddle, which has a T-grip on the other end of the shaft, and the paddler typically kneels down in the canoe.

In the case of C1 and C2 racing canoes, the C stands for “Canoe” and the 1 and 2 stands for the number of paddlers the canoe was designed for.

Open canoes generally don’t have a number to show how many paddlers it can take, as it depends largely on what the canoe is being used for. The same open canoe could be used to carry a family of 4, or to do a solo multiday expedition.


In South Africa, it is common for paddlers to talk about racing kayaks as “canoes”. In fact, most racing kayak clubs are called “canoe clubs”, which doesn’t help to put the record straight.

Forward stroke technique with a wing paddle

I recently presented a strokes clinic for the younger paddlers at our local paddling club (Likkewaan Canoe Club). This article is based on the points I covered during the clinic, dealing specifically with the forward stroke technique with a wing paddle.

Young crowd
Explaining wing paddling technique to the next generation of paddlers

To understand the anatomy and purpose of a wing paddle, and to help you decided what kind of wing paddle to buy, have a look here.

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Anatomy and purpose of a wing paddle

Why use a paddle with wing blades?

Racers as well as recreational paddlers often think that wing paddles are “better” than other types of paddles. Let me correct this misconception right away. Wing blades are only better at doing a forward stroke, and only if the forward stroke is done with good technique. For all the other strokes one can do with a paddle (bow rudder, stern rudder, draw, low brace, high brace, boof, etc) the wing blade is pretty useless.

This means that wing paddles should only be used in conditions and with craft that allow you to make full use of the benefits of a wing paddle, and where other paddling strokes are not really required. Forget about using wing paddles with a whitewater kayak or with a wide, stable recreational kayak or sit-on-top. If your kayak is made for speed in a straight line, like a racing kayak, surfski or touring kayak, and if it is used primarily on flat water or on the open ocean, a wing paddle might be the right choice.

Fast boat = wing paddle
Using a wing paddle with my surfski

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3 days of growing

Kyla (11) and Ruben (8) are no strangers to outdoor life. They have done multiple expedition-style trips on the Orange and Vaal rivers, and camping has been a part of their lives since they were babies. Nonetheless, I knew that a 3-day backpacking hike in the Vredefort Dome during the recent school break with Lisa and myself would push their limits a bit. They were very keen when I mentioned the planned hike to them, and as the day of departure got closer, their excitement grew. I sensed some trepidation mixed with the excitement, which is a good thing. Going gung-ho into an adventure often backfires.

Each kid carried a little backpack weighing around 6kg, which included 2 litres of water. We managed to squeeze their self-inflatable matresses, clothing, breakfasts and lunches into their backpacks. Lisa and myself each carried a 2-person tent, and we also took the kids’ sleeping bags in our backpacks.

The route was put together by Lisa, using sections of her Forest Run route to give us a good blend of technical trails and jeep tracks. We went through beautiful forested kloofs and scaled a couple of koppie summits to enjoy spectacular views.

Entering one of many little valleys
Entering one of many little valleys

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The journey – Willem van Riet

This epic journey down the Kunene River by Willem van Riet and Gordon Rowe, from Matala in Angola to the Atlantic Ocean, through the previously unexplored gorge where the river cuts through the Baynes Mountains, ranks as one of the most important expeditions undertaken in the history of African river exploration.

If we had imagined that paddling down the Kunene involved blistering heat in a country of utter desolation, hunger, attacks by aggressive crocodiles and such back-breakings labour on the portages, perhaps we would have thought twice about our plans for exploring the lower reaches of this mighty river. Canoeists, like mountaineers, always set their sights on a bigger and tougher challenge, and after having canoed down most of South Africa’s largest rivers during the last six years, the Kunene had become my personal Everest. It was something I had to do; a final problem to be overcome. The idea of challenging the 750-mile Kunene, which first occurred to me when canoeing down the Orange, grew and grew until Gordon Rowe and I decided to have a crack at it. Read More

A woman in a man’s life jacket – Nicola Simpson

Raft guiding on big volume rivers like the Zambezi is hard work, and normally reserved for tough men who manhandle these big rafts through the monstrous rapids with brute strength combined with well polished skills. There are women who step up to the challenge though, and more often than not, display a certain kind of finesse in doing so. Nicola is one of that special breed of women who succeeded in earning the respect of their more muscular counterparts in this tough environment.

1992. Rafting season on the mighty Zambezi, Victoria Falls. First African Woman River Guide. Grade 5 rapids, big holes, steep gradients, diagonals that hold boats and surf. Big Surf. Terminator, Devil’s Toilet Bowl, Oblivion. Aching arms and back. Bleeding hands, cracked ribs. Open infected wounds from oars smacking into shins, bruised hip bones. Black eyes from surfing in rapids with flying paddles and oars. Swimming so deep below the surface that ears pop, nose bleeds. Dark, murky, quiet. No sympathy from anyone. “You want to be like us – show us you can – carry the boat, pump the tubes and thwarts, fix your own oar rig.” Some 23 km of rowing a day. A sizzling 40 degrees Celsius heat in the gorge. Walking out at the end of the day, against a two-in-one gradient. Cool refreshments at the top, the elation from clients whose expectations have been surpassed. And tomorrow I get to do this all over again. Bliss. Read More

Olifants River – Visgat

This rarely run but awesome piece of the Olifants River cuts right through the Groot Wintershoek wilderness and is one of the most beautiful gorges in South Africa. There are no roads even close to the edge of the gorge, so once you start, you are locked in until you leave the walled-in gorge.

Access is an issue, where a permit is needed by Cape Nature and that is no guarantee the farmer will let you put in on his property…

  • Ideal for: Creek boat
  • Grade: 4 – 5
  • Length: 40km
  • Duration: 10 hours / best to do overnight
  • Type: Very tight pool-drop with some continuous sections
  • Put-in: Low level bridge, Glendonald Farm
  • Take out: The road by the Citrusdal Warm Baths
  • Levels paddleable: Usually two or three days after good rain in the Ceres area. Do not put on if flooding.
  • Permits: Cape Nature permits and Glendonald farmer permission

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Middeldeur/Twee River

On the edge of the Cederberg hides this little gem of a river. It is a short run made up of five prominent drops with some fun class 2 rapids inbetween. It is quite far from Cape Town, but it is worth the trip if you stay at the guest farm, they have some fantastic camping facilities. It is a great place to spend the weekend with family and friends where a bit of kayaking can be enjoyed.

  • Ideal for: Creek boat, or playboat if you are feeling brave
  • Grade: 2-4
  • Length: 3.6km
  • Duration: 6 hours
  • Type: Pool drop with waterfalls
  • Put-in: Low level bridge at the start of the 4×4 track   32°41’10.6″S 19°16’44.4″E
  • Take out: River right where there is a short walk back to the track. 4×4 is necessary.
  • Levels paddleable: Usually paddleable after good rains in the Ceres region
  • Permits: Ask the owners of Suikerbossie nicely and they should let you in

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Tradouw River

The Tradouw is easily one of the best runs in the country, but because it borders the arid Karoo, it unfortunately only runs once every two years or so. When it does though, you will see Cape paddlers flocking to Barrydale.

  • Ideal for: Creek boat
  • Grade: 4 – 5
  • Length: 11km
  • Duration: 6 hours
  • Type: Continuous creeking with some big holes
  • Put-in: River parking for the Bronze Grove Farm and Chalets
  • Take out: River left once the road gets close to the river after you exit the gorge
  • Levels paddleable: Usually paddleable when the area is experiencing floods. If Montague is flooding the Tradouw will be up.
  • Permits: Bronze Grove for permission to park at put in.

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Krom River

The Krom River joins with the Elandspad River to form the Molenaars.  It is recommended for good reactive paddlers who can read water on the fly and keep a level head; it is fast. When in doubt, boof.

  • Ideal for: Creek boat
  • Grade: 4
  • Length: 2.5km from put-in to low-level bridge
  • Duration: 1½ hour
  • Type: Continuous, open
  • Put-in: Below new tunnel at parking place. Hike up the Krom river hiking path.  33°43’7.53″S  19° 6’39.72″E
  • Take-out: Bridge for Molenaars put in  33°43’51.31″S  19° 7’4.97″E
  • Levels paddleable: When Molenaars is at a medium to high level
  • Permits: None

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