I am not a personal trainer, nor have I worked with one (though I’ve given a lot of thought to doing so) and other than studying/observing/ reading a lot on this topic I am by no means an expert—this is my take on the subject of stretching and kayaking.
So, what is the question? It is: When to stretch, not if to stretch.
Warm-up of the musculoskeletal tissue is important prior to a high level of activity. Whether you are lifting weights, running, snowshoeing, skiing, or kayaking, our body will respond better with a warm-up period. What does that “warm-up” period look like? It depends . . . for the casual performer (e.g., going out for a paddle with a group of friends) it might be nothing more that paddling at a slower pace and gradually ramp-up to cruising speed. The more competitive performer (a high intensity work out) this might be a warm-up that moves through the gradual phase followed by some short bursts of higher intensity, before moving into the sustained high intensity. We’ve all seen this as players warm-up before a game, as runners warm-up before their race, etc. The fact is that our muscles, tendons and ligaments are like rubber bands and cold rubber bands aren’t as elastic as warm ones (got this analogy from an instructor candidate who gave an excellent presentation on this very topic). As to stretching, observe the pros—notice how the baseball players start out playing catch, then run some sprints, then stretch out after a good warm-up, then game on.
For all the teaching I’ve done, I don’t recall ever having the students go through a period of warm-up exercises on the beach, I’d rather get them going and do a gradual warm-up on the water. When I go for a paddle I spend a few minutes paddling around in the launch area executing many of the strokes and maneuvers, then once I’m warmed-up I do a torso rotational stretch to each side, stretch forward along the deck, then begin my journey with a gradual ramp-up to cruising speed. Depending on the amount physical exertion, I may or may not stretch out after returning from my paddle. Contrast this with when I go to the gym and lift weights—I start out with a few lighter weights to warm up, or spend 10 minutes on the rowing machine at a moderate pace, and then do the “heavy” lifting. My routine varies working different muscle groups (e.g., I start with core, then shoulders, then arms, then back to the core, then to hips, then back to shoulders, then to back, then to legs, then to the core, then to stretching (especially the lower back and hamstrings), then to the whirlpool. Then home and a Smuttynose IPA, or two!
One final note–there are (at least) three elements to physical fitness: Cardio, strength, and flexibility. While all three are, in my opinion, important, I find that often (not always) it is the flexibility that becomes more limiting in what we are able to do–that limits our performance and hinders our efficiency. Flexibility is also the one element, again in my opinion, that seems to be the hardest to regain after a long period of neglect (read as we age). A word to the younger folks: don’t neglect flexibility, as well as the strength and cardio.