The Wobble Factor

It’s at times like these that you’re really glad you have a stable boat.


Last year was a tough training season, proven by one of the Waterside races being cancelled as the majority of the course was frozen over. When you’re training in the depths of winter with the half-frozen water feeling like sludge under your paddles you’re main priority is to have a boat that stays upright.

Unfortunately, there are the gorgeous autumn evenings and sunny spring mornings. The sun glistening on the water seems to give you unfounded confidence in wanting to try out that sleek and speedy boat which has been winking at you for months.

So which one do you take with you to DW?

For those new to racing kayaks, you need to understand the concept of stability or ‘the wobble factor’. The principle is pretty simple – the faster the boat, the lighter and thinner it is and therefore the less stable it is. With the potential for more speed, you have to sacrifice any sense of being able to balance.

Wobble factors range from one to ten. One is like being an elephant trying to balance on a floating golf ball, ten is like paddling around in a narrowboat with added stabilisers. Generally people start off in a boat with a wobble factor of ten, and as they build up their technique and balance they gradually progress to faster boats with a slightly higher wobble factor.

To give this some context, here’s an example:

Al and I felt like we should up our game for DW this year and try out some other boats at the club. The first boat we ever parked our bums in was a ten, we then progressed to a nine over the course of 6 months and raced DW in that same boat. One year on from our first ever kayak trip we found ourselves quite comfortable in a boat with a wobble factor of eight and were stable but nervous trying out a seven. We then got cocky, sat in a five and nearly died with terror as we couldn’t even bring ourselves to let go of the jetty.

When thinking about what wobble factor you want for DW, I’d suggest prioritising stability over the speed and weight of the boat. I think most people would agree that it’s better to arrive at the finish line slightly later than to suffer the dent in morale that comes with a capsize in the dark at 86 miles. Even the most experienced of paddlers tend to go up a few wobble factors for the sake of sanity at 3am in the morning.


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