Kayaking can be a racing sport that uses kayaks, small, narrow boats propelled by a double-bladed paddle, but it is more commonly a recreational activity than a competitive one. Lately, kayaking is becoming more popular in Vietnam.
The kayak, literally translated as "hunter's boat", was created thousands of years ago by the Eskimos of the northern Arctic regions for hunting and fishing. Now kayak racing is a popular sport around the world.
A kayak is designed to closely fit the body size of 1 or 2 people. Compared to traditional kayaks, today's kayaks are even smaller and sturdier. They can be classified by their design, the materials from which they are made, and their purpose.
Different designs have different advantages, in terms of speed, maneuverability, stability, and paddling style. Kayaks can be made of metal, fiberglass, wood, plastic, fabric, or inflatable materials like PVC or rubber.
Recently kayaks are being made of expensive but feather-light carbon fiber. Because of their range and adaptability, kayaks are useful for diving, fishing, wilderness exploration, and search and rescue operating.
We were at the wharf of Phung hamlet in Lam Binh district, Tuyen Quang province, to watch Vietnam’s second kayak racing competition. It took 30 minutes to paddle a canoe to the competition venue on Tuyen Quang hydropower plant reservoir.
The reservoir, famous for the Khuoi Nhi and Khuoi Sung waterfalls and Song Long cave, covers an area of more than 4,000ha. Spring, summer, and autumn are the best times to kayak there. The winter can be quite cold.
The kayak race drew 11 teams of professional and amateur kayakers, competing in two categories-men’s teams and mixed doubles.
18-year-old Dang Thi Ngan of Ham Yen district, Tuyen Quang province, said, “I’m studying at the University of Physical Education and Sports and specializing in boat racing. I have practiced the sport for 4 years and participated in many competitions including at the national level. The highest award I got was a bronze medal. The national competition was held in Hanoi, Hai Phong, and Da Nang City.”
Coming from clubs across Vietnam and the 5 districts of Tuyen Quang, the 82 participant kayakers raced from the wharf to a flagged line then pulled their boats over a sandbar, and raced back. The total distance was 2km.
Nguyen Van Hien, Deputy Chairman of the Lam Binh district People’s Committee, said Phung hamlet was selected as the venue for the race because the organizing board wanted spectators to enjoy the beautiful scenery.
“The Hanoi kayak club, the first in Vietnam, led other clubs across Vietnam to Tuyen Quang Lake. Lam Binh district decided to establish our own club with an initial membership of 10 people. Now there are more than 50 members with about 30 kayaks,” said Hien.
Nguyen Van Thao of Lam Binh district participated in this year’s race for the first time. He said as soon as the plan to host the competition was announced, he was taught how to hold the paddle, sit on the boat, and paddle efficiently across the water.
Thao said, “We are honored to participate in this year’s competition and learn from the other athletes. I competed in the men’s team category.”
Nguyen Thanh Trung, head of the Hanoi Kayak Racing Club, said, “Kayak racing requires long practice to learn how to conserve strength and paddle in different parts of the course. This year’s competition was bigger and more professional than last year’s event.”
Kayakers should observe the following safety rules, according to Tran Trung Kien of the Umove SUP Club in Hanoi:
“First, make sure you always have a way to contact someone or call for help when you paddle a kayak far from the shore. Buy a waterproof bag for your phone and other necessities."
"Second, take along a floating device such as a life jacket. It doesn’t have to look beautiful, but it will be really useful in any emergency."
"Third, check the weather and tide, a key factor to ensure your safety. You should know for sure what time the tide comes in and goes out."
"Be sure to wear the right clothes. If it is forecast to get cold, you should bring an extra coat to keep warm. There are many wind- and water-resistant jackets to choose from. If it will be hot, be prepared to protect your skin from the sun."
"If you are not a professional kayaker, seriously consider hiring a kayak tour guide. An experienced guide will make sure you have the right equipment and techniques, and will increase the safety of your trip,” said Kien.
The Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism is developing a white paper on the management of adventure tourism activities. Once it’s issued, the white paper will be a foundation for good management of adventure tourism services in Vietnam, including kayaking. VOV5