When I first started kayaking I was under the impression that once you buy a kayak, a paddle and a PFD, you’re done. It seemed like a relatively inexpensive sport to take up. Yeah right! Kayaking gear is expensive, and the cheap stuff… well you really don’t want it. Nowadays whenever I purchase anything I look at it in kayak units… that car repair is going to cost me “half of a poly kayak,” or to go to that concert is going to cost me “1/3 of a helmet,” etc., etc.
I remember being a new kayaker and deciding to go to Adventures Edge, Arcata’s outdoor store, to purchase all of my safety gear at the same time. Pump, float and tow rope, that couldn’t cost more than a few bucks, right? Guess again. $243.85 later I had decided that if I needed rescuing at sea this gear should not only get me back in my kayak, with no work on my part, but should wrap me in a warm blanket and make me hot coffee as well.
I am a kayak instructor and use paddle floats for my rolling classes. Six students per class, two paddle floats per student… this could easily lead to bankruptcy. So what are the other options? Something that floats… hmmm, beach balls, swimming arm bands and even PFDs have been substituted in my classes, but I like a system, and have decided that making my own paddle floats is the way to go.
As far as safety gear on the open ocean, the paddle float that I use is a Seattle Sport double chamber float. I like this float because it rolls up small, has two chambers, so in case one fails there’s a backup, It secures well on either a Greenland or a Euro paddle and it’s easy to inflate and deflate without any high-tech functions that I’d be sure to break. I should mention that I don’t like large boxey foam paddle floats. First, they take up too much room, and second, the amount of buoyancy cannot be adjusted. That said, the floats that I make myself are made of foam, but they don’t take up a lot of room, and they’re CHEAP.
So last weekend I’m at a rummage sale with the proceeds going to Support the local high school’s safe and sober graduation. The deal is, you pay $5 and get a large bag. You can fill it with whatever you want. I strolled around for a bit looking for that rummage sale piece that I just couldn’t live without. I’d already tossed a serving dish, an umbrella, a groovy shirt for my son and a couple of books into my bag… then I saw it… nestled amongst some old gardening stuff was a large, beat up, bright blue, foam camping mat. That would be my rummage sale score… paddle floats.
So the process:
1. Acquire a foam camping mat. Recycling is always good, and getting one from a rummage sale is not only inexpensive but better for the environment than buying new.
2. Measure the widest part of your paddle blade, round up to the nearest inch, double it and add 3 inches.
3. Make marks along the full length of the mat at the number you came up with in step 2.
4. Do the same with the other long side, and connect the markings using a straight edge. Cut along the line using a razor blade.
5. Fold the strips in half (parallel to the cuts you made) and push down on the folded part hard to form a solid crease. Open and spread sealant along both long sides and the top edge. The glue can be spread up to one inch of each side.
6. Wearing a glove, spread the sealant with your finger.
7. Fold and place something heavy on the float. If you have the Complete Works of Shakespeare handy and don’t plan on reading it in the next 24 hours, it works well as a weight. Follow the same steps with the rest of the foam strips.
8. Let the glue dry and the crease set for several hours.
9. Check the floats. If the sealant is holding well, you might be done. If not, or to add a little more strength, you can sew them as well. To do this use thick thread and a needle. Start at the corner of the crease so that you can hide the end of the thread inside the crease.
Voila, you now have homemade paddle floats.