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I Can't Swim!!!!  (But I still want to tri...what do I do?)

Replacing swimming with kayaking for your triathlon...FUN!

by Ron


Allright, you can't swim or if you do, you do it very horribly and have not the patience...but you still want to tri!   Well if your near a body of water then your in luck!!! 

  • First off, you will need to find yourself a kayak or canoe to train with.  Check the papers first as new ones can get expensive.  You should not need anything big (long).  Long kayaks are usually for touring purposes, lots of room for storage.  The shorter kayaks are for rapids and whitewater.   Typical sizes vary from 6 feet to 20 feet and from 35 to 60+lbs.  I have a Dimension Typhoon (above) coming in at 11feet and 41 lbs - works great!!!  There are mainly two types of kayaks.  Sit on top or sit inside.  The sit inside is good for rapids and day trips.  Your legs are inside and protected from the water.  Sit on tops are just that.  It has 3 feet positions and a tall back support - feels very comfortable and I have a bad back.   It also features a waterproof pod in back to pack some food and drink - not a overnighter for gear.  There are also inflatable kayaks - very popular.  I am against canoes as to their limited maneuverability.  Basically a Boeing 747 compared to a helicopter. (I exaggerate and probably step on several toes)  With a kayak I feel like I'm in a Toyota MR2 - stickshift (yeahhh!!!!)  in total control.
  • An alternative is to find a place that rents canoes/kayaks and then rent one 1-2 times per week to train.  Usually, most triathlons offering a canoe/kayak option  WILL provide you with one on race day.
  • During your kayak looking (or canoe if you must) you need to get some muscles into shape.  Kayaking basically works your back, shoulders, biceps, triceps and stomach through the actions of pulling, pushing and lifting the paddle.  To stimulate all these muscle groups we need to do some exercises or you will hurt.
  • BACK, BICEPS : T-bar or seated vertical row.  Wide-grip pull-ups are also great.  These exercises emulate the pulling motion of the paddle through the water.
  • CHEST, TRICEPS:  Bench Press (pulley or free-weights) and dips or tricep push-downs will mimick the pushing motion for the hand on the paddle out of the water.
  • SHOULDERS, ABS:  Military press, front/side lateral raises and any abdominal exercise will help you with the 'lift and twist' motion of paddling.
  • How much should I do?  Light weight and many reps.  Kayaking/canoeing is an 'endurance' sport.  You must be able to sustain long times as opposed to lifting.  Try 3 sets of 20 reps.

Once you have had some strength training, purchased a kayak, then it's time to find some H2O (not just one molecule, we need a bunch).

  Here are the basics in kayak stroke technique:


  • Grip:  Grip the paddle shoulder-width apart in a sideways 'thumbs-up' hold.  Make sure you rest that thumb on the paddle.
  • Catch:  (sit up straight).  Wind your torso to the left.  The right paddle should be in the air, left near the water.  When winding, try to turn your right shoulder as far as you can around to the left.
  • Propulsion:  Now drive that right paddle into the water.  Try not use your arms much to do it - keep your forearms and upper arms at 90degrees.  Just untwist then retwist your torso, turning your left shoulder around to the right.  When your right paddle (which is now in the water) is across from your hip, then...
  • Recovery:  Lift the right paddle out of the water, start back at the 'catch.'

      -  You can even practice this at home.  Just find a big stick or broom and look goofy.

Where can one find a kayak/canoe, bike and swim?

First, check out or to see what is in your state, if not in the US, please send me a link to your countries tri-directory.

For example, some distances in my state - Ohio:

Sunday, June 01, 2003 Ft. Ancient, Ohio: Little Miami Triathlon - Spring Event
2 Person Teams - Canoe 6 miles, Run 6 miles, Bike 16 miles
Sunday, June 15, 2003 Deersville, Ohio: Tecnica Adventure Race Series
1-2mi Kayak, 12-18 mi MTB, 4-6 mi Trail Run, Special Events
Saturday, June 21, 2003 West Milton, Ohio: West Milton Triathlon
Canoe 4 miles, Run 5 miles, Bike 17 miles
Sunday, June 29, 2003 Glenmont, Ohio: NCN Mohican Adventure Race
Challenge: 5-Mile Canoe, 5K Mountain Bike, 5K Run
Max Challenge: 5-Mile Canoe, 5K Mountain Bike, 10K Run
Sunday, July 06, 2003 Waynesville, Ohio: Tecnica Adventure Race Series
1-2mi Kayak, 12-18 mi MTB, 4-6 mi Trail Run, Special Events
Sunday, August 10, 2003 Bainbridge, Ohio: Tecnica Adventure Race Series
1-2mi Kayak, 12-18 mi MTB, 4-6 mi Trail Run, Special Events
Sunday, October 05, 2003 Ft. Ancient, Ohio: Little Miami Triathlon Series (Fall Event)
Canoe 6 miles, Run 6 miles, Bike 16 miles - 2 Person Teams

As you can see, lots of them...hope you have fun.  is a great site with lots of resources.

Article written from the following resources:



Rons Articles

Site Visions and Philosophy 2004


Achilles Tendonitis


Basic Stretching


Book Review - When Big Boys Tri


Getting Started With Swimming


Quick Bike Thoughts for Beginners


Bricking It


Thoughts from PineIsland Florida...a New 2003!


Can't Swim? Then KAYAK, Bike, Run!


Shin Splints


Starting from Scratch


Thoughts on Weightloss


Training Tips


Training for your First


Why Triathlon?  An Amateurs Perspective




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