A review of 3 books

August 8, 2006

I have read three books on kayaking and thought I’d review them here.

Firstly (before I bought a Kayak) I read:


Sea Kayaking; a manual for long distance touring by John Dowd

Dowd has a way of sounding like your dad and the tone of the book is very relaxed and easy to follow. It claims to be pitched at intermediate kayakers starting out on expeditions yet basic skills like bracing, sculling and rolling are included. Even the most basic things that are left out are assumed by their absence and that keeps the book from being patronising in an overly wordy ‘beginners guide’ type way.

He gives a very informative overview of the sport and its locations from polar kayaking to the tropics. He then gives a reassuring overview of a sea kayak’s ‘sea worthiness’ (dependent on the paddler) explaining some hurricane force winds he has personally endured in a kayak. He also discusses at length the issue of kayaking alone (an issue that was dear to my heart) and concludes that one can kayak safely alone, in fact he even suggests kayaking in numbers can give a false sense of security.

Dowd writes about buying a kayak and refreshingly advises ‘keep in my mind your original image – how you saw yourself with your boat’ which I found to be excellent advice.

This book is a very good introduction to sea kayaking and an interesting read. It is also a bible-like source of information. As Paul Theroux said on the jacket “quiet simply the best book available on this wonderful sport”


Second I borrowed


Derek Hutchinson’s Guide to Eskimo Rolling by Derek Hutchinson (obviously)

I am not sure of the year of print (3rd Edition) but this book felt like an early 1980’s publication with dated images. It covers some basic paddle skills, skulling and about 15 different types of Eskimo roll each in its own three – five page chapter. Each chapter ends with an anecdote from Hutchinson or another paddler about their rolling experiences. The rolls themselves are well illustrated and some of the images are useful. I found the book a good introduction to the most basic Pawletta long roll and screw roll but got confused by so many rolls so close to each other.

Sadly I felt that the book was mostly fluff, padded out with the anecdotes which were dated and quickly got boring. It could easily have been edited down to 40 pages (but that may be one of the realities of publishing). I also disn’t like the author showboating his own skills and didn’t like his tone which I found to be a bit bossy / clubby in the way the English are very good at. I could imagine the author as secretary of the British Canoe and Kayak Club (or something).

Anyway maybe that is just me; Hutchinson is well respected (hence the title) and was responsible for great advances in kayak touring in the 1960’s, 70’s and 80’s.

Lastly I bought and read


Sea Kayaker Deep Trouble: True Stories and Their Lessons from Sea Kayaker Magazine by Matt Broze and George Gronseth

Deep trouble recounts the stories and reports of 20 kayaking incidents which range from death (often with sketchy information as you would imagine) to mild hypothermia to extraordinary feats of endurance and survival. Most of these were reported already in sea kayaker magazine, this is a compendium dating back 20 years.

Almost all of the incidents happened in the pacific north west of America, with one in Alaska and one in New England (?). The authors are based in this area along with a healthy proportion of kayakers. The sea conditions and weather there vary widely and it there are many potentially dangerous areas, hence a good source for this book?

Unfortunately I found a majority of the incidents were the result of either total novices ‘in over their heads’ or total stupidity. Kayaking in shorts and a tee shirt in 10degrees water and 20knot winds with no pfd; the lessons are not hard to learn.

However, of the 20 cases presented, one or two were noteworthy, others included elements of interest, and some of the comments from the ‘pros’ was useful. Bad things are the formatting – which includes simultaneous commentary with the incident report – didn’t work. I think this book can be replaced by some stories and trip reports that are available on the internet (one good one is here).

I expected more from this book (I have always wanted to read ”Total Loss” about sailing) but maybe it just wasn’t aimed at me (the target audience might be novice kayakers who don’t wear a pfd).


I am currently reading The Happy Isles of Oceania by Paul Theroux but while kayaking is part of it, it’s not about kayaking.

3/5 so far.


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