Wash Riding Tips

on Jun 19 in Kayaks, Racing, Training by

This morning at Jimsquad (run by Jim Walker of My Kayak Coach) our training program had wash leads listed. As we stood in the shed before getting on the water, Jim drew on the white board what the session incorporated, where groups of three or four all of similar pace, share the workload over a twenty minute piece, split into 4 minute leads. We would do three of these twenty minute efforts. As each four minute effort ticked over, the group changes who leads, who sits on the side washes, and who sits in the ‘V’. I’m thinking to myself, why is he explaining something so simple? But then Jimsquad is made up of lots of paddlers of all different abilities, some of whom aren’t familiar with wash riding techniques, and the benefits of being good at it. Coming from a marathon background, wash riding is our bread and butter. Be good at it and you can save lots of energy and hopefully finish strongly. You can sometimes hang in a group which you would normally have no business in, with faster paddlers dragging you along. Equally, being bad at it can result in long, lonely paddles over long, flat races, as you’ve been dropped by a group, leaving you to do all your own work. So with that in mind, Jim’s explanation made perfect sense.

When out paddling, I have always got various stuff running through my head, and this morning was no different. I was thinking about how all these new guys in the squad were handling the session, and what I could describe to them to be better at wash riding, with a lot of flat water ski races ahead for our group.

Wash riding (or wash hanging you also hear it called) is a skill honed paddling with a minimum of one other paddler. And ideal group consists of four paddlers, but can often extend out to many more in race type scenarios. To keep things simple, I’ll explain the ideal group of four.

With our ideal group of four, the paddlers will form a diamond formation, with one paddler leading (or pulling), while two paddlers will sit either side of him, about a meter from the side of his boat. The sensation they are after is similar to that of downwind paddling in essence, where you are surfing the wave of the leading boat, being pulled along at the same speed as he is paddling at, but with a lot less effort on your part. Our fourth paddler is tucked away at the back in what we call the ‘V’ (or A wash it’s also known as), directly behind the lead paddler. The V can be a bouncy ride at times, but you get sucked along at a great pace, with a lot less effort. To put it in context, research has shown that effective wash riding can save you between 18 and 32%, depending on the position adopted in the group. Side wash can save you a significant 18%, while being in the V can save a whopping 31.9%.

So with these huge energy savings in mind, my advice to new paddlers who are learning the ropes of wash riding for racing are as follows:

  • Feel the sweet spot. There will be a point where you sit too far forward or too far back where you will not get the full benefit of the wash. By doing lots of wash riding, you will learn the feel of the sweet spot on the wash. As a guide, in K1s we position our bow near where the lead paddler’s paddle exits the water, and wide enough that both paddlers can comfortably take a stroke without hitting each others paddles. Adjustments will need to be made for skis as the length of the craft are so different, as well as the position of the wash waves.
  • Relax, but concentrate. Often when you get onto a wash, the first thing you will do is relax and try and rest and recover. At this point, you are vulnerable to a break from another paddler in the group. Be aware of what is going on in the group around you. Use the time on the wash to relax as much as possible physically, but don’t relax mentally, you need to be able to cover anything that happens.
  • Stay straight. Keep pressure on your pedals, or your tiller bar in position to keep a straight line. Don’t wander and drift on the wash, risking falling off it, or sliding into the lead paddler’s paddle or boat.
  • Maintain solid technique. The last thing you want is after doing the work to get a good wash, loose it when not ready to cover a break. Ensure that you maintain good catch and rotation, combined with solid leg drive so that in the event of a break, you just apply more power or up your rating to make the effort to get to the next wash. If you have relaxed off your technique, when a break occurs you will need time to get your technique back on track, given your opponents a split second advantage to drop you. Also, by maintaining good technique you maintain efficiency, ensuring you get all there is to get from the wash.
  • Don’t crash and bash. At the end of the day, crashing or bashing into another paddler only slows you down, disrupts boat run, breaks concentration. Steer clear of other boats and paddles.
  • Don’t get boxed in. While the V wash is a great spot to conserve lots of energy, as the finish approaches, you don’t want to be boxed in with no chance of passing your competitors. Move out to a side wash or take on the sprint finish by taking the lead yourself.
  • Enjoy the ride. You’re getting pulled along after all, enjoy it for all it’s worth, it won’t last forever!


Hopefully these few tips will help new comers to racing, and specifically flat water racing.

See you in the V,