John Willacy Q&A

John Willacy is a guest coach in the November 2017 Leader Training & Paddler Development Course. The course is led by Roger Chandler over a two week period and takes place in Anglesey. John will teach a specialist module which focuses on developing techniques for efficient forward paddling.

John is an experienced sea kayaker with a racing background and many a record under his belt including kayaking the 2,500 miles around the UK in the fastest time ever both clock and anti-clockwise! 

- Not quite ‘ever’ he says; Joe Leach followed me around clockwise 2 weeks later; he was a few days faster.

John completed the circumnavigation in an impressive 72 days, and Joe in 67! John also designed the Rockpool Taran which is one of the choice boats for performance paddling.

-          Tell us a bit about yourself. Why do you paddle and why are you based in Anglesey?

I enjoy the challenge that paddling brings me, there’s something new every day. It’s become a 30+ year experiment that still teaches me so much, it has taken me to so many places both in body and mind over the years. I have a fascination for the water and like to work out how I can use it to make my boat go places and do things.

I came to Anglesey with my then job as an aircraft engineer. Once I retired from that I stayed on Anglesey for my paddling. I live close to the ‘Swellies’ - It’s Monday morning, the sun is out, the wave is running and commuters are queuing on the bridge – why wouldn’t you?

-          What do you generally see among kayakers when it comes to forward paddling?

All sorts! There are a variety of styles and abilities out there, but then at the end of the day it all works – we all go forward. Sometimes things can be ‘enhanced’ a little though.

-          What are the benefits of a good technique?

More miles in less time or more miles for less effort. You can use the boat for so much more if you are efficient and not fighting it. It also makes you look like you know what you are doing!

-          How can we develop a good technique?

The main key to a good technique is many miles of paddling, built on top of a little thought, some analysis, training and perhaps a bit of coaching.

-          Sometimes we can find it easier to maintain a good rhythm and technique in flat water. What advice do you have for moving into more irregular, dynamic water?

Build a good technique first on flat-water and then take this onto gentle moving water. As you improve, go into increasingly challenging conditions. Work all four directions in relation to wind and sea (downwind, into-wind and both directions across-wind). Later work in between the cardinal directions too, to become experienced in all directions. Many miles are key once again.

-          What are your top training tips?

  • Learn (or re-learn) something every time you paddle.
  • Have a set aim or goal before you get on the water.
  • Learn something from everyone you ever paddle with.
  • Try to avoid gaps in training - benefits are soon lost and so have to be re-gained.
  • Avoid fads, fashions and bandwagons.

-          What are the top 3 safety tips you would give paddlers?

  • Learn your limits; don’t go if you are in doubt.
  • What you see from the beach is 2-3 times smaller than what you get once you are out there.
  •  Accept the forecast for what it is, not what you would like it to be.

-          And finally, what has been your greatest kayaking adventure?

That’s a tricky one, there’s been so much over the years, where do you start? Paddling with the penguins in the Falkland Islands was memorable. The UK trips were definitely an adventure too. However I’m a simple boy at heart, I don’t need to travel too far and wide to enjoy for memorable paddling – a good session down the Straits with friends or a play on the waves will keep me smiling for a good while.