I’ve been paddling for nearly 50 years, and a member of Royal Canoe Club for over 35 years (including a spell as commodore). During this time I’ve been a national champion and international paddler in both slalom and white water racing, (going back to the days of a more ‘Corinthian’ approach to international competition!)
I’ve always had a keen interest in the technical / equipment side of paddling. (I studied mechanical engineering at university, and began my working life in an engineering research environment). It has been suggested if I had spent a bit less time ‘fiddling’ with equipment etc, and some more time training, I might have been a more successful paddler (seems a bit harsh!) Having started my international career in the original ‘end cockpit’ slalom C2’s, in the mid-seventies I modified one of these in to a ‘closer cockpit’ boat, campaigning it during the 1976 Europa Cup. (It’s only in recent years I’ve learned a couple of Americans were slightly ahead of me with their ‘Gemini’ C2, first seen in Europe in 1977).
When I switched to ‘down river’ C2 in the eighties, I designed and built a simple air-braked paddling machine to assist with my own training, and this was eventually manufactured (by Engineering Systems, Nottingham) for general sale. I also made my own paddles at this time, implementing some concepts I ‘believed in’, but have only recently been able to investigate successfully (mathematically).
Having stood on the podium with the GB C2 team (alas the bottom step) at the 1987 Worlds in France, it was apparent (to all) this was going to be the high point of my white water career. The result was ‘diversification’ in to outrigger paddling and dragon boat racing (anything single bladed and exotic). This eventually led to me being head coach of the GB dragon boat racing team in 1998-99, with the team as a whole picking up 13 medals at the 1999 worlds (including winning the ‘blue ribbon’ open 500m event).
In later years designing ‘sit & switch’ paddling machines and adapting rowing ergo software to use on Lawler kayak paddling machines, led to work as a consultant for UK Sport from 2005 to 2008. The ‘job’ involved designing and refining paddling machines for slalom and sprint. The ‘exposure’ to sprint racing at this time particularly caught my interest, as the (relatively) closed environment of sprint racing gave an opportunity to studying the ‘science’ behind certain aspects of paddling. This has led to studies with regard to paddling cadence (particularly crew boats), paddle design, and the impact of K1 ‘bouncing & skewing’ on performance.
As touched upon earlier, for many years I’d had views on what might improve paddle performance, but having made various test (and race) paddles, the results of ‘time trialing’ them has proved inconclusive. This has led to the view that paddles have evolved to the point that any performance gains made, are extremely difficult to spot simply by ‘time trialing’. This has led me to work over a number of years to develop a mathematical model (Paddle Design Tool), to allow the calculation of performance differences generated by changes in paddle geometry. One of the results of this work is I’m now in a position to demonstrate the paddles I made for the ‘worlds’ in 1987, were around 1/4 sec a minute faster than those typically being used at the time (including by my C2 partner!)
I continue to amuse myself with assorted sports science projects, and will be making use of some of the developments to ‘spearhead’ my (dramatic ?) rise from marathon racing Div 6.
Mike Phillp February 2016
(Autumn 2018 update, Div 5)
(June 2019 update, Div 4!)