E-School

Welcome to the Performance Video eSchool! We have a lot of helpful materials here, so don't be bashful about taking advantage of the information, and telling your friends! If you have comments, or find any errors, please let us know.

kayak strokes

Fine tune your paddlesports skills online!

Read paddlesport and technique commentary and advice from Kent Ford.

Drills for Mountain Biking: Learn how to accelerate, ride switchbacks, release your cleats easily, and more!

Kayak Roll Tips: This is a small sample of what is available from our ebook on The Kayak Roll.

Whitewater Kayaking!: This collection of articles includes river reading and basic safety. One entire section focuses on how to Breakthru to the next level with drills for forward paddling and boat control paddling technique for intermediate and advanced paddlers.

Sea Kayaking & Ocean Surf Kayaking: This collection of articles for the sea kayaker features the best forward stroke, surfing, self rescue, & rolling tips!

Drill Time for Canoeing: Learn how to accelerate with ease, develop finesse, roll a solo boat, and more!

Access the DeRiemer eSchool, practical articles on mental preparation for kayaking, sure to help you improve!

Kayak eBook

Sea Kayaking & Ocean Surf Kayaking E-School

Don't miss our extensive kayak rolling instructional articles. While most of the images are whitewater boats, virtually all the skills in rolling are the same as whitewater.

Forward stroke work, surf etiquette, and capsize recovery can be accessed through the links.

More advanced stroke work is available on these subjects:

Going forward
Glide
Punch or Pull?
Breakthru Tips
Thanks!

Buying a Kayak

You might want to start looking at gear by going to a paddling store, perusing catalogs, or by checking out the buyers guides put out annually by the major magazines.

You’ll find hundreds of different boat and gear designs. The number of styles and subtle differences in form and function can make your head spin! Fortunately, it is easy to narrow down the choices.

Whitewater play boats are usually plastic, fairly short (8-10 feet) and somewhat broad. These characteristics make the kayak ideal for spinning and dancing down rapids.

You should get in several boats before you make a purchase. Comfort and ease of entry/ exit, stability, and strength are important variables in choosing a boat. "Try before you buy" is a good plan.

Inside whitewater boats there is a foam pillar that travels the length of the boat, adding stiffness to the deck and flotation to the kayak. Most boats also have foot braces that are adjustable and thigh hooks. Check to make sure that each of these is adjusted properly for a good fit. Foam can be glued to the seat and thigh hooks to enhance your fit and comfort. Trust me—the time spent outfitting your kayak is well worth a great day on the river!

On the bow (front) and stern (back) are little handles, called grab loops, that are part of the rescue system. They are necessary if you’re pulling a friend to shore or to help you hold onto the boat in the event of a flip and swim.

High Tech Materials

The type of material the boat is built from is another choice that you'll have to make when you go out to select a boat. There are two basic materials that are used in kayaks today, fiberglass and plastic. The plastic is generally a rotomolded plastic, not unlike the big plastic trash cans out in front of your house, or the tupperware containers in your freezer. The plastic boats are thick, easily scratched, but most importantly, very indestructible. That trash can you've backed over in the driveway generally springs back into shape. The same is true for the plastic recreational kayaks on the market. (I am not recommending testing this feature.) The odds are that your first kayak will be a plastic boat.

Choosing a Kayak

The most basic variables in boat design are the length and width. All other things being equal, a longer, narrower boat will be faster than a shorter and fatter boat. But the short, fat boat will turn more easily.

Stability is another factor that is very important to paddlers evaluating boats. A boat that remains wide along the length of a boat will be more stable than a boat that only widens very briefly and then narrows again. Judging this is difficult because the width can be in different places relative to the water line. Width above water line doesn't create a boat that is as stable as a boat that has a lot of width below the water line.

Rocker is another feature to consider when deciding what kind of kayak you want to buy. Rocker is the degree to which the hull curves at the ends. A boat that has a lot of rocker will spin more easily, while a boat that has little rocker will be faster.

Try Before You Buy

The best thing to do before buying a boat is to try it out, ideally at a professional school where they have a variety of different boats that you can trade in and out of during the course of a day or two. If you can’t take a class, try attending a demo organized by local stores, or through paddling clubs. In just a day or two you can get a good feel for which boats will suit you best. On the deck, around the seat area, is the cockpit rim. The elastic cord of the spray skirt fits around the around the rim, and around your waist to keep the water out. While running rapids the spray skirt helps keep the water out of the boat.

Buying Used Boats

Buying a used boat can be an affordable option and a good rule of thumb is to look for boats that are in pretty good condition, with no major breaks. A boat that is less than 4 or 5 years old assures you of a design that's pretty far along in the evolution of the sport. Some of the older designs are less comfortable, so be especially careful that you fit the boat. Like most major capital expenditures, kayaks depreciate nearly 50% in the first year. After 5 years the value of a kayak in good condition rarely drops to less than a third of its original retail price.

Get the Gear

Paddles, skirt, pfd, other gear and a checklist....

Paddles

Whitewater kayak paddles are usually about 180 cm long, and made of durable plastics and resins. You’ll notice that the blades are offset by 45 to 60 degrees, so you will want a quick lesson in holding the paddle with the correct grip so the blades catch the water correctly.

Top-of-the-line paddles range from $250 to $400, while standard versions can cost $100 to $150. The most inexpensive paddles might cost $20 or $30. These cheap ones have an aluminum shaft and a plastic blade. Rarely do these maintenance-free models have a solid or stiff feel in the water.

It's amazing how many times I discover a student of mine using what I consider a war club instead of a quality paddle. A lightweight, yet stiff paddle is the key to having fun kayaking. A well designed blade pulls and slices easily in the water. It feels like a natural extension of your upper body movements.

Paddle Materials

Paddles are made of two materials: wood and synthetics such as plastic or fiberglass. Wood paddles reward you with a delightful feel both in and out of the water. They respond with a softness and warmth in your hands. However, wood paddles require occasional varnishing and sanding. Also, they are more expensive than synthetics.

Synthetic paddles have aluminum or fiberglass shafts. Their blades are usually fiberglass. They have a broad range in quality and cost. The least expensive ones can be unacceptably flexible and weak, while the best synthetic paddle can rival the finest wood paddle.

Material advantage disadvantage cost

Wood delightful feel & aesthetics occasional maintenance $250

Fiberglass strength shaft shape and feel $250-400

Carbon light weight fragile $375+

Plastic inexpensive less precise feel $100+

Blade Shape

Blade shape is important to paddle performance. It allows slicing easily through the water and a secure stroke. The inside of the curved blade is called the power face. Some blades are dihedral, which is a convex, spoon-shape that improves the blade's performance.

Kayak paddle blades are offset; when you lay them on the ground, the blades face in different directions. This is called the feather, or the offset. Today's paddles are offset about 45 to 60 degrees. Ten years ago, virtually all the paddles were offset at 90 degrees. The sport is evolving to small offsets, which many kayakers believe is easier on the wrist. This offset, or blade feathering, makes the paddle easier to use in a headwind, and allows for more power on a wide variety of strokes.

Sizing a Paddle

To size a paddle, hold it over your head with arms at right angles to the shaft. Whitewater kayakers should have a fist width, four or five inches, between their hand and the blade. Sea kayakers hold their hands slightly closer, and have 10-20 inches between their hands and the blades. The following chart shows the correlation between height and arm span in relation to the paddle length. When shopping for a paddle, expect to find paddles sized in centimeters.

Your height (and arm span) Whitewater paddle

<5' 190 cm

5'- 5'6" 190-197 cm

5'6"- 6' 197cm

6'-6'6" 200 cm

Kayak paddles are one of the only things only measured in Metrics here in the US, probably because the largest paddle-makers are of Germanic descent!

Small people should pay attention to the shaft's diameter. Most shafts are standard sized to fit the average male adult's hand size. People with small hands, especially women and children, may want to order their paddles special to have a smaller blade and shaft diameter. If you experience wrist problems or mild tendonitis, your paddle might be the cause.

Spray Skirt

You will also want a spray skirt, which goes around your waist and the kayak’s cockpit rim to keep the water out. A helmet, lifejacket, and throw rope are important for your own safety. You’ll also want warm clothing, like a wetsuit or drysuit to protect your body temperature in colder regions. The rule of thumb is to wear extra warmth whenever the air plus the water temperature is under 120 degrees.

Buying the Right PFD aka Lifejacket

A PFD, a personal flotation device, is the most essential part of a kayakers gear. You'll wear it all the time in or near the water. Fortunately, PFD's are made for comfort; so you'll hardly even notice it. In fact, you'll get so accustomed to it that you'll feel naked without it.

A PFD helps you float easily in the event of a swim. It helps you getting back into your boat and provides some insulation as well as padding. Many states require that you always have a pfd on when in a kayak, but even if laws don't require it you should make it a habit. It just makes good sense to be prepared for a capsize by wearing vest style PFD's at all times. When you're starting out you should start with a PFD that is Coast Guard approved as there are a growing number of places that require that certification.

A US Coast Guard approved Type III PFD costs between $100 and $200. This vest model is usually used by kayakers because it's construction provides adequate flotation in rough waters. Other Coast Guard types are designed for larger craft, and are not appropriate for kayaking. A PFD also protects you from abrasion and provides extra warmth on cold days.

A PFD consists of flotation foam sewn into a nylon cover. In some models the foam is a broad flat panel, in others the foam is in tubes that run vertically in narrow pockets. There are a couple of life jackets or PFD's that you should avoid. Avoid the horse collar kapok type II, with a bulky collar that drapes uncomfortably around your neck. Throwable flotation devices, (Type IV), or boat cushions are handy as backup rescue devices but they should never be substituted for a Type III life vest. It's hard to rescue a kayak or swim while using a cushion for flotation. They're fine for when an airplane crashes.

Wearing a PFD properly

A properly fitting PFD will feel snug, but will not inhibit your breathing. The best way to test a PFD is in the water, making sure that it stays low and snug around your torso and doesn't ride up.

A PFD can be tested on land. After adjusting the side straps, the waist strap and zipper, try tugging up at the shoulders. You shouldn't be able to lift the shoulders up past the middle of your ear. If you can raise them past the middle of your ear then you may need a snugger adjustement or a smaller size. Make sure that your PFD fits comfortably over layers of clothing. A wet suit, sweater and paddle jacket are commonly worn on the water.

I find that in the teaching I do, I'm constantly reminding my students that the responsibility is on them to make sure that their PFD is fitted, adjusted very snugly, and always on.

Other Essentials

Nobody needs to be a gear-head to enjoy kayaking. The basic equipment is required, and the same gear works well on most any water. However, the initial investment can be a shocking experience.

I recommend top quality equipment for every paddler. If you need to cut corners, do it by buying a used boat. A used boat is easy to sell after a year or two. If you take a real liking for the sport, then it's time to upgrade.

The Spray Skirt $100-150

The spray skirt fits around your waist and the rim of the boat's cockpit. The skirt elastic edge seals tightly to the rim. Generally the inside of the boat stays almost dry. Most paddlers use neoprene skirts which fit securely to keep water out effectively. Sea kayaking skirts are sometimes made of nylon, a material well-suited for the boat's large cockpit and the weathering affects of salt water, but they aren't waterproof..

Spray skirts are sized to fit your waist and cockpit size. A skirt's pull cord remain in front and on top of the cockpit. A pull releases the skirt for a quick wet exit after a flip. This loop is a kayaker's rip cord. Even without pulling the cord, a spray skirt should not hold you in the boat against your will.

Helmets $50-130

Whitewater helmets should fit snugly cover your forehead and temples. Test the fit by moving the helmet with your hand... it should slightly move the skin on your forehead, but not be so tight as to be uncomfortable. Stick with helmets designed for whitewater, to insure that they drain water easily. Sea kayakers rarely wear helmets... They wear them only when they are exploring caves or messing around in rocky surf.

Boat Rack

Once you have a boat you'll need a way to get it to the river. The best way to do this is on top of your vehicle. Rarely are the roof racks that come on a vehicle appropriate for boats, but if your car has rain gutters it is easy to add a boat rack. Most bike or paddling stores sell racks that fit nicely on the car. When you tie down your boat, do it securely with ropes or webbing straps. Boats flying off the cars at 55 miles an hour are a serious hazard to other road users and a serious hazard to your equipment as well. The standard minimum is to tie across your boat on each of the two racks, and bow line and a stern lines to the bumpers of your car.

Tip Hide the keys on or near your car, rather than risk losing them in the water.

Dressing for Success

Regardless of the clothing you wear, you'll get wet, be it from a paddle splash or a complete flip. The possibility of capsizing exists in all waters and it happens when you least expect it. What's more important is staying warm after the splash or soak. Coldness can lead to hypothermia, which is life threatening.

Choosing the proper clothing and accessories

Regardless of clothing you wear, you'll get wet, be it from a paddle splash or a complete flip. The possibility of capsizing exists in all waters and it happens when you least expect it. What's more important is staying warm after the splash or soak. Coldness can lead to hypothermia which is life threatening.

Loose, quick-drying apparel is the best clothing for kayaking. Jackets should feel comfortably loose. They shouldn't restrict torso movement while sitting. Choose roomy shorts and pants that don't bind when you sit. Synthetic materials dry quickly and will keep you warmer and more comfortable in the boat than will wool. Cotton can be used only in the hot, summer months because once it's wet, it remains that way with no insulating ability. Even cotton underwear should be avoided. Most boaters wear a nylon swimsuit under their layers, even in cooler weather.

Be prepared for cooler temperatures, especially from wind on large bodies of water. And remember that water temperature, rather than air temperature, is the most important consideration. The typical temperature of spring runoff rivers, lakes, and bays can be a frigid 40 degrees.... enough to rob you of your strength after a few minutes of immersion. It's wise to always be prepared for an unexpected swim. As you progress in the sport, you'll need to accumulate enough kayaking gear to protect you in a wide range of elements.

Clothing list

The following items of clothing are advisable, especially for cool weather or cold water paddling. Prices are in US dollars.

Paddling jacket $80-100. A paddling jacket is made of coated nylon with neck and wrist cuffs to prevent water from dripping in the arms and upper body. Made of a windproof fabric, it contains your body heat. Paddle jackets generally are not waterproof, yet it can maintain a fair amount of heat if you've been soaked.

Dry Top $180-350 Dry tops are an alternative to paddle jackets. While the tight seals at wrist and neck are less comfortable, the treated synthetic material eliminates all water getting in, keeping you dry. Most dry tops feature sealed neoprene closures seals at the wrists, a tight drawstring at the waist and a very tight neck seal. While a dry top affords you the luxury of staying warm and dry, it doesn't offer much in comfort. Until it's broken in, the neck seal binds and constricts. After enough wearings the jacket feels comfortable, but the neck seal begins breaking down. Dry tops are generally more expensive than paddling jackets.

Dry Suits $200-350 Dry suits resemble dry tops, but have no seal at the waist, and instead extend down the legs to ankle seals. Dry suits are great, if you end up swimming a bunch they can keep you dry. The disadvantage is again the discomfort of a tight neck gasket. Getting in and out of some of these suits is no easy chore.

Pullover or sweater $50-$150 . A synthetic sweater or pullover provides extra insulation and sheds water when wet. Wool provides warmth, but stays wet even though it wicks water away from the body. Some pullovers are made to wear specifically under paddling jackets with a low cut neck and shorter sleeves.

Farmer John wetsuit. $50 to $150 The Farmer John wetsuit is many paddlers' favorite for warm weather gear. Made of neoprene, it is a one piece body suit with thigh or calf length legs and a sleeveless top. A zippered front allows easy access, while some have a velcro or snap closure at the shoulder. The most popular thickness is three sixteenths to a quarter inch. The Farmer John is designed to get wet and provides some padding for those unfortunate swims in rocky waters. Its neoprene insulation works best when wet. By keeping a thin layer of water next to your skin which heats it to your body temperature, your warmth is maintained. For beginning paddlers, the Farmer John style wet suit is the best way to go in terms of warmth and durability. Perhaps the best combination for all kayakers is the the Farmer John combined with a wool or synthetic sweater and covered by a paddle jacket or a dry top .

Footwear $20 to $80. Foot protection from litter on the shore or rocks on the river bottom is real important. Not only will a sturdy soled shoe or bootie prevent a foot injury, it will enable you to run swiftly in the case of a loose boat slipping downriver, or a PFD's sudden flight with the wind. I recommend avoiding river sandals entirely, except as something to carry stowed in a dry bag or behind the seat. Booties will keep your feet warm, provide enough protection for walking on rocks, take up less foot room in today’s smaller boats, and have no straps, buckles or stiff soles to get hung up on hardware inside the boat. Ultimately you'll want footware that are specifically designed for kayak paddling. Strongly consider wet-suit booties or paddling shoes. They keep the sand out, your feet in better than most sandals or tennis shoes. Depending on the boat you buy, foot space may be limited!

Headgear $10 to 25 . Almost 75% of your body heat escapes through the head and neck. A wool hat is essential to staying warm on cold days whether you get wet or stay dry. On the coldest days, neoprene caps can save your life, especially in the event of a flip. A cheap but very workable alternative is a swimming cap combined with a wool hat.

Handy Accessories Personal preparedness goes beyond clothing; it includes the accessories that add to your general comfort. A baseball cap or a hat with a wide brim helps protect against the sun. Because water reflects the sun's rays, almost doubling their effects, it's not surprising to hear the unprepared paddler complain of a headache.

However, the sun isn't always the cause of headaches. Sometimes it's water, not drinking enough of it. Since kayakers engage in vigorous activity, their water needs are high, though often not noticed. A waterbottle that can tie or clip into the boat within easy reach is a good hedge against a symptom of dehydration, a headache.

Good quality sun glasses help minimize the glare reflected off the water. Paddlers wearing contact lenses rather than glasses are at an advantage because they are free to switch their sunglasses on and off without interfering with their vision. I use the disposable lenses and find that they work very well, even in whitewater.

A dry bag or a dry box, serve as waterproof containers to protect your extra clothing and food. Available in a wide range of sizes they can cost anywhere from $10 to $120. A small waterproof bag, is useful for storing your sunscreen, (an essential) lip balm, (preferably the kind with sunscreen) your car keys and driver's license, and a first aid kit, depending on its size. A high energy bar stashed in the ditty bag can give you a needed lift at the end of long day of paddling.

First Aid supplies

While carrying your boat to shore you puncture your foot on a stick poking through the sand. Scrambling to shore after a flip you scrape your calf on a rough rock. You cut your thumb while slicing cheese during a lunch stop. Injuries like these, and they are not uncommon, can jeopardize your day of paddling. Don't let a lack of a first aid kit ruin your trip. First aid kits can be purchased for $25 to $100 or you can develop your own kit based on your first aid skills and the remoteness of the paddling you will be doing.

Tailor the amount of first aid gear to the size and needs of your group. Know the medical history of every group member and check on everyone's current health before you leave on a tour, whether it's a day trip or a week long adventure. Find out if anyone in the group has a known allergy to bee stings and if so, include an antihistamine kit. A quick exit off a lake or river, regardless of an injury can be difficult and sometimes impossible.

\Tip\ If you are thirsty, then your body is a quart low on fluids. Drink before you get thirsty to stay properly hydrated.

A gear list

Kayakers have a lot of gear to remember, and as an instructor, I've seen many a day ruined when a beginning paddler forgot some of his or her gear. Even things like a hat or your visor, sun glasses, and water bottle are essential, and showing up with them at the start of your trip helps ensure you'll have a good day.

A kayaking gear list:
PFD
Paddle
spray skirt
boat flotation (air bags or equivalent)
Adequate weather protection for the season:
wetsuit
paddle jacket or drytop
booties, poagies (special gloves for hands and paddle), headgear
sunglasses w/ strap
sunscreen
money
drinking water
lunch, extra food
Throw Rope
rescue knife
Helmet

Fit your Boat

You get in to fit your boat on dry land. Slide your legs in with your legs straight, then splay your knees wide, so your knees go out to the side of the boat. Usually this will put your heels close together. You will want the footbrace or bulkhead set so that when you press on your toes, that locks your thighs up into the deck thighbrace. When you relax your toes, your thighs should drop a quarter inch below the deck. Your hips should be just snug in the seat, so if you have more than a 1/2 inch or so of space, add some padding.

Getting into the kayak on the water without a flip can be tricky. A sandy beach is an ideal place to put in for the first time. Simply step in like on dry land, and scoot your way toward the water.

A rocky shoreline is trickier. Put the boat parallel to shore and use the paddle for stability while getting in. Set the paddle behind your cockpit with one blade up on shore. Stand in front of the paddle shaft with your back to it and reach directly behind you to grab it. Load most of your weight on the part of the paddle that's on the boat, but keep a little bit of weight on the part of the paddle closer to the shore. Slide both legs at the same time into the boat until your butt rests on the seat.

Putting the Spray Skirt On

Getting the spray skirt, especially a dry new one, onto the cockpit rim can also be tricky. With your skirt already pulled high on your waist, lean back and reach behind and hook the back of the spray skirt to the rim. Drag your elbows forward and across the skirt , positioning the sides. Reach forward to hook the front of the skirt to the cockpit rim. Adjust the sides last. Be sure you have the little loop on the front (the rip cord) freely outside the cockpit. Getting the skirt on can be frustrating, so don't be afraid to ask for help.

I've seen kayakers at the starting line of world championships ask for help putting on their spray skirt. It's simply an awkward maneuver that sometimes requires a little assistance. Hint - get the skirt wet first if it is tight.

Prerequisites

Early in your first day of kayaking, you should learn and practice a wet exit. This is simply the process of swimming out of the boat when upside down. You should be under for only about 5 to 10 seconds.

The wet exit

Early in your first day of kayaking, you should learn and practice a wet exit. This is simply the process of swimming out of the boat when upside down. You should be under for only about 5 to 10 seconds.

Your future as a kayaker depends on being relaxed in the boat. This in turn demands that you are comfortable hanging out underwater. Practice the wet exit until you can do it in a slow, controlled manner.

Don’t worry about getting out. Sounds crazy, but if you are worried about getting out underwater, do the opposite. Get in underwater. Yep, flip the boat upside down, and swim around under it and try to snake your legs into the boat. An alternative system is to flip without the skirt the first time.

Rehearse these five steps mentally before you flip and practice your wet exit.

  1. Hold your breath and tuck (don’t worry about your paddle for now) The tuck forward provides protection and helps you to orient yourself
  2. Pound on the bottom 3 times (with your hands wrapped around the boat) This helps orient you, lets others now you are upside down, and most importantly, helps you slow down your exit.
  3. Bring your hands to the cockpit rim by your hips, and work your way along the cockpit to the front grab loop. Pull the loop forward and up.
  4. Move your hands back to by your hips, and push the boat away (something like taking off a pair of pants).
  5. Push back further, until your legs are free of the cockpit and the PFD can pop you to the surface. Stay tucked forward, and somersault forward out of the boat.

Hint: Usually, when someone has a bad experience getting out of a boat it is caused by an old design small cockpit boat, or leaning back. Leaning back and trying to swim to the surface accelerates your panic underwater, and can actually tangle your legs, and make the wet exit feel more difficult and rushed than necessary.

After your first few wet exits, get a friend to help you empty your boat. Then, with a little practice you can try placing one end on shore and lifting the other end to drain water.

Tip: Be especially careful of lifting your boat when you are cold and wet, or when the boat is full of water. Lift with your legs to avoid back injury!

Balance

Balance is obviously a pretty important part of the sport. If your whole body is stiff, you'll flip!

To be comfortable, powerful, and balanced, you will need good posture in the boat. Sit comfortably with your chest forward, and chin up. Then check if cramped boat outfitting impairs your posture. Also, tight hamstrings will make sitting up straight very hard. To balance easily and use a wide variety of strokes you'll want to be flexible. Gently stretch your muscles before, and after you paddle.

All your strokes should be done with your arms comfortably in front of your body. This keeps your arms from getting in extended or awkward positions. If you need to do a stroke that goes to the end of the boat, simply turn your torso to keep your elbows low and in front of your body.

Every time you get in your boat on the water, get comfortable with the inherent stability of the boat. To do this, hold the paddle low and out neutral, and wobble the boat gently. You will find it is really quite stable.

Many important maneuvering strokes require edging while you take a stroke. The masters in this sport don't rely on their paddle for support, even with their boat tilted on edge.

Tilting the boat is an important part of learning to paddle, but the leans you need are rarely described with precision. Leans can be categorized into three types: the J lean which is best, the bellbuoy lean which only occasionally is correct, and the body lean which doesn’t do much good!

The best lean to use is the J lean. The J lean, named for the shape of

The bellbuoy lean is named for the stiff rocking action of an ocean bellbuoy. Navigation bellbuoys are so bottom heavy that they are self righting. Boats aren't that way, so bellbuoy leans in a kayak require support from the paddle. This makes it an inappropriate whitewater lean for most instances.

The body lean leaves the boat flat while the body leans. Beginners like this lean since the boat feels securely flat. Unfortunately, a flat boat usually defeats the purpose of the lean. Beginning paddlers are easily fooled into thinking they are leaning the boat when in fact they are just leaning their body.

Work the J Lean

Still without the blade in the water, hold the boat at a tilt. Do this by shifting weight into one butt cheek, and fine-tuning the boat tilt by gently pressing up with your top knee. You will find the most comfortable and steady tilt comes from the ribcage and weighting one butt cheek.

Feel how the weight and pressure changes from both knees to just one. Thrust out your ribs and physically torque up the opposite knee.

Feel how the weight and pressure changes from both cheeks of your butt to just one. Keep your body comfortably relaxed over the boat with your head centered over its center. Rock the boat over to edge on the other side and try the same maneuver. If you can hold that lean for awhile, try paddling forward while you maintain a slight J lean.

First Strokes

The offset blades determine how you grip the paddle shaft. One hand, the control hand remains indexed, that is, it stays in the same place on the shaft. Ninety-five percent of the U.S. paddles are right hand controlled, which makes your right hand the control hand. Some people prefer left controlled paddles. However, there's little evidence that a left control paddle will ease your learning, regardless of which hand is dominant for you.

Holding the Paddle... Get a grip, but not just any grip!

The offset blades determine how you grip the paddle shaft. One hand, the control hand remains indexed, that is, it stays in the same place on the shaft. Ninety-five percent of the U.S. paddles are right hand controlled, which makes your right hand the control hand. Some people prefer left controlled paddles. However, there's little evidence that a left control paddle will ease your learning, regardless of which hand is dominant for you.

I will assume that you are using an offset paddle. Your control hand holds the shaft with the top of your knuckles lined up with the upper edge of the blade. The opposite hand has a relaxed grip so the paddle can rotate in that hand.

Check the width of your grip. Your arms should form a ninety-degree bend at your elbows. This may feel awkward at first. Given time, you'll come to appreciate the greater amount of power and control. Sliding each hand in an inch or two is okay, but more limits your power.

Sometimes you may find it advantageous to choke up on your shaft momentarily, especially for rolls and aggressive playpaddling. Your shoulders may feel more protected this way. Marking your hand position with a piece of tape can help you locate your original hand placement.

kayak paddle grip

Avoid gripping the shaft too tightly by relaxing the fingers of your top hand during each stroke. Allow the shaft to rotate freely in your non-control hand. Maintain index with the forefinger on your control hand, but allow your other fingers to relax.

paddle

One hand must release! or your grips are in constant conflict. It is subtle, but if this happens you'll develop a "boxy" style with limited dexterity and future tendonitis.

Old school paddles had a 80 or 90 degree offset between the blades. With those offset blades, a paddler had to learn a proper grip technique in order to have any semblance of an effective stroke. The recent popularity of 45 and 60 degree offset paddles has eliminated wrist problems for some, however is has created problems for others. You still need a relaxed, non-control hand for all but the most vertical strokes. Many paddlers limit their ability by grabbing tightly with both hands, and therefore don’t get either blade to grab the water with the correct bite. This limits power and keeps you on a skill plateau.

Taking your first Stroke

Every stroke includes both a push with one arm and a pull with the other. Your control hand holds the shaft with the top of your knuckles lined up with the top of the blade. This orientation ensures that during a right side stroke, your right forearm continues pulling in the desired direction. Your left arm is pushing the stroke through. Left side strokes begin with cocking your control hand wrist down (like revving a motorbike). This movement turns the left side blade in the position of a forward stroke. During the pull of this stroke you'll be gripping with your left hand while your right hand pushes. Rotate the paddle shaft back into position for a right side stroke by relaxing the left hand. Keeping the fingers extended on the top pushing arm allows a fluid movement.

TIP A common paddling error is holding the shaft with a two-handed death grip. This is tiring and ineffective. Remember to relax the non-control hand during every stroke. Let the paddle shaft roate freely between strokes.

All strokes should be done with your arms stationed comfortably in front of your body. This position prevents your arms from becoming over-extended or in an awkward place. During strokes that sweep to the boat's end, you will turn your torso to maintain your arms in the proper position.

Holding the paddle correctly will increase your stroke power and decrease your chances of tendonitis. Keep your control hand fixed on the shaft, ready for an optimal pull. Allow the shaft to rotate in the other hand. Avoid holding on too tightly by relaxing your top hand during each stroke.

Stroke concepts

All strokes are based in two important principles. First, your torso, not your arms is the primary source of power. Second, a secure hold on the blade shaft is necessary before making any stroke movement.

Think of your torso as the engine, your arms as the transmission, and your paddle blade as the wheels. Too often paddlers use their arms as the engine and don't have a smooth transmission of power. The result is tired arms and ineffective strokes.

\tip\ Your torso is the stroke's primary source of power.

Going Forward

When you first tried paddling forward, you probably used your small, nimble arm muscles to provide all your power. A better strategy is to incorporate larger muscles for a more powerful, efficient stroke.

WAIT! I Recommend practicing turning strokes before you tackle learning to go straight forward. Whitewater boats are designed to turn, so you will have more success, sooner, trying to make them turn.

When you first tried paddling forward, you probably used your small, nimble arm muscles to provide all your power. A better strategy is to incorporate larger muscles for a more powerful, efficient stroke.

Sound familiar? As in sweep strokes, forward strokes depend on power that originates from torso rotation. The challenge is keeping the blade vertical to the side of the boat, which results in an efficient pull forward. The blade in a forward stroke should be very close (a few inches) to the boat, with your top hand remaining at eye level. This blade position minimizes the turning effect. The further away the blade is positioned, like a sweep stroke, the more the boat will turn.

kayak forward stroke

To begin the stroke, lead with your chest, the bigger the twist the better. Get extra blade extension by bending your top arm. Concentrate on getting the blade crisply and fully submerged in the water before pulling yourself forward. Use the power of your leg and torso muscles before allowing your bottom arm to bend. Push on the footbrace for extra power. Strive to find a smooth, gliding sensation, without any front to back bobbing. Pull the blade out as it reaches your hip, and wind up for the stroke on the other side..

TIP Torso rotation is most easily learned while standing on land, in front of a mirror. This allows you to monitor how much you are rotating and to feel the rhythm of movement without having to deal with keeping your boat stable or straight.

Going Straight

Paddling in a straight line may be your first frustration in kayaking. The boat may seem seem to have a mind of its own, twisting into tighter and tighter turns with each stroke. Although a sea kayak's rudder helps the paddler follow a straight path, certain strokes are useful to maintain the line.

When the boat start to turn, it seems to get a mind of its own. A solid sweep or stern draw corrects this. Be sure to line up on a distant landmark so you realize earlier that the boat is turning. With experience, you will anticipate a turn, and correct it before the boat starts to spin. Don't waste energy trying to correct by making stronger forward strokes.

To Go Faster: Paddle in Molasses

kayak forward stroke

Speed from a standstill is the key to kayaking all waters. Think of your boat as gliding in a giant vat of molasses Each stroke will stick securely in the water to carry the force it needs to move you quickly and efficiently. By imagining the blade pulling against molasses, you will use the force needed to effectively pull the boat forward.

The blade in molasses analogy can provide the answers to commonly asked questions about the length and speed of forward strokes. The blade should be planted as far forward as your torso twist allows, in order to pull yourself forward the greatest distance. Don't pull until the blade is fully immersed. When the blade reaches your hip, the power phase of the stroke is completed and the recovery begins. Simply increasing your stroke rate won't necessarily make your boat go faster. To go faster, concentrate on pulling harder while keeping the blade in the water, then recover quickly to the next blade plant.

Tip Imagine sitting in your boat and reaching forward to start a lawn mower? This twisting reach is the source of the torso/hip power needed for kayaking. However, using that power is tricky. Too much front to back motion bobs the boat and jeopardizes your control and efficiency. Instead, use torso rotation, twisting around your spine to provide the pull of each stroke.

To practice these concepts with your forward stroke, try flatwater paddling alongside a series of fixed points like dock pilings or buoys. The blade should enter the water cleanly, with minimal splash. Watch the blade and monitor how much it slips with each stroke. It should hardly move at all, while you move past. You should consistently feel resistance against the blade. Remember the boat in molasses analogy!

Forward Strokes

To a sea kayaker, a day of paddling is a significant challenge. Knowing a few special stroke techniques helps alleviate strain on your body, allows you to keep up with your friends, and builds your confidence.

The secret to efficient forward paddling is torso rotation, which incorporates the large muscles of your torso, rather than the small muscles in your arms. To wind up for the stroke, think of rotating your ribcage. The more you can twist the better, then use the power of your leg and torso muscles as you unwind into a stroke.

An easy way to practice the basic motion of a forward stroke is in front of a mirror, so you can monitor how much you are rotating. This helps you get the fluid motion before you have to worry about your stability or keeping your boat straight.

The most efficient way to paddle is to think of your paddle being stationary in the water, and then pull your self and the boat past the paddle. It's almost as though you had a series of posts stuck in the mud up in front of your boat. And as you get to each pole, you grab it, pull with your torso, and push the boat through with your feet. Pull your boat towards your planted blade, and get the blade out as it reaches your hip.

Let's look at the catch common to quality strokes. Concentrate on getting the blade crisply and fully submerged in the water before you pull yourself forward. The blade should enter the water cleanly, with minimal splash, and stay just under the surface of the water. To speed up, minimize the air time between strokes, but keep the same firm catch.

You can try locking your arms, to learn to maximize your torso rotation. Another good drill is deliberately pausing before you plant the blade. This reinforces the feel of extra rotation and a careful catch. Focus on rotation, on extension forward, on pulling your hips up to the blade, and on glide.

Hand Positions

Let's look a little more closely at the hand positions for a forward stroke. Equally skilled paddlers enjoy endless debates on the merit's of a power stroke with a high top hand and a touring stroke with both hands kept low.

For short distances and high speeds, people tend to paddle with a high shaft angle.... the top hand remains high, between shoulder and eye level. For shorter sprints, like dealing with surf, you'll find this power forward stroke useful. For extended paddling, energy conservation is a priority. The resulting touring stroke has a lower top hand and elbows, and the stroke comes back a little further. For extended tours most prefer a longer and narrower blade, and a wide variety of stroke techniques.

With any stroke, stay relaxed so you can use optimum amounts of strength and finesse. Avoid holding on too tightly by relaxing your top hand during each stroke. Open a few fingers for each push to ease the strain on your wrist. Pull with your fingers hooked, not actually gripped on the shaft.

Perfecting a forward stroke is a gradual, never-ending process. Experiment, think about each detail of your stroke, and develop a smooth continuous motion. Strive to find a smooth, gliding sensation, without any front to back bobbing. This helps insure that your power is efficiently pulling you forward. The best way to improve your stroke efficiency is by following, and mimicking, a really smooth paddler.

Heres the Catch

Do you see some of the best paddlers making hard moves look easy? Or does it look like they take half the number of strokes to do the same move you struggle through? Perhaps these paddlers have learned to get the most out of each stroke, and maximize the potential each time their blade goes in the water. If done efficiently, ‘less equals more’, when counting strokes and paddling whitewater.

Proper Stroke Placement in Whitewater Paddling

Do you see some of the best paddlers making hard moves look easy? Or does it look like they take half the number of strokes to do the same move you struggle through? Perhaps these paddlers have learned to get the most out of each stroke, and maximize the potential each time their blade goes in the water. If done efficiently, ‘less equals more’, when counting strokes and paddling whitewater.

kayak stroke catch

The catch is the most critical phase of your forward stroke. Pause at thebeginning of each stroke and focus on putting the blade cleanly in the water. Practicing this pause is a great way to focus on and improve your catch.

stroke placement

You will get the most distance from each stroke if the tip of the blade grabs water way forward up by your toes. Avoid splash by immersing the entire blade into the water before you start to pull. Do this by pressing down on the blade to launch the boat forward. This technique works far better than pulling back to get the blade into the water. You can simply pull yourself further with lots of extension and rotation.

kayak roll photo

The best way to get a good catch is to extend far forward by rotating yourtorso, and press down on the blade before you pull back. Pressing down works best if you have ample flexibility for an aggressive forward tilted posture. If the idea of pushing down to catch doesn’t work for you, think of sliding the whole blade into a sheath before you pull back. This helps you get solid strokes.

kayak stroke catch photo

Take your top shoulder and elbow back, so you can extend the tip of the blade forward. If the paddle pivots at the top hand, the blade has a good effect on the water throughout the stroke. If you pivot at the bottom hand, like when you punch, then you don’t get nearly as effective a stroke. To put this into practice, think about driving your top shoulder forward rather than punching your top hand out.

 

HOW VERTICAL A STROKE?

For pure acceleration, you will want a vertical shaft to propel yourself straight forward. Once you get a little speed, you can drop your hand to eye level. This gives you a nice traveling stroke, with lots of torso movement and good quickness between strokes.

On most of your strokes, you will probably be in traveling mode with the blade a few inches out from the side of the boat. This allows you to steer efficiently, with quick and easy adjustments.

A super vertical stroke is best for quick acceleration. A low shaft angle is nice and relaxed. You will probably want the vertical stroke in your repertoire for when you need the burst of acceleration. Many of the best paddlers find a happy medium for their typical forward strokes, with their top hand at about eye level.

Don’t forget, in all your strokework, strive to get the power from torso windup and rotation. Then work on transferring power through your pelvis into your feet and into the boat.

STROKE PLACEMENT

Once you’ve spent time working on your stroke, it is worth using it sparingly. Many paddlers miss the ideal stroke placement because they are taking too many strokes. By carefully placing your strokes, you will get the most out of each one. Generally, fewer strokes is better, unless you need a flurry of 3 - 4 to surf, to bust through a hole, or to catch an eddy. Let’s see where you can save your energy.

>If you need two strokes on one side, take them, rather than taking a half stroke or an air stroke. Multiple strokes on one side can be a sign of thoughtful stroke placement.

>You can save strokes when crossing a river, by planning on a key stroke when sideways in the current, so that you get more lateral movement across the current. The most important spot for a stroke when crossing the river is exactly when the boat is sideways or perpendicular to the opposite riverbank.

>Another example of important stroke placement is reaching through the foam pile of a hole, as this helps the blade get solid purchase on less aerated water to pull you past the grip of the hydraulic.

> On steeper, vertical drops, the boof move relies on a correctly timed well placed stroke that allows the paddler launch out past a hole at the base of the drop or to land flatter in shallower water.

POSTURE

It is important to understand how your balance, flexibility and power are directly related to your posture in the boat. Try this little experiment: wobble your boat and check your rotation while comparing leaning forward , leaning back, and in an upright perfect posture position.

If you truly want to improve, having enough flexibility to maintain quality posture and steady edging is important. For many paddlers, stretching the hamstrings and torso will be the single most important opportunity for improving our paddling. First warm up, then hold a gentle stretch. From the correct posture, with your chest out and chin up, you are ready to work on the other components of a quality forward stroke.

Glide

When you fall off of a surf or miss a move through a rapid the frequent culprit is an inadvertent, barely perceptible, wobble. If this wobble is enough to force you to brace rather than paddle proactively, that alone can cost the move. But even smaller wobbles can cost a move.

kayak wobble

Here’s the deal: the hull of a kayak (or canoe!) slows significantly when it bobs front to back, or rocks side to side. A barely visible wobble or bob, say one-half inch, is like dragging a coffee cup sized anchor on each side of the boat.

kayak wag inefficient

Even small wobbles (side to side) reduce boat speed. You also should avoid bob (abrupt dip of the bow) and zig zagging wag.

Instead, strive to find a smooth, gliding sensation, especially in your forward strokes. In general, this is more efficient than trying to paddle faster. If pulling harder makes you wobble, you won't necessarily go faster. Learn to disconnect your lower body, so you can maintain a perfectly steady boat, even during strokes.

Try this Drill: Know your enemy! On a flatwater paddle, exaggerate dip and rise, zig zagging wag, and side to side wobble. Then you'll feel extra smooth and fast when you eliminate these motions.

Haste makes waste

Be efficient. Use only the strokes needed to get the job done. We all tend to flail when trying too hard. This increases the chances of misplacing a stroke, or losing the glide in the hull. That in turn reduces our chances of making any given move and increases the geek factor.

There are times on the river when our adrenaline will have us wind-milling away. These strokes may be doing very little to actually move the boat. Stroke in a purposeful manner to accomplish your goal.

The optimum stroke rate is not the fastest stroke rate. Think of riding a bicycle. Too low a gear and you're pedaling quite rapidly, but you're not going very far or very fast.

Now add Power

Imagine your boat with wheels sitting on a smooth sidewalk. Parking meters line the walk, alternating sides every three feet. Reach forward by twisting your upright spine and grab a parking meter. Now fling yourself forward driving your hips forward, translating the power through to your feet. This is the same transfer of power you want in a kayak on water. In a canoe you drive your hips forward, driving your knees forward.

There is a lot of power to be gained by translating this torso power into your legs and boat. However, there is a lot to be lost if you rock the boat in the process of each stroke.

Drill: Start paddling ahead slowly. Then, on one stroke, stop, poised in thewound-up position, just before the blade touches the water. Did the boat wobble any, or glide smoothly forward? Follow through with a strong stroke, watching and feeling for a smooth boat. Repeat on your next stroke watching for zig zag or bobbing. Continue for a few minutes until you feel a smooth glide between strokes. A pipe on the bow will help you spot errors.

Focusing on glide with a careful catch and application of power will go a long way towards improving your paddling. You’ll miss fewer moves, and enjoy longer surfs. It all adds up to more fun on the water!

Punch or Pull?

As a teaching trick, instructors often advocate punching out at eye level during a forward stroke. While this is useful for developing torso power and blade position, it isn’t exactly correct for the ultimate power.

In each forward stroke you want to extend the tip of the blade forward, rather than reaching both arms forward for the plant. You’ll pull yourself further if the tip of the blade enters the water farther forward.

Higher Pivots for Longer Power

As a teaching trick, instructors often advocate punching out at eye level during a forward stroke. While this is useful for developing torso power and blade position, it isn’t exactly correct for the ultimate power.

kayak forward stroke

In each forward stroke you want to extend the tip of the blade forward, rather than reaching both arms forward for the plant. You’ll pull yourself further if the tip of the blade enters the water farther forward.

Reach with your bottom hand and bend your top arm slightly. Then use your top arm to drive the blade into the water. This gets the blade fully submerged and ready for power.

Once the blade is in the water, minimize how much you punch with the top hand. Instead, pull primarily with the lower arm and drive the top hand forward with your top shoulder.

kayak stroke with punch

Punching with the top arm lowers the pivot point of the paddle. This reduces blade bite on the water.

kayak stroke with pull

A high pivot point gives you better purchase on the water. Push with the top shoulder, don't punch with the top hand.

Finesse

Working to develop finesse in your strokes is one of the quickest ways to improve your feel for the blade against the water. With finesse, you will be better able to anchor your strokes, and fine-tune the blade position so that it you get the desired effect.

The most basic finesse drill is to practice draw strokes, which are used tomove the boat sideways. Rotate your torso to face the blade, and practice a smooth in the water recovery. Adjust your strokes to keep the boat moving on a parallel path. In general, verticality on draws and bow draws is a good thing, because it gives the blade a better bite in the water. If the shaft angle is low, then the blade slides in the water.

Another important finesse drill to practice is sculling draws. There are twostyles of these draws you should spend time practicing . The most common sculling draw is taking the blade through an arc. It is also important to learn sculling using a long and straight path of travel with the blade. Open the leading edge of the blade so you can keep the boat moving smoothly sideways. Slice the blade along a three foot line, 6 inches from your boat. Gradually open the blade for each direction of travel, making sure to keep both of your hands out over the water by rotating your torso. You can get extra extension by working your top hand in the opposite direction as the blade.

Easy and efficient sculling is a prerequisite to skillful sideslipping. With a sideslip you can move with precision in an eddy to set up the precise angle you wish to leave the eddy with and double your options for sliding out of the eddy to a playspot. The sideslip move looks easy, but it's not! Pick a target and get a little speed. Place the blade behind your hip. The exact blade placement varies by your speed, rotational momentum, and the boat design.

With the right blade angle and placement you will move sideways smoothly. As your boat slows down, scull the blade forward. If the blade starts too far forward, or too open, you will turn, rather than sideslip.

All of these strokes and drills that have been mentioned will greatly improve your paddling if they are practiced. You now have options for how to make subtle corrections and adjustments in your own boating whether it is for river running or playboating.

Capsize Recovery

As a sea kayaker, you'll need to know how to recover from a capsize quickly, so you can minimize your exposure to the elements. Your goal is to be in the safety of your boat, and paddle away in a comfortable, stable manner. Even without a roll, most flips are no big deal if you are well practiced at capsize recovery options, and prepared for the water.

No amount of reading will prepare you for the most threatening situations. You have to practice! For the best success, take a class and learn some of the finer points of each capsize recovery. With each situation there are several of options that work. Your time experimenting will help you understand which variation is appropriate for a true dilemma.

With every capsize recovery you'll want to get back in the boat, and empty the water out. These two essentials happen in either order, depending on the rescue you choose. The primary determining factor is the water temperature. Cold water can rob you of your strength after only a few minutes of immersion. It's wise to dress for the water temperature in case of an unexpected swim, and think through rescues that get you out of the water quickly.

Assisted Rescue

The most common assisted-rescue occurs when the rescuing paddler pulls alongside the swamped boat to stabilize it for reentry. The rescuer leans over and spans the cockpits with a paddle to immobilize the boats.

Maintaining a low center of gravity makes re-entry easier. Usually this means crawling onto the boat with your chest on the rear deck. To get up on the deck, kick your feet up, so you are laying on the surface, and then pull the kayak under you.

From this low position you can slide into the cockpit, and twist into the seat. As you climb in, keep in balance by twisting towards your friend. Then put your skirt on, pump out, and stabilize yourself before releasing and continuing.

There is an alternative to doing all this pumping if the boat has a bulkhead to keep the rear compartment dry. In the T rescue, the rescuer moves to a position roughly perpendicular to the swamped boat and lifts the bow while you push down on the stern. Then flip the boat and pull it into the bow to stern stabilizing position for re-entry.

When the swamped boat doesn't have a watertight bulkhead, it can be pulled further over the deck to drain it completely. This TX rescue takes more effort, lots of teamwork, and risks damage to the boats. So usually paddlers will choose to reenter and pump out boats that don't have a bulkhead.

If a paddler has trouble re-entering the boat a stirrup made from a loop of rope or webbing can wrap around the paddle and provide a welcome step for re-entry. Wrap the stirrup close to the boat, to make it secure. This stirrup can be adapted to many of the rescues.

Self Rescue

The sort of conditions that might cause you to flip are going to make getting back in the boat quite challenging. The ideal is to have assistance with re-entry.

However, if you flip out of range of assistance, a paddle float outrigger can provide extra stability. First, hang on to all your equipment. Then, you’ll use the paddle with a paddle float to form an outrigger held perpendicular to your boat.

After the swim hook a leg into the boat. This frees both hands to attach and inflate the paddle float. This is harder than you might think. A paddle float made of foam is often the preference of paddlers in very cold regions, where cold hands and cold water shock make inflating a float difficult and unpleasant.

Once the float is ready, grasp both the paddle shaft and cockpit rim to form an outrigger. Then kick with your legs to plane your body out before pulling the stern deck under your chest.

Rest your legs on the paddle shaft, then slide one leg in then the other. Turning towards the paddle float will help you lean in that direction, so you can establish a balanced sitting position. At this point use your bilge pump to empty the water. Stow the pump and paddle float, then continue on your way.

By carefully flipping the boat before you re-enter, you can keep out some of the water and reduce your pumping time. This requires a snappy kick of your legs while you lift and twist the bow. Some boats have special deck rigging which greatly simplifies a paddle float re-entry. Deck rigging also leaves your hands free to pump and attach the skirt.

Practice capsize recovery in warm water and calm conditions, so you'll gain confidence in your ability. Take a class to learn some of the finer points, and to get valuable feedback on your technique. Don't underestimate how difficult it can be to maneuver into a helpful position. These rescues are harder than meets the eye, so please practice!

Fitness for Paddling

As an instructor I find it's disturbing to see paddlers who are pushed into aspects of the sport that are beyond their interest. A classic example of that is people getting taken on more and more difficult, very difficult rivers with their friends, even though those rivers are beyond their skill level. It's important to get a good progression as you start, a good learning progression.

The following check list will help insure that you learn the sport at a good pace. If you're not accustomed to learning new sports, you might want to plan your first experience kayaking to be a easy day, maybe just an hour or two during the day. On the other hand, if you're an athletic person, quick to learn different sports, you can go out and really have a good full day of it on your first time.

Checklist on learning

Take a lesson. Even a two day lesson can give you a solid understanding of safety, and save you some unpleasant experiences.

Be thirsty for information. Ask lots of questions, and read books, watch videos.

Try before you buy! Trying equipment and talking to others in your area will help you narrow your range of paddling interests.

Pick your paddling partners carefully. Experts aren't always the best teachers, and rarely is a spouse or boyfriend/ girlfriend the best choice for lessons.

Be realistic in appraising your skill and experience level.

Getting Fit for Kayaking

Improved fitness will make your paddling more enjoyable, because you will feel more energetic, and be able to paddle greater distances without fatigue. You will feel stronger, and be able to do routine tasks like carrying boats and dealing with unexpected difficulties like tough moves on rivers or increasing winds on open water. You'll also feel more flexible, and you'll be able to use your entire body to execute your strokes strongly and efficiently.

The best fitness program for kayaking is paddling. "As much as possible, time in z boat" is the motto borrowed from the broken English of European elite level paddlers. This is because Specificity is the cardinal rule of sports training. The more specific your preparations, the better your performance.

The best plan is to take time for short paddle sessions dedicated to techniques and fitness. You can jump in a boat for a quick hour of exercise on a nearby lake, flatwater river, or quiet ocean bay. This can be a relaxing cruise, or sprints designed to improve your strength and cardiovascular fitness. Stroke drills (Available at performancevideo.com) will help you know what to practice.

In addition to using kayaking to improve your fitness, you can also condition your body beforehand to enhance your experience. One option is a general fitness program at the local sports club. Aerobics and strength training will give you more general endurance when you are in the boat. Ask one of the club's fitness consultants to teach you a routine for general fitness. With their help you might add a few upper body exercises specifically to aide your paddling. Torso twisting and abdominal exercises are among the best.

Whether you do some training on the water, or in a local sports club, these three stretches are recommended as very beneficial to your comfort and efficiency kayaking. These stretch the 3 directions your torso can move in a kayak. When you do these stretches, warm up for a few minutes with some light running or paddling motions. Then stretch gently, just to the point where you feel the stretch. Hold this position for 15 to 20 seconds. Repeat 3 times each direction. Stretching before each paddle helps prevent injuries like tendonitis, muscle soreness, strains, and dislocations. Stretching afterwards is most likely to improve your flexibility.

Begin with stretches in the three major ranges of motion.

  1. C Stretches Sitting on the floor or in a boat, work your lateral flexibility on each side. This helps rolling, bracing, and general edging of the boat.
  2. Torso twists Twist your chest and shoulders so you feel the twist low and deep in your torso. This twist is easy to do in a boat, with you hands assisting by grasping the deck, one hand in front of you, one behind.
  3. Hamstring stretches. The hamstring stretches that are safest for your back are done lying on your back, with your leg extended straight up. Prop your leg against a wall, use a short section of webbing, or better yet, a friend if you can't reach your hands up to help the stretch.

Many people include shoulder warmup and stretches and neck rolls in each direction as part of their stretching routine.

 

Tips for avoiding injuries

Warm-up and stretch before each paddle

Be systematic in the distance and difficulty

Cool-down, and stretch after each paddle

Shoulder Dislocations in Kayaking

Shoulder dislocations are infrequent but are still the most common serious injury in kayaking. Most first time dislocations are related to poor form while performing a brace or a roll. To prevent this painful and hard to rehabilitate injury, keep your arms low and in front of your torso when performing a roll or brace. Slouching your back puts stress on the shoulder by reducing both boat stability and your rotation.

 

shoulder excercises for kayakers


shoulder excercises for kayakers

The weakest position for a shoulder:

 

 

 

shoulder excercises for kayakers



 

This hitchhiking position is the weakest spot of the shoulder joint.





 

A better bracing position: elbows low, twisted to look at the blade.

Shoulder Maintenance for Kayakers

Balancing your muscle development is the guiding principle of preventative maintenance of your shoulders. Paddlers typically overdevelop some muscle groups, leaving other muscles underdeveloped. Underdeveloped muscles in the back and shoulders can lead to an injury.

shoulder excercises for kayakers

Balancing your muscle development is the guiding principle of preventative maintenance of your shoulders. Paddlers typically overdevelop some muscle groups, leaving other muscles underdeveloped. Underdeveloped muscles in the back and shoulders can lead to an injury.

Frequently these problems arise when the larger muscle groups (“the movers”) overpower the smaller ones (the stabilizers and rotator cuff). This can lead to shoulder dysfunction, so it is important to strengthen and work rotator cuff muscles to control excessive shoulder movement.

It is just as important to work the posterior shoulder and back muscles for the shoulder joint to work properly. Working the shoulder and back will strengthen the muscles that hold the scapula in the correct position, further reducing risk of injury.

To avoid or relieve impingement syndrome, a common complaint of paddlers, it is important to stretch the shoulder, utilize proper posture and strengthen the rotator cuff muscles. Impingement syndrome is a sharp stabbing pain on the front of the shoulder, about an inch down. This is often caused by poor shoulder positioning (slouching), poor flexibility, and poor rotator cuff control. On the bright side, impingement pain tends to respond quickly to therapy.

Heavy weight training can bypass working the stabilizing muscles, so it is important to perform the following exercises with very light resistance. Done daily, these exercises will strengthen and coordinate your paddling muscles. Consult a physician or physical therapist if pain accompanies any of these exercises.

These exercises strengthen the rotator cuff muscles. Start this exercise with your elbow at your side. If you feel painfree, move to the elevated positions. These positions strengthen the rotator cuff for paddling situations – but don’t push it.

shoulder excercises for kayakers shoulder excercises for kayakers

 

Internal Rotation:

(use a stretchy sport band to provide a little more resistance.)



shoulder excercises for kayakers shoulder excercises for kayakers

 

External rotation:

 







shoulder excercises for kayakers shoulder excercises for kayakers

 

Internal Rotation elevated:

Strengthening the rotator cuff in this vulnerable position will also help prevent dislocations. Do not do this exercise if you feel pain!

 



shoulder excercises for kayakers shoulder excercises for kayakers

 

External rotation elevated:

 



shoulder excercises for kayakers shoulder excercises for kayakers

 

Rowing (very light weight):

Focus on pinching shoulder blades together in the last half of rowing motion

Do both with elbow at side and with elbow away from body.

 

 

These exercises strengthen interscapular muscles. Good for controlling the position of the scapula, and for posterior shoulder strength.



shoulder excercises for kayakers

 

shoulder excercises for kayakers

Lying down abduction with external rotation. (Finish Thumbs up)

 

 



shoulder excercises for kayakers shoulder excercises for kayakers

 

Lying down abduction with internal rotation (Finish thumbs down)

 

 

These exercises help shoulder flexibility:



shoulder excercises for kayakers

 

Doorway stretch

Vary hand and elbow position to get stretch in different areas of the chest.

 

 



shoulder excercises for kayakers

 

Towel Stretch

To stretch internal rotation. Good to reduce impingement problems.

 

Shoulder excercises provided by Phil Rambo of Integrated Physical Therapy in Durango, CO. Thanks to Phil for rehabing my shoulder to 100% painfree function!

Paddle Reverse

If your local river is getting too boring, or if low water has your bummed out, try to spice up your run by going backwards. Try to ferry in reverse, catch eddies, and surf while facing downstream. Paddling in reverse will give you a new perspective on your familiar run, and will increase your paddling skills.

reverse strokes

Working on backstrokes and paddling in reverse has two primary benefits. The first is your develop an effective stroke for moves like backferries and backsurfing. Secondly, you strengthen and toughen a lot of the muscles that paddlers tend to injure in the shoulder area.

On flatwater, gradually work up to being able to paddle for 5 - 10 minutes in reverse. Even this short time will be quite tiring. This is a good indication of your muscular imbalance, which can ultimately cause a shoulder injury.

reverse strokes

When you start to go reverse, you might find that you lose control of the boat’s direction. Just like learning to go forward, you will need to make corrections. Start with balanced pressure on each blade. You will also want to learn stroke corrections since these are important for reliable backsurfing control.

reverse strokes

As you are going backwards, practice corrections with both a bow rudder, andbow draw. The Bow draw moves the bow to your blade. The bow rudder moves the bow away.

Try to keep your speed when you make these corrections, otherwise the strokes may pull you off a wave once you are backsurfing. Be sure to learn both the rudder and the bow draw for correction on each side of the boat. Most people don’t think about steering in reverse until backsurfing, and then it is too late... and a tough place to learn!

You don’t need to limit your practice time to flatwater. Spend a lot of time on the river going backwards… this too will help you develop reliable backsurfing skills, as well as working on your balance. Paddle an easy rapid reverse. Catch eddies reverse, and make some easy ferries in reverse.

You may also realize that you usually fall off spins in a hole when you are backwards. This is because of weakness in your reverse paddling repertoire. So practice!

reverse strokes

If you want an extra challenge, and better control, try the compound reversestroke. The compound reverse stroke is quite difficult, but it is a nice exercise for shoulder strength & finesse. The extra control of a compound reverse can come in handy when you need to see where you are going, like catching an eddy in reverse. It helps you learn to keep your body and boat independent so the boat doesn’t wobble with each stroke. The stroke starts with lots of rotation, and a very gentle draw stroke reaching back to the stern. At your hip, flip the blade so you can take a normal reverse stroke. During the transition points you do not want any pressure on the blade.

Trying to paddle in reverse maybe frustrating initially, but over time with practice you will increase your stamina and boat control. Ultimately with this improvement in your paddling skills, you will become a better, more well-rounded paddler.

Kayak Surfing Basics

Kayak surfing in the ocean is different in some ways than kayak surfing in a river. It is important to learn about the anatomy and mechanics of ocean waves, as well as the boats and equipment recommended for use in the ocean. With the right gear, decent waves, and practice, you can be shredding up ocean waves just as you maybe already can the river waves.

Even though I am a veteran whitewater instructor, I was glad to get some tips from Dan Crandall and Doug Schwartz, last year when we shot the Kayak Surfing video. Here are some of the tips I picked up from instructors in the Kayak surf community:

Pick Your Boat

The speed and tracking ability of a sea kayak is ideal for getting outside breaks and exploring, but it has limitations for playing in the surf, since it is difficult to turn due to its longer length than whitewater kayaks. Generally you will get turned sideways as the wave starts to break. A wipeout can be violent in big surf, so a sea kayak is best for catching large ocean swells that require lots of speed, and catching little rides on easy waves.

Sit on tops boats are the most common boat for paddlers first-ever surfing experience, especially in warmer areas. Many sit on top designs are difficult to control in the surf because the boats do not lean very easily and carving is difficult. Due to this inability to edge the boat, lips can be violent. Also due to the boat’s volume, these boats frequently stick sideways in the break all the way to shore.

Depending on the hull design, a sit on top boat can be a great warm water surf machine. Sophisticated surf designs, called wave skis, are essentially sit on top surfboards. These are the boats that people are getting familiar with now, that are incorporating the flat-bottom features of the Wave Skis and the high performance boats that we've been using on the ocean for years. This allows people to do the flat spins and other really dynamic moves on, on ocean waves.

Rodeo boats designed for whitewater are able to flat spin on wave face, and get vertical maneuvers in the whitewater pile of the wave. Classic board and kayak surfing have traditionally been I on the glassy part of waves, with the occasional rodeo move at the end of the ride. Now dynamic tumbling rodeo moves in the whitewater add exciting possibilities.

The Basics

The stern of your boat gets picked up first by the wave, and starts moving down the face of the wave. The bow is still essentially sitting on still water, so the tail is getting moved first. That is why getting some momentum before the wave gets to you helps. When you tip over, it is usually a surprise. But many capsizes can be avoided if you understand some of the dynamics of a typical flip. The wave is moving, but the water in front of it is not moving. The water in front of the wave tries to grab the bottom of the boat, then the wave knocks over the boat.

The solution to this flipping problem is easy though, simply lean hard and tilt the boat into the wave as the boat turns sideways to the wave . Good posture, with a little lean forward, will help you edge the boat correctly. Tilt the boat by transferring your weight onto one butt cheek, and get a little stability from your paddle blade stuck into the wave.

When you're surfing down a wave, you may find that you get turned sideways in front of a white foamy pile. When you do, it's important that you go immediately into a low brace for the smaller waves, or a high brace position for the larger ones. In either case, be sure you keep your elbows tucked close to your sides, never allowing them to get extended above or behind the plane of your shoulder. Either case can cause serious shoulder dislocation.

Many paddlers use a short paddle with small blades to minimize stress on their body. Start with small waves so you can get a good feel for bracing when you get turned sideways. Keep your hands loose on the paddle, because a tense grip keeps you from being relaxed and balanced in the boat. For the best surfing, you will want to actively steer the boat onto the glassy part of the wave.

Learning to kayak surf takes time and practice. Ask the local experts where to go, what boat and gear to use, and for any pointers. Soon enough you will be smiling as you stay in control surfing down the face of a glassy ocean wave.

Evaluating Surf

I got started in Kayak surfing during the shooting of our recent video production: In the Surf. I was lucky to have some expert assistance, from folks like Dan Crandall, Doug Schwartz, Rick Starr. These tips are distilled from some of their advice.

– A Beginners Guide to Evaluating Surf

I got started in Kayak surfing during the shooting of our recent video production: In the Surf. I was lucky to have some expert assistance, from folks like Dan Crandall, Doug Schwartz, Rick Starr. These tips are distilled from some of their advice.

Playing in ocean waves in a kayak can be an exhilarating way to paddle. Long dynamic surfs, dramatic cutbacks, flatspins, and vertical moves are all the maneuvers out there in the waves waiting for you. Trying these and excelling at them will first require some understanding of the ocean’s currents, wave shapes and characteristics, types of waves, as well as where are the ‘sweet spots’ on a wave when beginning to surf.

The most common type of surf is a beach break. At first glance it may look uniform down the beach, but changes in swell direction, tide height and bottom configurations can give a variety of surf conditions, from peeling waves with big well formed shoulders to pitching waves that close out and leave a kayaker few surfing options.

A shore break is where the waves end to close out all at once right onto the beach. Unfortunately for a lot of people, they think this is where they need to start learning to kayak surf. Realistically it's probably the toughest and worst place to start because it's very difficult to get out past these breaking waves without already having surfing skills. The surfs tend to be very short and, and violent. Also, the potential for injury is actually a lot greater when you're working in shore break.

A gradual bottom profile will tend to create a mushy wave, which is ideal for beginning surfing. A sharp change in the bottom profile will create a pitching wave, which is more challenging.

Usually the best place to surf is off of a point break. It can give you an opportunity to get out to the line up without having to pound your way through incoming surf. A point break is formed when parallel lines of swells refract around the point, bending into progressively shallower water. Depending on the swell direction and bottom contour, this can create a series of ideal surfing waves.

Many point breaks have waves that reform several times. Each successive reform is smaller, gentler, and friendlier. Point breaks allow for multiple times to surf the whitewater, which is rarely possible on a beach break. Plus it's easier to get out and find the ideal takeoff spot.

A reef break can be a lot of fun to surf because the reef is simply the shallow spot out in the ocean. The waves break over that reef giving you deep water exits on both sides so you can paddle out to the deep water, get into the line up, surf it and get off and never have to deal with the beach break. Not all reef breaks are friendly though, since the reef can have sharp rocks very close to the surface.

Factors for Selecting Waves

There are essentially three factors to look for when evaluating surf. One is swell height and direction – preferable to have a long steady swell. Second is the wind – no wind at all or an offshore wind is preferable. Third is the tide – determining when is the best time (high or low tide) to be at the chosen location.

Each location has different characteristics. So you have to research each spot to know whether they it is best at low tide, high tide, or an incoming tide or an outgoing tide.

When you arrive at the surf, take a few minutes and get tuned into the rhythm of the waves, their size, and their frequency. A few minutes of study will pay off well. Especially if you can get up high, you can get a big picture feel that is difficult once you are on the water. It takes a lot of experience to evaluate swell size, wind direction, and the tide and conclude what sort of waves you will have available to play. Locals and the internet are often the best resource.

Finding the Takeoff Spot

I got started in Kayak surfing during the shooting of our recent video production: In the Surf. I was lucky to have some expert assistance, from folks like Dan Crandall, Doug Schwartz, Rick Starr. These tips are distilled from some of their advice.

My first attempts at kayak surfing were met by a good pummeling, probably because I didn’t understand how to line up for the best part of the incoming waves. It's a strategy game of choosing a wave to surf, then figuring out how to line up and get the best ride. This takes a combination of positioning and timing to find the powerful part of the wave, called the pocket. This is where the curling whitewater meets the smooth part of the wave.

An important question to be asking yourself is, "Where do you take off on the wave?" The answer to that varies, but in general you are looking for the peak of the wave, since that is where the pocket will form first.

The peak is the prime take off spot on the wave. The problem is that the exact spot changes from time to time, as the peak shifts around depending upon swell direction and the type of the bottom. Paddle out, find a peak, and set up yourself with reference points on the shore so you can come back to that spot quickly and then make small adjustments as the peak shifts around from there.

To help you return to your favorite take off spot after each ride look for markers on the shore, chimneys, cliffs, or trees and use these to establish reference lines. Try to find something that gives you an exact line marker, so that you may return to the ideal take-off spot quickly after each surf.

To identify where the waves have been breaking you can also look for a white foam line from the previous wave. You can set up right alongside that foam line-it is a good for where you want where to be when setting up to catch a wave.

Once you are actually sitting in that great spot that you determine to be the ultimate take off place, the next trick is getting on the waves. Catching a wave is a commitment, as it requires aggressive paddling to get your boat moving in order to get up to hull speed. Once you are gaining the wave, it will feel as if the wave is picking up the tail of your boat. Begin leaning forward with your body weight to shift your weight down the face of the wave. Next you will want to quicken up the pace of your strokes by taking shallow strokes.

When you are sprinting to catch a wave use a quicker windmill-type stroke and keep your boat running perpendicular to the wave. Even if you start too early, try timing your paddling so you reach top speed exactly when the top of the wave will hit the stern of your boat. Then, remember to steer! If you are far from the break, drop into the wave and angle towards the break, so you can tap more power of the pocket.

If you drop in close to the peak, your first turn will take you down the line of the breaking wave; this first turn is called a bottom turn. It is your ticket to hours of enjoyable surfing.

Anywhere there is an accessible surf zone it is likely there are going to be other people out there enjoying it. It is a Kayaker's responsibility to learn some of the rules of the area so that everyone will stay safe and have more fun.

Pick a place to surf where you have absolutely no possibility of running into people that are playing in the same area. Try to be respectful and as courteous as you can to everyone you encounter. A lot of board surfers are irritated by kayaks because kayakers have such an advantage, and the ability to catch swells well before they break. You have to kind of realize the advantage you have and try not to take too much advantage of it. In other words SHARE. Kayakers can expand the sport by finding surf that requires a little bit of a paddle to get to; these areas rarely have a crowd.

Tensions in the Surf

A conversation with big wave board surfer Richard Schmidt

I have been there… surfing my boat in the ocean, only to get the wrath of local boardsurfer. Their anger seems to out of nowhere, and I don’t know what I have done wrong. It is a common experience of kayakers…

In shooting our latest video, I had opportunity to address the problem with famed big wave surfer, Richard Schmidt. As a frequent headliner and big money winner at Maverics surf competition, Richard also operates a surfing school in Santa Cruz, California.- Kent

Kent: It seems it is a fact of life-anywhere there's an accessible surf zone there are going to be other people out there enjoying it. Why do we kayakers often seem to get in trouble?

Richard: I think it is often inadvertent. Sometimes it is not knowing the rules of surfing, and sometimes it is not recognizing the surfers point of view.

Kent: Lets start with the rules…

Richard: Two factors determine who has the right of way. Which surfer catches the wave first, and which surfer is closest to the break. If it's close who caught the wave first, it's generally the person that's the closest to the curl, the surfer that has the inside. That's the most defining rule of right-of-way in surfing.

Also, surfers or kayakers paddling out through the surf should make sure and paddle well around the surf. You don't want to see a group and head for them. When someone catches a wave you're going to be an obstacle for them. It's a real bummer having to steer, and run an obstacle course on this wave because of people paddling out.

Kent: You run a surf school. What do beginner board surfers do to learn without pissing people off?

Richard: I tell my beginning surfing students that they should learn on a soft surfboard so they don't present a hazard to themselves or anybody out there. Kayakers don't have that luxury, you don't have those soft spongy kayaks like surfers.

So I guess you want to make sure you get yourself in a situation that's not real crowded and really learn basic skills away from everybody else.

I have seen kayakers who see a crowd of surfers and plow into the middle of them. Be creative. Look at the ocean and try to find a niche where maybe you can get away from the crowd and really learn your skills, get really confident before you get yourself around any other surfers.

Kent: Can you generalize about how surfers view kayakers?

Richard: I think a lot of boardsurfers are frustrated by kayaks because you have such an advantage. You can catch swells well before they break. You can paddle out very easily. So I think you have to realize the advantage you have and try not to take too much advantage of it.

Also, when a kayak gets knocked sideways in the white water it looks like it really hard to break out of that sideways thing. As a surfer, when I'm paddling out the only thing I can do to save myself and is to dive under. And a lot of surfers see the potential for that and they're very intimidated by kayakers out in the same surf alongside them.

Kent: Kayakers paddle out faster, and catch waves more easily. So it doesn’t take long until kayakers have gotten more rides than board surfer. Does that frustrate surfers?

Richard: You kind of have to take turns to an extent. Sometimes we go out, and if it's crowded, it's a lot more courteous if you sit off to the side and you kind of wait your turn. Watch a couple people get a wave and kind of see how the waves are.

Kent: How much is territoriality an issue?

Richard: Some surfers feel that if they've surfed there longer, that they kind of have more right to the wave than anybody else. I'm not saying that's right, but there is kind of an unwritten rule that people that have been surfing a long time you kind of have to respect.

When I travel to Hawaii and I paddle out to a new spot I'm not going to be openly aggressive. I respect the people that live there, that have been surfing there a really long time. I want to tread lightly and just get a few waves and not really wear out my welcome.

Kent: So you will pass up waves just to let a local get it? I know I rarely think that way when out in a kayak.

Richard: Its something to think about.

Kent: What else can kayakers do to ease tensions at the surf?

Richard: Kayakers can expand the sport by finding surf that requires a little bit of a paddle to get to. These areas rarely have a crowd of surfers.

I think what's really important is respecting the other people out in the water. Have a smile, you know, say "Good day."-whatever. Don't go out there and just try to get a lot of waves. If you catch less waves and you're a little bit nicer with your approach-you're going to get respect in return and have a lot more fun.

To Go Faster: Paddle in Molasses

To go anywhere in this sport, you need to be able to develop speed from a standstill. In fact, forward paddling is the greatest weakness of 90% of the boaters on the river.

Too many people think of pulling the blade through the water on a forward stroke. Instead, you should plant the blade firmly in the water, and pull your hips up to that point. The difference between pulling the blade back, or the boat forward, is subtle but important. Think of your boat as gliding in a giant vat of molasses. Each stroke should stick in the molasses, so you have a firm blade to pull against. What happens if you strive to pull the blade through the water? You won't get firm resistance on the blade, so the blade will slip, and you won't pull yourself as far.

The blade sticking in molasses analogy can provide the answers to many commonly asked questions about the length and speed of forward strokes. The plant should be as far forward as possible, so you can pull yourself forward a greater distance. Don't pull until the blade is fully immersed. Once the blade reaches your hip, you can't pull yourself forward any further, so that is the logical point to finish the power phase of the stroke. Simply increasing your stroke rate won't necessarily make your boat go faster. To go faster, concentrate on pulling harder while keeping the blade stuck, then, recover quickly to the next plant.

When you first learned to paddle forward, you probably used your small, nimble arm muscles to provide all your power. A better strategy is to incorporate larger muscles for a more powerful, efficient stroke.

Can you imagine sitting in your boat and reaching forward to start a lawn mower? This twisting reach is the sort of torso and hip power you want to harness on the water. However, using that power is tricky. Too much front to back motion bobs the boat and jeopardizes your control and efficiency. Instead use torso rotation, twisting around your top shoulder to provide the pull of each stroke. To wind up for the stroke, lead with the chest on your paddle side. Then concentrate on getting the blade crisply in the water before you pull your hips forward. Strive to find a smooth, gliding sensation.

Really important to good paddling is keeping the paddle shaft vertical throughout the pull phase. The further the blade wanders from the side of the boat, the more your stroke resembles a turning stroke.

Just how you apply power is important. Yanking the paddle simply pulls it through the water, instead of allowing it to get a good purchase. Bubbles or splashes behind the blade are an indication that you are pulling too fast.

To practice these concepts with your forward stroke, do some flatwater paddling alongside a series of fixed points like dock pilings or buoys. Watch the blade and monitor how much it slips with each stroke. What you want is to feel resistance against the blade.

One way to check your stroke efficiency is by following, and mimicking, a really smooth paddler. The easiest way to learn this motion is on land, in front of a mirror, so you can monitor how much you are rotating. This helps you get the rhythm before you have to worry about your stability or keeping your boat straight.

Kayak Roll Instruction Ebook

Bow Rescues

The same knee lift motion is the foundation for bow rescues, where the rescue boat quickly maneuvers to a position perpendicular to the flipped boat. The upside down paddler reaches hands up on both sides, and scans from end to end for the bow of the rescuing boat. Once both hands have firm grasp of the bow, the position is similar to the hip snap practiced by the side of the pool.

kayak bow rescue

The same knee lift motion is the foundation for bow rescues, where the rescue boat quickly maneuvers to a position perpendicular to the flipped boat. The upside down paddler reaches hands up on both sides, and scans from end to end for the bow of the rescuing boat. Once both hands have firm grasp of the bow, the position is similar to the hip snap practiced by the side of the pool.

In bow rescues, right the boat with a strong hip snap without lifting your head or pushing up with your arms. For the best bow rescue progression it is important to have three distinct phases to the bow rescue: head on bow, hips right boat, only then lift head.

This is a fairly common rescue method used in hazard-free whitewater, where an attentive friend or instructor can help you stay in your boat. With an aggressive instructor helping you, this technique can save many a swim. However, you must learn whitewater swimming, for your own comfort and safety.

eskimo rescue kayak

Tip: rescuers, approach from the bow and take care to avoid directly hitting the hand since that could cause a nasty wrist or hand injury. Keep your head down!

Head down!

Lifting your head to breath is the most common ailment of bow rescues, braces, and rolls. You have to convince yourself of this! If the head comes up, the boat stays upside down.

kayaking roll

Lifting your head to breath is the most common ailment of bow rescues, braces, and rolls. You have to convince yourself of this! If the head comes up, the boat stays upside down.

kayaking roll

Don't rush to get air. It won't help. Instead, use your head to make effective moves, letting it be the last to clear the water. You can not lift the knee and keep your head down at the same time.



kayaking roll

This counterintuitive motion involves flexibility and rarely used muscles. Allow plenty of time to practice it- some people learn it in one day, others work on it throughout a season.

Pick your Roll

Paddlers can be quite passionate about their own way of rolling, so don't let different explanations confuse you. Quality rolls have a lot in common. Rolling is a weird, counterintuitive motion, so don't worry if it takes a while to learn. The practice will help your balance!

There are actually two primary variations of rolling, with subtle differences. In one style of rolling, the C to C, you position your body and paddle perpendicular to the overturned boat before any righting action begins. In the other style of rolling, the sweep, the boat rotation occurs as the paddle sweeps to perpendicular.

Use the roll closest to what you first learned. Don't worry about which to do. Many paddlers learn one roll and gradually evolve to the other. There are other roll variations that work well and are strongly promoted by various instructors.

kayak rolling photo

C to C
In the C to C, you position your body and paddle perpendicular to the boat before any righting action begins.
>arguably faster to articulate, easier to break into components.
>arguably requires more flexibility
>poor form rolls don’t work, look sloppy, leave paddler exposed

C to C Variation: the Front Deck Roll (not shown)
Finishing forward for protection and to keep profile low
Great roll, not as pure a body movement, and arguably a little harder to learn
Note: a few of these rolling images may take up to a minute to load, in order to bring you high quality instruction.

kayak sweep roll

Sweep
In the "sweep", the boat rotation occurs as the paddle sweeps to perpendicular.
arguably what most people evolve to
>arguably faster
>arguably better for less flexible
>poor form rolls don’t work look sloppy leave padder exposed
>arguably better for wide, planing hull boats

Sweep Variation, the Back deck roll (not shown)
Arguably low profile helps (don’t have to raise body very high)
Some boats have a point of stability if you lean back in them
Requires a sit-up to complete
Arguably exposes your face and arms
Arguably = expect lots of varied opinions on these issues

TIP: You should be super comfortable with the wet exit, and smooth with the knee lift before you tackle rolling with a paddle!

Choose a roll: Sweep or C to C

Sweep Roll

On this kayak sweep roll we are going to focus on maintaining a flat and neutral blade so that it moves cleanly through the water, while we do the sweep and knee lift.

kayak sweep roll

As you start this motion, minimize the force on the blade and bring the boat up with your hip snap. Pulling down on the paddle and lifting your head to breathe are the most common ailments of rolls and braces. You have to believe! If your head goes up for air, the boat stays upside down!

Finish your roll in a safe position! To avoid injury, keep the paddle shaft low and in front of your shoulders. Use smooth finesse rather than power.

kayak sweep roll

Using the paddle

When you have mastered a smooth knee lift you‘re ready to get started with the paddle. It’s helpful to have a swim mask and nose plugs for this part of the learning process.

The set-up position

This is a protected forward tucked position, with the paddle held on the water along one side the boat. From the set-up, you’ll flip, and wait until your boat settles upside down. Many paddlers find that it is easier to learn this roll setting up on the right, with the left hand forward.

Hold the paddle delicately! If you hold it tight, this transfers stress into the rest of your body, and makes you more likely to "muscle" the roll. And muscling the roll is harder than using fluid technique!

Note: a few of these rolling images may take up to a minute to load, in order to bring you high quality instruction.

Upside down

Once you are upside down, you move the working blade in an arc near the surface. Keep the blade near the surface by leaving the tuck position, and rolling your torso and working blade out to the side.

On this roll we are going to focus on maintaining a flat and neutral blade so that it moves cleanly through the water, while we do the sweep and knee lift.

Ideally, you have an instructor who can tap the boat when you are ready for the next step.

kayak sweep roll

As you start this motion, minimize the force on the blade and bring the boat up with your hip snap. Pulling down on the paddle and lifting your head to breathe are the most common ailments of rolls and braces. You have to believe! If your head goes up for air, the boat stays upside down!

The Finish Position

Finish your roll in a safe position! To avoid injury, keep the paddle shaft low and in front of your shoulders. Use smooth finesse rather than power.

In Phil's words from Kayaker's Edge Video:

I wait until my boat settles, with my forearms still on the edge of the boat. I push my hands into the air, getting my body closer to the surface. My back hand is at my side, by my hip. I initiate the movement by pushing the front hand away from the side of the boat, and begin to unwind my torso. I focus on my front blade traveling through the water, near the surface, as it sweeps in an arc away from the boat with little or no resistance. At the same time, using my knee I rotate the boat.

The paddle moves with my torso. I watch the blade. By rolling my right wrist back in one fluid motion, and bringing my hand to the shoulder, I minimize the pressure on the paddle.

I finish looking down my shaft at the blade. My torso is twisted slightly back.

Sweep Roll

  • Set up Position: Control hand back paddle slightly forward, blade flat on water. Forearms against side of boat. Wait for cool air on hands before starting.
  • Initiating motion of Sweep. Pushing the front shoulder out away from boat, no resistance on the blade. Back hand moves from set up to curled in by chin. By rolling wrist back bringing hand to the shoulder, you minimize the pressure on the paddle.
  • Remember, it is a body, knee and torso motion... not the blade. No climbing angle reduces resistance away from boat, starts the push-footpegs lean back thing.
  • Instructor holding body/head as much as possible. Traditional system of holding paddle has drawback that it encourages finding support from paddle blade.
  • Recovery: Safe finishing position 3rd-4th quadrant. Looking down shaft.

C to C Roll

When you've mastered the torso and knee motion that rights the boat, you're ready to practice the roll. The essence of the C to C roll is the same motion. The curvature of the torso from one side of the kayak to the other rights the kayak from upside down. It is helpful to have a swim mask and nose plugs for this part of the learning process.

Note: a few of these rolling images may take up to a minute to load, in order to bring you high quality instruction.

The set-up position

This is a protected forward tucked position, with the paddle held on the water along one side the boat. From the set-up, you’ll flip, and wait until your boat settles upside down.

To start a roll, first get in the protected forward tucked position, called the set-up. Tuck tight. Place your paddle with the blade face up, and the shaft parallel to the left seam line. Your forearm will be on the side of the boat.

Hold the paddle delicately! If you hold it tight, this transfers stress into the rest of your body,and makes you more likely to "muscle" the roll. And muscling the roll is harder than using fluid technique!

C to C kayak roll photo

Tip over

Once you are upside down, you move the working blade in an arc near the surface. Keep the blade near the surface by leaving the tuck position, and rolling your torso and working blade out to the side.

Your torso has to lead the arm motion. Any roll you do will rely on positioning the paddle with your torso more than your arms. Open up your body and arch your back to roll your torso out to the side. This gets you really wound up in the "first C".

Ideally, you have an instructor who can tap the boat when you are ready for the next step. The most common mistake is trying to take shortcuts, and not positioning the paddle correctly.

Knee Lift, right the boat

kayak roll photo

Then relax the knee that pulled you into the wind-up and rotate the boat up with your hip snap. Concentrate on minimizing the force on the blade.

As you start this motion, minimize the force on the blade and bring the boat up with your hip snap. Pulling down on the paddle and lifting your head to breathe are the most common ailments of rolls and braces. You have to believe! If your head goes up for air, the boat stays upside down!

Somehow this is a hard concept for us to remember underwater. Again: minimize the forceyou put on the blade. Instead of pulling the paddle down, think of sliding the boat under your upper body.

Finish position

Finish your roll in a safe position! To avoid injury, keep the paddle shaft low and in front of your shoulders. Use smooth finesse rather than power.

 

C to C Review, mental checklist

  • Set up Position: Control hand forward, paddle directly to side, not reaching forward, blade flat on water. Forearms against side of boat. Wait for cool air on hands before starting.
  • Going from Tuck to 1st C. Leave tuck and roll out to the side. Arch back for greater range of motion (see the blade) Back hand to position over butt crack, key on thumb dragging along the hull.
  • Unwind from 1st C to 2nd C... body, knee and torso motion... not the blade. Drive your ear toward your opposite shoulder, and immediately contract the muscles on your rolling side, while lifting the knee. The other knees and foot remains relaxed, barely touching the pedals. Have instructor/friend hold your body/head as much as possible (rather than your paddle).
  • Recovery Ribcage motion, and paddle centers over middle of boat, pulling inward.

Take it to the river

Once you have a roll, practice it hundreds of times on flat water. Don't rush. Decide deliberately to stay in your boat unless you know of specific hazard. Wait until you can feel cool air on your hands in the set-up position.

Go methodically through the rolling motion. On flat water you can practice reacting to the rushed sensation of an accidental flip by purposefully flipping at high speed or with only one hand on the shaft. Don't use your roll to get in over your head skill wise. Being in control is much more fun than counting fish!

Bombproofing Your Roll

You’ve got a great roll. It’s fairly effortless. You are almost 100 %. Of course, that stat is qualified by adding, “in the pools”. Although you’ve practiced all the drills to simulate combat situations, somehow that roll isn’t with you in the current. Instead there’s this sloppy, difficult roll that often requires more than one try, if it works at all! What can you do to keep the smooth roll with you when you hit the whitewater? Get rid of the fear. It is fear and not technique that is ruining your roll. There are some mental preparations that can help a lot. When I started boating my hero said that 90% of the sport is mental, that once a paddler gets a certain degree of skill, the rest of her progress depends on her head. I’ve found that statement to be fairly accurate. So, here are some mental and practical tips to ensure that you bring your good roll with you anywhere you go on the river.

First off, being underwater is part of our sport. Accept it. Mentally embrace that in the boating world of mere mortals like us, being up side down is to be expected. Not only is it OK to be underwater, you have to BELIEVE THAT IT’S FUN to be underwater. Yep, that’s the key! If you expect to be underwater and find yourself comfortable there, even in the rapids, then you’re roll will work as well as it does in the pools. (If these statements are causing your palms to sweat and your heartbeat to increase, then keep reading, this article will help you.)

There are several things that happen when you BELIEVE it’s fun to be underwater. Often, you are so relaxed about it that you never flip in the first place. If you do flip, you are so relaxed that you remain focused on rolling, and you do! And when you roll up, you are so relaxed and focused that you are balanced for the rest of the rapid. Wow! Wouldn’t that be nice?

How do you get there? By putting yourself there on purpose! “Arggghhh”, I hear you cringe. OK. Baby steps. The whole purpose of this practice is to desensitize you and reprogram fear into comfort. Find some deep current where you know you’ll roll up. Nothing challenging, just current. Have a friend there with the insurance of a bow rescue. The goal is to feel 100% confident that you are OK. Heck, even swimming here is fine, but you’d rather not use up your energy that way. So, here’s the plan. With lots of air, your goal is to flip in this current, AND JUST HANG OUT! (Safely of course.) What does the water feel like? Is it pushing you? Is it putting pressure on one of your blades? What’s the temperature? How is your body responding to the current? Perhaps open your eyes. Be curious! And then roll up.

OK, that curious exploration certainly was different. But it wasn’t bad. Why, it’s even interesting. Tell yourself, even out loud, that it’s OK to be underwater, maybe even FUN! Do this over and over and over. And then choose an squirlier spot. Your goal is to get so familiar and comfortable being up side down that you almost don’t even notice! Go to eddylines and playspots just to spend time up side down. Not only will your roll be with you in the rapids, but when you’re playing too. Spend time underwater in the deep feed out of wave trains. Gradually move to safe spots within rapids to flip and roll. It’s only through this desensitization process that fear is replaced with confidence.

Tune up your roll. Practice it often. Once one side is reliable, learn your other side. If you have rolls on both sides, use them equally. To get my “off-side” roll down I spent one summer purposely rolling on that side first. By the end of the summer it worked! And soon I wasn’t aware of which side I had used to roll, I was simply upright! And you will be too.

By Mary DeRiemer, host of River Runner's Edge, The Kayak Roll, Kayaker's Edge, Kayaker's Playbook DVD's and books.
adventure kayaking
We think there's nothing better than slipping into river time and returning to what is truly significant. It's very likely that you do too. Whether you are new to the sport, interested in making plateau breakthroughs, or wanting an exceptional wilderness or international trip, join us in reaching your destination. www.adventurekayaking.com

Focus for Rolling

Why do people kayak? The bottom line is that the experience is so enjoyable and meaningful that we want more! Kayaking can provide feelings of enjoyment, well-being and personal achievement. In order to have this kind of experience, these conditions must exist:

• The activity is completely voluntary.
• Your state of mind is open.
• The goal is clear and the feedback is immediate.
• There is a feeling of control over your actions in the environment, a sense that your personal competence is matched to the challenge, even though the outcome is uncertain. When I started boating my hero said that 90% of the sport is mental, that once a paddler gets a certain degree of skill, the rest depends on her head. I’ve found that statement to be fairly accurate. You’ve got a great roll in the pools. It’s effortless. Although you’ve practiced many drills to simulate combat, in current it isn’t there. Instead there’s a sloppy, difficult roll that often requires more than one try, if it works at all!

What is a roll anyway? It’s a movement. It’s a complicated movement but it isn’t hard. What can you do to keep the smooth roll with you when you hit whitewater? Finish the movement. It’s that simple. It is not enough to start it. 80% is not enough. YOU HAVE TO FINISH THE WHOLE MOVEMENT.

In combat your roll doesn’t fail, it’s that you fail to do your roll! As when, half way through the movement, you feel air on your cheek, and your head wants up. If you don’t do the roll movement 100%, start to finish, how can you expect to roll up?! It’s that clear.

Having a mantra that takes you to your finish position is invaluable. “Back hand to ear” is a common one to keep the back hand from punching. “Watch the blade” keeps the head from jerking up.

If, instead of saying your mantra and finishing the movement, you listen to your mind, you will fail to do your roll. It fills you with fear or panic and shouts, “Get up!” or “I don’t have enough air!” or “I’m not safe”. None of this commentary produces success. It does short circuit your roll movement and drives your instinct to GET UP!

So how do you stay focused? Fill your mind with mantras and the intention to finish every roll. That is the action you must take. Here are some exercises to clear your mind. This is a process called desensitization, intended to reprogram fear into comfort.

First off, being underwater is part of our sport. Accept it. Mentally embrace that in the kayaking world of mere mortals like us, being up-side-down is to be expected. It is OK to be underwater. If you expect to be underwater and find yourself comfortable there, even in the rapids you will roll.

Find some mellow place where you know you’ll roll up. Have a friend there with the insurance of a bow rescue. You want to feel 100% confident that you are OK. With lots of air, your nose plugs, a mask, whatever helps you feel comfortable, tuck, flip and stay under for a while.

Open your eyes. Look around. Be curious! What does the water feel like? Is it pushing you? Is it putting pressure on one of your blades? What’s the temperature? How is your body responding to the current? And then purposely do the whole roll movement, from start to finish.

This exploration is different. But it isn’t bad. Describe it as interesting, bubbley, green. Keep your adjectives in the physical realm. Don’t let your mind say it was scary or dangerous. Decide on a mantra that puts you at ease, like, “I have lots of air” or “I’m OK”.

Choose different places to practice being up-side-down. Your goal is to get comfortable everywhere. You want to get so familiar being under water that you almost don’t even notice! Hang around on mild eddy lines and at play spots. Spend time in deep, tail waves. Gradually move to safe spots within rapids. You are training your mind to stay clear and focusing on finishing your roll, no matter what. This desensitization process loosens your mind’s hold over you. Replace the chatter and fill your mind with intention.

Use your roll often. Once one side is reliable, learn your other side. You won’t lose your on-side roll! You’ll come away with two rolls! Use them equally. It IS mind over matter, so be sure your mind is trained to support you to finish every roll you start!

By Mary DeRiemer, host of River Runner's Edge, The Kayak Roll, Kayaker's Edge, Kayaker's Playbook DVD's and books.
adventure kayaking
We think there's nothing better than slipping into river time and returning to what is truly significant. It's very likely that you do too. Whether you are new to the sport, interested in making plateau breakthroughs, or wanting an exceptional wilderness or international trip, join us in reaching your destination. www.adventurekayaking.com

Roll Instructor Tips Part One

At some point in their paddling career, many kayakers find themselves in the position of teacher… faced with showing a friend (hopefully not significant other) how to roll. While this “buddy school of instruction” is less ideal than a trained and experienced instructor, it is sometimes necessary. Whether you are a neophyte instructor helping a friend, or an instructor seeking reminders, the following checklist should help you build a working teaching progression.

kayak roll instructor lesson

At some point in their paddling career, many kayakers find themselves in the position of teacher… faced with showing a friend (hopefully not significant other) how to roll. While this “buddy school of instruction” is less ideal than a trained and experienced instructor, it is sometimes necessary. Whether you are a neophyte instructor helping a friend, or an instructor seeking reminders, the following checklist should help you build a working teaching progression.

Roll Instruction Progression

First teach and review a wet exit prerequisite until the student is comfortable. Start with a distinct five step process:

Tuck, Tap three times (to slow the rush)
hands to cockpit at thighs, slide hands forward along rim to sprayskirt rip cord
Pull the rip cord forward and up
slide hands to along hips, push off boat
Stay tucked, push further back out of boat, let PDF find the surface

Bow rescue progression with distinct phases:

Tuck, tap 3 times
slide hands to bow and stern *
upon contact, bring bow in front pull head onto bow. Keep one shoulder in the water, pause and get a breath.
knee lift rights boat, only then lift head

Whitewater and coastal safety skills must be taught for safety, but also so the student develops comfort in their boat. A bow rescue is a handy way to avoid a swim, but it should only be used in pools and other hazard free learning situations so a student becomes comfortable with doing a wet exit when appropriate.

*A rescuing kayaker speeding in to offer a bow could do major damage if their impact hit directly on the hand or wrist. To help safeguard against this potential injury many teach to either have thumbs pointing out, or to have the arms a few inches from the boat to allow for a glancing blow rather than direct pinch. Rescuers should aim to slide from the bow into contact with the hand.

The knee Lift

Next, a student has to understand more about how rotating the boat upright is done by the knees. An efficient roll uses one knee at a time. Explain to the student:

1. If the student raises his head, it results in pulling on the wrong knee, which brings the boat back upside down

2. Point out which knee rights the boat. In order to do that, the student has to leave their head down.

3. Teach their entire body the motion… have them pinch their ear to the shoulder during the motion

4. Have them feel how the muscles stretch to the surface along one side of the ribcage, then contract in conjunction with the knee lift.

5. Show how only one knee can be activated in order to properly rotate the boat up. If a student is loose or in the boat, this can be a critical step. Explain outfitting again, and show how to pressure their feet. Teach difference between heel push (which lowers the knee from the deck) and toe push (which pressures the deck). This is especially important for bulkheads and foam foot bracing.

6. The next step of boat rotation practice is centering over the boat by sitting up slowly while keeping the head down. To exaggerate this centering have the hands slide across the lap area. Sitting up too quickly develops bad habits.

To teach how the boat rotations work, the instructor stands just less than waist deep to teach the boat rotations. When you help, you’ll find it best to stand behind your student. You can hold their lifejacket with one hand, and use your other hand to adjust or prompt their motions. For instance, with boat rotations, have your student pinch your hand between ear and shoulder. Alternatively, you can tap which knee they should be activating, and which side of their torso should contract.

pool roll

It is not preferable, but a student can also learn the same motion on the side of a pool or a dock. If they must practice this way, have them imagine that their fingertips are resting on eggs that will break if they push too hard. Also, they should keep one shoulder or their face in the water, to avoid lifting torso and head. Be precise, because only perfect practice makes perfect.

These skills are demonstrated and explained in "The Kayak Roll", available now in DVD and VHS.

Rolling Instructor Tips Part Two

If you have assumed the role of teacher you have the future of kayaking in your hands. Students who learn proper technique and then practice it will be the kayakers who can optimize their time on the water but also teach proper technique to future students. In the last article we addressed the first three areas of instruction:

-Roll Instruction Progression

-Bow rescue progression with distinct phases

 

The knee Lift

learn to kayak roll

In this article we will teach the steps for a low resistance twisting sweep roll. This is a safe and protected roll, because the torso stays near the surface and moves smoothly to an upright position. This roll protects your shoulder from injury by keeping your leading arm in front of your torso and by utilizing the large and powerful knee and torso muscles to right the boat. Because this roll is smooth, quick, and fluid, it works well in a variety of conditions from huge surf, to serious steeps. This roll works for many different body types, from the young and gumby-like, to those who are stiff, and not as flexible as they used to be. Some other rolls require a wind-up that can be a challenge in a deep wide boat. This roll technique starts the boat rotation immediately, so it excels with any boat design.

Other excellent rolling styles and teaching progressions exist, so if you know one, set it aside while you learn this roll. With an open mind you will be best able to learn this easy version of the kayak roll. In time, you’ll build on this foundation to incorporate your personal style. You’ll find this roll to be adaptable: you can finish at 90 degrees to the boat, // or scull forward to finish over the front deck. Focus on technique! Poor form rolls of any style don’t work as well, look sloppy, and leave the paddler exposed.

Sweep

In the "sweep", the boat rotation occurs as the paddle sweeps to perpendicular. Sequence:
1. Performing boat rotations from capsize to upright (see previous article)
2. The set-up position
3. The finish position
4. Direction of movement
5. Sweeping with no pressure
6. Twisting to the perfect finish
7. Putting it together, gradually going into deeper water
exposed

The Set-up position

The set-up position helps the student orient into a protected position. To curl into this position tuck the head and torso to the outside of the set-up thigh with forearms on the boat. Do not tuck directly forward because that position makes it more difficult to get your hands and blade into position above the surface. Tucking directly forward also keeps your torso from initiating the motion in the correct direction out away from the boat. The blade has to be on the water before the boat can roll, so once the entire paddle is in the air, place the forward blade on the water.

Hold the paddle lightly in both hands. Wiggling fingers will release a tight grip. A tight grip translates tension to the rest of your body making it more likely to pull the blade down, which will hurt the roll. A gentle grip is important.

To review, the set-up starts with your head to the side, with your forearms against the boat. The blade is floating on the water. Loosen the fingers and feel cool air on them before starting the sweep. Be patient. The set-up is the foundation for a roll that works, so perform it exactly!

The Finish Position

The finish position is the targeted position as the student comes out of the water. To assist in developing a smooth and resistance-free rolling motion, advising an exaggerated blade angle in the finish position is a good teaching tool. At the finish knuckles should be curled back to the roll-side shoulder with elbow forward.

Students and instructors alike will find the finish position as a good checkpoint to ensure the correct form has been used.

The finish position is also helpful with avoiding painful shoulder injuries. Shoulder injuries can occur by the instinctive action of lifting the head while pulling down and back on the paddle. In this position the shoulder is most vulnerable to muscle tears or shoulder dislocation. At the beginning of the roll the shoulder is well protected with the elbow in front of the chest. To keep the shoulder safe throughout the roll, twist the torso and watch the blade. Any shoulder pain is an indicator that something is wrong! Furthermore, to stay balanced hands should remain centered on the paddle shaft.

Here are the key points of the finish position:
• Torso twisted
• Look down the shaft
• Hands loose
• Knuckles curled back to shoulder and elbows thrust forward
• Hands centered on the paddle shaft

Starting movement in the correct direction

When upside down, the normal tendency is to pull down. But underwater, pulling down results in the paddle going to the bottom and heavy resistance on the blade. This illusion of support kills the roll.

Instead, use the torso to sweep the blade away in a wide arc. Think of the blade floating on the surface in the set-up, then slicing through the water to the finish.

You can practice a false sweep. This exercise may help the paddler relax and move the torso in the correct direction, while keeping the paddle gliding lightly near the surface.

Another useful drill is trying the starting motion from a right-side up position. This requires the instructor to hold the boat to keep it from capsizing.

Sweeping with no pressure

Effortless rolls are done with the blade angle neutral throughout the roll.

With your hands loose on the shaft, imagine letting the paddle blade float across the surface of the water.

A climbing blade angle causes many paddlers to muscle their rolls, finishing with a lot of pressure on the blade. This leads to a failed roll or a less desirable and exposed finish. Resistance on the blade causes a lifting of the head, which disengages the rolling knee.

Remember, effortless rolls are done with a gentle grip so the blade angle can stay neutral throughout the roll.

Rolling the knuckles back is an important step because it controls the blade angle.

Keep the back hand as a pivot while jutting the elbow forward. Remember to roll the knuckles back to the shoulder.

Pressure and resistance on the sweeping blade make it impossible to do an effortless roll. In an ideal roll there is no resistance because the backhand moves toward the shoulder immediately. The back arm takes a smooth continuous motion from setup to the finish position.

Right-side up, practice moving the back hand from the lap to the knuckles back, elbow forward finish position.

Twisting to the perfect finish

Twisting the torso to move the blade engages the knee that rolls the boat. Practice twisting from the finish forward to take the blade toward the foot.

The shaft is moving only because the body is twisting. This twisting motion moves the body and blade to the finish while maintaining pressure on the rolling knee.

Once capsized, when moving away from the set-up position, it is important to apply pressure only to the rolling knee. If both knees are pressuring the thigh braces, it can be very difficult to roll the kayak. Extending the torso out starts the pressure in the rolling knee, then twisting the torso finishes the boat rotation.

Putting it together, gradually going deeper into the water

When helping someone roll, the instructor must decide when to support the student out of the water. Support helps them relax and hear your instruction. However, it is also important for the student to practice the correct set-up position without assistance. They can then do false sweeps with no pressure on the blade.

Holding the paddle in such a way that a student becomes accustomed to using it to get upright can be counter-constructive. Rather, show the correct direction of movement and have it performed to satisfaction. A touch can indicate the correct direction, as can splashes on the water if the student can open her eyes under water.

Your student may experience more than one problem, but keep in mind they can focus on only one solution at a time. Your students tend to under-perform each motion, so it useful to over-exaggerate the goal. This strategy will help the student achieve the ideal. Noseplugs improve the comfort level and learning curve, and many instructors believe a facemask can help as well.

Be sure to give the student clear mental checkpoints (e.g., wait for cool air on their hands before leaving set-up). Often a student needs review of a drill previously covered. Frequently that means doing successive boat rotations for a reminder of which knee gets activated. When helping someone through any drill, be fanatical about keeping the pressure light on the paddle blade and the head down.

Teaching is challenging but it can be one of the most rewarding parts of teaching paddling!

Adapted from “The Kayak Roll!” which demonstrates and explains rolling for recreational paddlers. This major video collaboration captured the 90 years of rolling experience of author Kent Ford , Phil and Mary DeRiemer , and Dan Crandall.

Rolling Instruction Tips Part 3 Troubleshooting checklist

Troubleshooting Checklist       Teaching the Twisting Sweep roll

Marker (what you observe):  The head comes up and the paddle dives.
Mechanism: The head usually comes up in a failed roll.  But it is only sometimes the root cause. 
Solution: Probably something else.
 
Marker: Paddle gets pulled down. 
Mechanism: Pulling on paddle to seek resistance.  Climbing blade angle seeking something to pull on. 
Best Solution: Shed resistance by aiming for exaggerated finish position blade angle. Seek torso twist.
Solution: Float the blade wide through sweep. “Don’t try to get upright.”
 
Marker: Paddle dives or gets pulled down. 
Mechanism: Initiating movement in wrong direction.
Solution: Rightside up drill to practice direction of initial movement.
Solution: False sweeps with instructor hinting correct blade direction.  False sweeps to rehearse starting in correct direction. Offside hand drills (below). 
 
Marker: Stall Partway.  Depth charge (‘kerplunk’) after paddle moves one foot from setup.
Mechanism: Using arms to pull up. Initial movement then torso rotation ends.
Solution: Watch the watch to finish.  Lock offside hand to shoulder.  More drills to rehearse torso rotation.
 
Marker: Offside Hand punches.
Mechanism: Loss of linkage between torso and shaft.
Solution: Offside hand to shoulder.  Pinch dollar bill in elbow to eliminate punch forward. Pinch dollar bill in armpit to eliminate punch up. 
Another Solution: Torso rotation practice lap to finish position.  Torso rotation practice better linkage. Aim for torso rotation all the way back to the finish position (and exaggerate sweep).
 
Marker: Excess power. Rush. Paddle goes down.
Mechanism:  Disorientation.
Solution: Finish position not exaggerated. Try half speed.  “Don’t try to get upright.”
Another solution: Underwater comfort. Boat rotations minimizing force. A swim mask and noseplugs.
 
Marker: Head comes up early.
Mechanism: Wrong knee engaged. Lifting for Air.  No belief.
Solution: Boat rotation drills.  Are both knees hanging on? Take offside knee out of thigh hook. Solution:  Try rolling without “trying” to get upright. (requires assistant.) Swim mask for orientation.  Positive reinforcement.
 
Marker: Delayed boat rotation.
Mechanism: Knee not activating early (student doing C to sweep).
Solution: Take one knee out of brace, trigger active knee earlier.
 
Marker: No attempt.  Failed combat rolls.
Mechanism: Rush.  No belief.
Solution: Setup, wait for cool air on hands.  Mantra.
 
Teaching C to C Rolls
Marker: Failure to leave setup tuck with torso.  So arms alone are trying to do the movement.
Marker: Not enough wind up with one knee so other knee can hip snap
Marker: Hand not over butt crack at First C, paddle shaft not at 90 to boat
 
Source:  Kent Ford “The Kayak Roll” Performancevideo.com

 

Additions and corrections appreciated!  Use contact page at performancevideo.com

 

 

Shoulder Dislocations in Kayaking

Shoulder dislocations are infrequent but are still the most common serious injury in kayaking. Most first time dislocations are related to poor form while performing a brace or a roll. To prevent this painful and hard to rehabilitate injury, keep your arms low and in front of your torso when performing a roll or brace. Slouching your back puts stress on the shoulder by reducing both boat stability and your rotation.

 

shoulder excercises for kayakers


shoulder excercises for kayakers

The weakest position for a shoulder:

 

 

 

shoulder excercises for kayakers



 

This hitchhiking position is the weakest spot of the shoulder joint.





 

A better bracing position: elbows low, twisted to look at the blade.

Shoulder Maintenance

shoulder excercises for kayakers

Balancing your muscle development is the guiding principle of preventative maintenance of your shoulders. Paddlers typically overdevelop some muscle groups, leaving other muscles underdeveloped. Underdeveloped muscles in the back and shoulders can lead to an injury.

Frequently these problems arise when the larger muscle groups (“the movers”) overpower the smaller ones (the stabilizers and rotator cuff). This can lead to shoulder dysfunction, so it is important to strengthen and work rotator cuff muscles to control excessive shoulder movement.

It is just as important to work the posterior shoulder and back muscles for the shoulder joint to work properly. Working the shoulder and back will strengthen the muscles that hold the scapula in the correct position, further reducing risk of injury.

The ugly injury of kayaking is shoulder dislocations, which typically happen from poor form rolling or bracing. More details are on the previous page.

The other common paddling injury for shoulders is impingement syndrome. This is much easier to rehab! To avoid or relieve impingement syndrome, a common complaint of paddlers, it is important to stretch the shoulder, utilize proper posture and strengthen the rotator cuff muscles. Impingement syndrome is a sharp stabbing pain on the front of the shoulder, about an inch down. This is often caused by poor shoulder positioning (slouching), poor flexibility, and poor rotator cuff control. On the bright side, impingement pain tends to respond quickly to physical therapy to remind your arm to settle lower in the shoulder (rather than hunched). Even without PT, you can do exercises to pull the shoulder lower, such as lightweight rowing, emphasizing drawing your shoulder blades together.

Heavy weight training can bypass working the stabilizing muscles, so it is important to perform the following exercises with very light resistance. Done daily, these exercises will strengthen and coordinate your paddling muscles. Consult a physician or physical therapist if pain accompanies any of these exercises.

These exercises strengthen the rotator cuff muscles, which help you both for preventing dislocations, rehabing after a dislocation, or reducing impingement problems. Start this exercise with your elbow at your side. If you feel painfree, move to the elevated positions. These positions strengthen the rotator cuff for paddling situations – but don’t push it.

shoulder excercises for kayakers shoulder excercises for kayakers

 

Internal Rotation:

(use a stretchy sport band to provide a little more resistance.)



shoulder excercises for kayakers shoulder excercises for kayakers

 

External rotation:

 







shoulder excercises for kayakers shoulder excercises for kayakers

 

Internal Rotation elevated:

Strengthening the rotator cuff in this vulnerable position will also help prevent dislocations. Do not do this exercise if you feel pain!

 



shoulder excercises for kayakers shoulder excercises for kayakers

 

External rotation elevated:

 



shoulder excercises for kayakers shoulder excercises for kayakers

 

Rowing (very light weight):

Focus on pinching shoulder blades together in the last half of rowing motion

Do both with elbow at side and with elbow away from body.

 

 

These exercises strengthen interscapular muscles. Good for controlling the position of the scapula, and for posterior shoulder strength.



shoulder excercises for kayakers

 

shoulder excercises for kayakers

Lying down abduction with external rotation. (Finish Thumbs up)

 

 



shoulder excercises for kayakers shoulder excercises for kayakers

 

Lying down abduction with internal rotation (Finish thumbs down)

 

 

These exercises help shoulder flexibility:



shoulder excercises for kayakers

 

Doorway stretch

Vary hand and elbow position to get stretch in different areas of the chest.

 

 



shoulder excercises for kayakers

 

Towel Stretch

To stretch internal rotation. Good to reduce impingement problems.

 

Shoulder excercises provided by Phil Rambo of Integrated Physical Therapy in Durango, CO. Thanks to Phil for rehabing my shoulder to 100% painfree function!

Bracing

The knee lift and torso motion is the basic concept behind the low and high brace, the defensive maneuvers that can help keep you rightside up. A brace requires pretty much paddle dexterity, so you should probably learn to roll first. A brace, improperly done, can put your shoulder at risk. So, many instructors prefer not to teach it unless they teach on cold water where swims are punishing.

kayak brace for stability

The knee lift and torso motion is the basic concept behind the low and high brace, the defensive maneuvers that can help keep you rightside up. A brace requires pretty much paddle dexterity, so you should probably learn to roll first. A brace, improperly done, can put your shoulder at risk. So, many instructors prefer not to teach it unless they teach on cold water where swims are punishing.

Hint: It is harder to learn kayaking in cold water!

A common misconception is that leverage, getting your head up, and pressure on the blade are the keys to a good brace (or roll). This is all wrong! Easy braces require that you keep the shaft horizontal and slide the blade in close to the boat to make it easy to slide your weight over the boat. Move the blade inboard, closer to the boat, to help center your weight over the boat.

Low brace

You can learn the basics of the low brace sitting on the ground. For a low brace you will use the back, non-power face of the blade, so your elbows are directly above your hands. Tip up your boat (or imaginary boat) and then lift one knee while slapping the paddle blade on the water.

When you watch someone making a successful low brace it may appear that the paddle brings the boat right side up. This isn't quite right. The paddle offers only momentary support while your torso and knee motion rights the boat.

High Brace

You really shouldn’t work on this until you need it for sidesurfing. It is a low percentage move until you have lots of blade finesse and dexterity. Plus, it is risky for your shoulders.

A good high brace commits your body to the water, with your elbows low, and a minimum of force on your shoulders and blade. Your hands shouldn't move more than a couple inches from your shoulders. Your elbows should act like shocks, so keep the shaft low and in front of your shoulders. Use smooth finesse rather than power.

Overextension of your arms in an attempt to get more leverage makes rolls and braces harder, because it pulls your head and torso off center. Plus it exposes your arm and shoulder to injury. The safe finishing position for braces and rolls is with your elbows low and in close to your body. Don't worry if you don't save yourself with a brace or a roll. Equally important are good self rescue skills.

Safety Tip

If you have shoulder problems, seek experienced instruction to help you learn the roll and proper brace technique. If you don't have shoulder problems, seek experienced instruction to help you avoid shoulder problems.

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Drills that improve your Mountain Biking

12 DRILLS THAT CAN IMPROVE YOUR MOUNTAIN BIKING

excerpted from Ned Overend’s Performance Mountain Biking

Many of the following skills you can develop naturally through experience, however, conscious study and practice will speed your improvement. You'll have more fun with improved control and confidence. Buy the DVD or Download (guaranteed satisfaction or your money back!). 20% Discount: Use coupon code "morefun"

FOR BALANCE
Technical riding requires a wide range of body movement. You can learn to position your bike and body to maintain balance and optimize traction.

1> Stand-up and experiment with your range of motion. When you are riding, standing on the pedals allow you to absorb shock through your legs. On technical trails you'll prefer to concentrate your efforts on keeping traction, getting over obstacles and making tight turns, rather than on fighting to stay upright. When your wheels are rolling fast, gyroscopic forces help with stability. The slower you are rolling, the more actively you must balance the bike.

2> Practice a trackstand, also known as a slow race. Simply try to stop, or move as slowly as possible. This forces you to balance with no gyro effect at all. Ideally you can stay in one spot. Hint: Pedal against the braking force. Relax!

FLOATING DRILL:
On a rough section of trail, stand up on the pedals, allowing your bike and body to move, adjusting for the terrain changes. Let the bike float around beneath you.

3> Your bike will handle very differently when you clamp the seat between your thighs as compared to when you ride slightly bowlegged. Riding in an open stance, with your knees out, allows the saddle to float around more. Other times you might prefer to reference the seat against your thighs. Experiment to find which system works best for you!

PEDALING EFFICIENTLY
Pedaling efficiently will help you use more muscle groups, apply more force and even out the power pulses of separate downstrokes. A smoother pedaling motion maintains traction by reducing wheel surges and bouncing.
To incorporate more leg muscles and to smooth out your traction impulses you want to think of pedaling as pushing down at the top of the stroke, dragging your foot across the bottom as though you are scraping something off your shoe, then driving your knee toward the handlebars.
4> A good drill for working on a circular pedaling motion is to take one foot off your pedal and pedal around with the other one. It's an easy technique to practice. Striving for a circular stroke helps you to maintain momentum so you can ride farther, faster, more efficiently.

BRAKING
Learning how to use your brakes in a variety of terrain is a major part of having control and confidence. The fear of grabbing too much front brake results in many riders not using it when they should. Yet with proper weight transfer the majority of stopping power is in the front brake. In addition to keeping you from going over the bars, shifting your weight back will greatly enhance traction when you use the brakes.

5> In this drill we will learn how to maximize braking traction. Pick a short gentle hill on loose dirt, and establish a starting line at the to and a braking line near the bottom. From your starting line, coast, without braking, down to the spot where you plan to apply the brakes.
First use your rear brake.
Stand up on your pedals and get in the crouched position off the saddle. Push your hips back. Experiment with moving your weight back, to find the position for maximum braking traction.
Next try using the front brake only.
The front brake is your best weapon for scrubbing off speed to maintain control, but you have to know how to use it correctly. The harder you squeeze the front brakes, the farther back you have to adjust your weight.
Apply the brake,
constantly adjusting the pressure. This allows the wheel to keep rolling so you can maintain traction and stay in control. Keep the front wheel straight as it tries to twist.

You will find with practice that you can stop much quicker, because your weight is pushing the tires into the dirt and you have a tremendous amount of braking traction. But at the same time it is harder to control. So when you use the front brake what is important is that the front wheel not be turned, and the bike be upright.

Now Try using both brakes together. Again, coordinate the use of your brakes with weight shifting to get maximum stopping power. The art is to find the braking pressure just before your wheels lock up.

TURNING
A valuable high speed turning drill is to take one turn and do it over and over again as you practice different techniques, experimenting with body positioning to increase your traction. Pick a sharp turn, like the intersection of two empty fire roads.

6> First go through the turn with pedals parallel. This position is useful for turns where stability and traction are not in question as well as in rough terrain when you have to be out of the seat.
If you need more traction, work on angulation. Your hips should tilt with the bike to the inside of the turn, but your shoulders should remain over the tire contact patch.

6A>Next try putting your outside foot down at the bottom of the pedal stroke, and putting all of your weight on it. Focus all of your weight on the outside pedal. Also angulate your upper body to the outside of the turn. What this will do is put all of our weight over the tire contact patches and increase your traction. There are other subtle things you can do to help your stability. Point your inside knee into the turn. This helps maintain balance and stability by giving you a wider stance.

6B> Try the same turn a little faster. If you are going through a turn real fast, especially if it is slippery, you will take your foot off the pedal. This will increase your stability and help keep you from crashing. With your foot out of the pedal you have more adjustment for your balance and you'll get the feeling of better stability at higher speeds. If your rear wheel goes all the way out your foot is in position to save a fall. Hold your inside foot out to the side, knee slightly bent and toes pointed up, skimming your foot just above the ground.
If your rear wheel does break loose you can control the amount of slide by countersteering with the front wheel. Turn your front wheel in the same direction your rear wheel is sliding. This keeps the front wheel rolling, so you can control your line and balance.

6C> Experiment, comparing the different kinds of turns. Try pedals parallel... Try it with your outside foot down and your inside knee out.... Try it with a foot out. You will find different turning techniques work better for different traction surfaces, different speeds, and different radius turns.

SWITCHBACKS
Switchbacks differ from other turns because you have to go slowly. People often have trouble riding the tight ones, because a lack of balance keeps them from concentrating on the mechanics of the turn.

7> Remember the trackstand balance drill? You can modify it to practice slow and tight turns. You'll find that in order to ride a tight circle you have to turn the handlebars as far as you can... to turn em that far you have to be going really slow. You'll be using your brakes, and use a lot of balance.

MANEUVERING THE REAR WHEEL

8> Small obstacles can pose problems at slow speeds. This slow speed maneuvering drill will help you to learn how your rear wheel tracks in relation to your front wheel. Line up a row of 5 grapefruit sized rocks roughly 1 foot apart. Practice weaving your front wheel through them, avoiding them with the rear wheel as well. You can see at these slow speeds if the front makes it through, then the back wheel hits a rock, it will stop your momentum.

UNWEIGHTING
Getting over obstacles is more a matter of technique and finesse, rather than brute strength. The basic technique is in unweighting the tires. Do it by shifting your weight forward and back, and changing how much pressure you apply with your hands and feet. In certain critical sections, you'll want to unweight the entire bike for an instant.

9> Timing your launch depends on your speed, so it is a matter of practice. The faster you go, the sooner you will need to unweight. Start out practicing these techniques with non-threatening obstacles like shadows.

WHEELIES
When you're climbing a ledge or any obstacle, the mini-wheelie is the basic technique you will use to loft the front wheel over the object. Basically this consists of accelerating your bike, pushing down hard on one pedal, throwing your weight backward, all while you pull up on your hands. The key to getting the front wheel up is more than just yanking on the bars. Shift your weight rearward sharply in the saddle. At the same time you pull up the front wheel, give the pedal a sharp down stroke. As you approach the obstacle, make sure you're in a gear hard enough to get some leverage out of a power stroke on the pedals. Once the front wheel has cleared the object, shift your weight forward. Keep pedaling after the rear wheel makes contact and return to your centered position.

10> Practice a wheelie with either foot, to give you more options on a tricky trail section.

TRAINING YOUR VISION PATTERNS.
Glance up, and scan from the trail horizon back to your wheel for obstacles, turns, terrain changes, and shifting spots. Check the line of your front wheel, then look beyond to the next moves. The faster you are going the farther ahead you must look.
Train your vision patterns to pick the best lines. Focus on where you want the bike to go, not on where you're afraid it will end up. Scan the trail ahead of you, looking up the trail and back. The faster you go, the farther out front --and more often-- you need to scan.

11> A few experiences of looking at the wrong places will convince you of the need for the proper vision patterns. Experiment with your vision patterns to find the most valuable system.

CLEAT RELEASE DRILL:
Cleats enable you to use more muscles for climbing power and descending control. But, a lot of people fall trying to get their foot out of their cleats, especially going uphill, when they have a lot of pressure on the pedals. The solution is easy: develop the ability to quickly take either foot off the pedals.

12> Use the trackstand drill to practice getting your foot out quickly. Practice balancing long enough to take either foot out at any position in the pedal stroke, and anticipate which side will be better for putting your foot down for instance so you get better footing and lean away from a dropoff.

A lot of people don't think of motion to get out of cleat. The easiest motion with the least friction is when your foot is parallel to the pedal. You should practice with both feet getting out at full 360 of crank arm movement You'll find certain areas where you aren't used to getting foot out.

If you are new to using cleats, practice lots of releases before tackling technical trails. Adjust or change the cleats or pedals if you are having continued problems. Hint: If you are a weekend rider that generally keeps your wheels on the ground, you might prefer "multi-release" cleats which are available from your local bikeshop. These allow release in a wider variety of directions. 
Some shop employees (young or accomplished riders) don't like these, so you might have to ask persistently.

DISCLAIMER AND SAFETY WARNING: Riding a bike can result in very serious injury or even death. These tips and the accompanying video will show you ways to ride in better control, however, you must decide if the inherent risk is acceptable. Take responsibility for the condition and quality of your equipment, ride in control, and be careful!

 

Whitewater eBook

Whitewater Kayaking E-School

This collection of articles will speed you on your way to having more fun kayaking!

Note to intermediate and advanced whitewater kayak paddlers: Don't miss the sections on Whitewater Safety and Rolling Instruction (see the links at left). Even if you don't need the help, you will find these tips invaluable for teaching your buddy. Also the "Breakthru tips" section is a collection of drills specifically designed to help you make a jump in skills.

kayak forward stroke

Just learning to paddle a whitewater kayak? This book will help you learn, but in addition I highly recommend a few days of lessons to accompany your reading. A few days of lessons will reduce the chance of a bad experience. The first days of trial and error learning can be unnecessarily cold and wet! It's a lot less fun than the sport can be!

Paddling a whitewater kayak is different than other sports because it’s often counter intuitive. To roll you don't pull down on the paddle, and you don't lift your head, and you don't reach way out with the blade. Floating into a rock you lean towards it, not away from it.

Instruction is an Investment!

Three or four days is the ideal length for learning the basics of the sport and making huge progress. In 3 or 4 days, you can develop a solid foundation of skills, far quicker than if you learn piecemeal from friends, or haphazardly by trial and error. Let someone else handle the logistics and pick the river. You just paddle. This book will help you get the most from that instruction if you review it before and after your classes.

As part of the class you get to try different boats, and try different gear, so you will be able to make an educated decision before you spend a thousand dollars on gear. Many schools give you a certificate or discount towards your next purchase. And besides, what use is that thousand dollar surfing machine if you can't get to the wave. A few tips might help!

Best of all, by taking a class you can meet other people from your area who will be about your skill level, so you can continue getting out on the river. Its fun, and you'll probably meet some fascinating, like minded people.

When you are looking for a school, word of mouth rules! The best instructors have glowing reputations, so ask other paddlers, particularly in the local club.

Tempted to try the 'buddy school of instruction?

If you have friends who can be real patient and professional in giving you an introduction to the sport, that might be your best choice. But it can be a gamble. Are they really going to start you with at least half a day of flatwater strokework, then take you on an easy enough section of river, so you can get some comfort with basics before you get gripped?

I have seen too many people get dragged too quickly into whitewater that was not conducive to learning. That bums me out, because some of these people end up quitting the sport.

As for safety instruction, you'll want a set of explanations that are at least more comprehensive than the typical raft trip safety briefing. When was the last time you had this sort of thorough instruction from your friends?

In whitewater there are a lot of hidden hazards that may not be obvious unless pointed out, so you will want to have that instruction given to you methodically. Knowing what is dangerous helps you realize how much is good clean fun. You want someone showing you the difference, so you can really enjoy the fun parts without uncertainty.

On to the collection of articles... Prerequisites, rolling, first strokes, river reading, and whitewater safety are the chapters... pick and choose, or take the tour!

Water Reading

Reading the River

One of the primary skills for paddlers on whitewater is “reading the river”. This enables them to use the power of the river, and not get abused by the power of the river by being in the wrong spot.

Rocks in the River

Rocks can be your friend or your foe. Sometimes they are foe. Sometimes they are your friend. Sometimes they are fun! It is usually no big deal to hit rocks. A friendly rock is one with a rounded upstream face and a pillow of water cushioning it. When you encounter a rock on the river, it is important lean into the rock, lifting your upstream edge. The pillow helps keep your boat off the rock.

The Eddy

One of the most obvious river features are the eddies, or slow water zones, most often found on the sides of the river. A rock or pile of rocks deflects the current, and the water circles back upstream to fill in behind.

Reading the River

One of the primary skills for paddlers on whitewater is “reading the river”. This enables them to use the power of the river, and not get abused by the power of the river by being in the wrong spot.

about hydraulic in river

Rocks in the River

Rocks can be your friend or your foe. Sometimes they are foe. Sometimes they are your friend. Sometimes they are fun! It is usually no big deal to hit rocks. A friendly rock is one with a rounded upstream face and a pillow of water cushioning it. When you encounter a rock on the river, it is important lean into the rock, lifting your upstream edge. The pillow helps keep your boat off the rock.

about hydraulic in river

The Eddy

One of the most obvious river features are the eddies, or slow water zones, most often found on the sides of the river. A rock or pile of rocks deflects the current, and the water circles back upstream to fill in behind.

On your local river, see if you can find eddies with water actually flowing upstream!

Paddlers in any type of competition or just for fun do eddy turns. Eddy turns are the foundation for controlling your descent of the river. You can stop, rest, set up moves. Eddy turns require an approach path that sets you up to get all the way into the eddy. Your bow stops in the calm of the eddy, and the stern is pushed around by the current. Once a paddler enters the eddy they need to tilt their boat to stay balanced, or else water climbs up on their boat, and flips them. > On your local river, count how many eddies you can see that would fit a kayak.



about hydraulic in river

 

about hydraulic in river


Reading the River

But a river has more than eddies behind rocks. The spectrum of features at formed at different water levels is part of what makes whitewater so much fun. As more water covers a rock you get a rock that is barely covered changing to a steep pourover, to pourover to wave hole to a series of waves.

about hydraulic in river about hydraulic in river pourover missing about hydraulic in river

Reading the River

As a tiny bit of water goes over the same rock, you still have a pillow on the upstream side, and an eddy below. As even more water goes over, you get a pourover. With even more water over the same spot, it turns into a wave hole,tall and more wavelike, with white crashing back upstream. With more water you have only a occasionally breaking wave, and a series of waves after. With more water the wave will stop breaking, and you have a series of waves.

Reading Water Concepts

At first glance it looks like the thrill of whitewater is the pure adreniline of crashing down through waves, and big drops. But that is only part of the thrill. Reading the river, figuring out how your boat will react, then picking your line become a rewarding challenge. This skill takes considerable experience, but in most ideal learning situations all that happens from a mis read is you flip, or simply bang up on a rock.

Water Reading

Identifying basic river features is an important part of whitewater paddling. This knowledge helps keep you safe and allows you to understand the basic whitewater maneuvers. Learning to read a river's features will help you know their friendliness.

\B\Sidebar\Reading Water: Scan the road ahead

I remember my first day behind the wheel in drivers' ed. Heading out of the school driveway, I had my eyes riveted on the hood of the car. As the car ran up on the curb, the instructor grabbed the wheel, screaming for me to look down the road. A lengthy lecture on scanning the road followed my mistake.

Learning to paddle whitewater can be a similar experience. Reading the road, and reading the river actually have a lot in common.

The key to reading water is to lift your vision! Don't just look at your bow. Look where you want to go, and at what lies in between.

What should you be looking for? Simply: easily visible rocks, water features formed by rocks under the surface, and hazards.

As you scan the rapid, look far downstream to figure out where the current ends. Does the main flow enter on one side, but finish in a waves bouncing on the other side? You might see some rocks above the water deflecting the current. Figuring out why the current was deflected is the key to reading the rapid.

An instructor can help you learn to identify river hazards, like undercut rocks, or man made things like bridge pilings. Tree branches forming strainers are one of the most dangerous hazards in the sport. Scan for bouncing twigs and unexplained currents that might indicate a strainer. Learn to identify potential danger spots, then concentrate your vision on where you want to go, rather than at what you want to avoid.

Learning to read water takes time and practice, so paddle within your ability and experience and don't just follow other boaters. Instead, explore easy and safe rapids by picking your own line.

Visible Rocks

Beginner paddlers are usually terrified of the rocks in the river. Rocks won't bite, in fact they rarely pose a significant danger. When you paddle you can spot them easily and turn to avoid them. You usually won't plan to hit rocks, but when you do, its important to react properly.

If you find yourself floating sideways towards a rock, lean your body and boat aggressively towards the rock, even putting your hand or paddle on it. The water buffeting off the rock forms a pillow which helps keep your boat off the rock. A round rock tends to be friendlier than one with a sharp, upstream edge. Learn to distinguish between them.

\photo\ leaning towards a rock "love the rock"

Eddies

Just downstream of the rock is a quiet spot, called an eddy. The eddy is a paddler's refuge from the current, and is the most important water feature to know and understand. Paddlers use eddies to stop and rest, to scout an upcoming rapid, and for access to fun play spots.

\photo\paddlers use the eddies as their refuge

Holes

A hole or hyraulic is formed by water flowing over a submerged rock. The resulting water feature is either a hole or a wave, depending on how much water is pouring over.

A little water flowing over the rock leaves a strong, very calm eddy below, and a very shallow hole, often called a hydraulic. More water flowing over the rock generates a hole, a wavelike formation with a white, frothy backwash. Variations are referred to as holes, stoppers, reversals, keepers, pourovers and ledge holes.

To evaluate holes, look downstream and beyond to see clues in the current. Is it wavelike, with water splashing up, implying a sloping entry to a fun play hole? Or is it flat, with a horizon line, suggesting that it rushes to a steep drop and pours over into ledge hole? Watch for water pouring steeply over a rock into a hydraulic and flowing out with the calm look of an eddy. This hole will be less friendly. The amount of water rushing back upstream is a measure of the hole's power.

If you see current downstream, the hole will look more like a wave, indicating deep water. The more a hole resembles a wave, the more friendly it will be. Whitewater dancing up and current or waves just downstream from the hole are friendly characteristics to watch for. If your path takes you into a hole, plan to hit it straight on, perpendicular to the ledge. Reach your strokes over the backwash and dig into the downstream current. Paddle through it!

Horizon Lines

Occasionally, the water will seem to disappear over the edge of a drop. This horizon line indicates a big drop, one that you will probably want to scout from shore. From a safe place, look for the biggest waves in the main flow of current. Generally, those will direct you to a clear channel and the most fun.

Reading the River

Lots of information here, just surf your way through the topics below! Enjoy, and don't forget to send us feedback.

Reading Water: Scan the road ahead

I remember my first day behind the wheel in drivers ed. Heading out of the driveway of school, I had my eyes riveted on the hood of the car. As the car ran up on the curb, the instructor grabbed the wheel, screaming for me to look down the road. A lengthy lecture on scanning the road followed my mistake.

Learning to paddle whitewater can be a similar experience. Reading the road, and reading the river actually have a lot in common. The key to reading water is to lift your vision! Don't just look at your bow. Look where you want to go, and at what lies in between. What should you be looking for? Simply: easily visible rocks, water features formed by rocks under the surface, and hazards.

You can spot rocks above the surface pretty easily, and turn to paddle around them. If you don't quite make the move, and you find yourself floating sideways towards one, it is important to react properly. Lean your body and boat aggressively towards the rock, even putting your hand or paddle on it. The water buffeting off the rock forms a pillow which helps keep your boat off the rock. You should learn to distinguish between a round friendly rock and a more hazardous one with a sharp upstream edge.

As you scan the rapid, look far downstream to figure out where the current ends. Does the main flow enter on one side, but finish in a wave train on the other side? You might see some rocks above the water deflecting the current. Figuring out why the current was deflected is the key to reading the rapid.

Rocks just under the surface have the same effect of deflecting the current. Most of the water flow moves to avoid the barely submerged rock, leaving some water to pour over the rock. The resulting water feature is either a hole or a wave, depending on how much water is pouring over. Little water flowing over leaves a strong eddy below, and a very flat hole, often called a hydraulic. More water generates a hole, a wavelike formation with a white frothy backwash. Study rapids from different points ashore to help you figure out what each feature looks like from varied points of view.

Occasionally, you will not be able to see the water disappear over the edge of a drop. This horizon line indicates a bigger drop, one that you will probably want to scout from shore. Look for the biggest waves in the main flow of current. Generally those will help direct you to a clear channel and the most fun.

An instructor can help you learn to identify river hazards, like undercut rocks, or man made things like bridge pilings. Tree branches forming strainers are one of the most dangerous hazards in the sport. Scan for bouncing twigs and unexplained currents that might indicate a strainer. Learn to identify potential danger spots then concentrate your vision on where you want to go, rather than at what you want to avoid.

Learning to read water takes time and practice, so paddle within your ability and experience and don't just follow other boaters. Instead, explore easy and safer rapids by picking your own line.

Words of Wisdom to Avoid

Kayaking is a counterintuitive sport, so perhaps it should be no surprise that we occasionally offer erroneous advice to people learning the sport. I frequently wince when I encounter students who have developed bad habits, resulting from well meaning words of wisdom. These are some of the classics that should be avoided.

PADDLE! PADDLE! PADDLE! is frequently heard along the river, as beginner paddlers are encouraged down their first rapids. This advice occasionally improves a beginner’s odds of making it through a drop successfully. However, the tip encourages the bad habit of flailing, and taking too many strokes. The neophyte paddler is left unaware of the magic of proper stroke timing and placement.

A better approach is a systematic explanation of the places where speed is useful, like for punching a hole. Or for punching into an eddy once the boat is on the right approach path. In either of those cases, 3 strokes of acceleration is all that is necessary. Speed doesn’t help very much in waves, in fact, rushing to fit in extra strokes often throws a paddler off balance.

So next time you cheer for a friend bouncing through a rapid, try making noise. Pound on your boat, and make a racket. You are more likely to be heard, and less likely to start bad habits!

LEAN DOWNSTREAM is another overused tip, offered to keep beginner paddlers from getting violently flipped as they peel out of an eddy. It is good advice, if explained thoroughly. First, the paddler you are coaching has to understand the different types of leans. There is the beginner’s instinctive lean, which leaves the boat flat, while the paddler leans his body forward and a bit out over the water.

kayak lean

For most whitewater moves you actually want a boat tilt, which is accomplished by curling the body and head up over the boat, jutting out the ribcage. (When washing sideways into rocks or other obstacles the lean is like a bellbuoy, boat and body together.) So understanding and practicing this sort of balance, without the paddle as a crutch, is the first step to less power flips on eddy lines.

Next is the issue of how long to keep the boat tilted when entering the current from an eddy. I have diagnosed an amazing number of self-taught paddlers who have the disability of trying to lean downstream all of the time while on the river. WRONG! Not only wrong, but really hard to do. The proper boat tilt downstream advice only applies to a few moments in the transition from eddy to current, and in a few miscellaneous instants, like floating into a hole sideways.

Imagine for a moment walking in an airport with a moving sidewalk. When you step from solid ground onto the sidewalk you need a few moments of balance, leaning, until you have adapted to the speed of the sidewalk. You would sure look funny leaning forward the entire length of the sidewalk! The river is the same, except the look is tippy and awkward, and not as obvious. You only want to tilt the boat for a few moments as you make a peel out, gradually setting your boat flat as you adapt to the speed of the current.

KEEP THE BOAT STRAIGHT is a third oversimplification that beginning paddlers often hear, and follow to their own demise. It is the correct reaction for heading straight into a breaking ocean wave, but for a variety of reasons, rarely do whitewater paddlers keep the boat straight. A quick glance around at expert boaters will confirm that floating sideways is a valuable part of paddling. You can’t get into eddies, or even avoid rocks, while keeping the boat pointed straight downriver. In fact, many of the best instructors teach spinning circles in current to improve the comfort level of students. The ultimate comfort comes from developing the boat control so it is easy to be perpendicular for curling breaking waves, or for ledges.

So the next time you hear one of these bits of paddling "wisdom", keep in mind it may well meaning advice, oversimplified. Tilt the boat when making the momentary transition across different speed current. And keep the boat straight for more predictability in curling breaking waves. So paddle, paddle, paddle, frequently! But not in a frenzy!

If you Swim

A strong and adept swimmer can often pull off the most efficient rescue of all: an aggressive self rescue. The aggressive self rescue is quick, simple, but tiring. This is often much faster than waiting for a tow to shore.

swim with kayak

A strong and adept swimmer can often pull off the most efficient rescue of all: an aggressive self rescue. The aggressive self rescue is quick, simple, but tiring. This is often much faster than waiting for a tow to shore.

When you bail-out, you have to make a quick decision: do you hold onto your boat and gear? In more difficult rapids, or with known hazards present, you’ll want to let go of everything and concentrate on avoiding danger spots and getting yourself to shore.

If you choose to hold onto your boat, don’t get caught between the boat and a rock. Move quickly to the upstream end. Usually you will angle yourself and the boat towards shore and swim for an eddy using a sidestroke. Look for a way to help yourself swimming, don’t wait on a rescue!

At times you can get your boat to shore with a big shove. The idea is to flip the boat real quick, from the end, not allowing water in. Then push it to shore, and swim aggressively for it.

If you’re in big water you’ll probably want to keep hold of your paddle. It’s easiest to manage if you hold it near the blade. If you are near shore or in a smaller river you might toss it ahead into an eddy.

If you are doing an aggressive self rescue, move quickly to the upstream end. Usually you will angle yourself and the boat towards shore and swim for an eddy using a sidestroke.

Help your Buddy

Swimming to shore with gear is not easy, even in mild current, so nearly every kayaker welcomes an assist when they do swim. But it is not always obvious how to help. Understanding your options will help you make the correct choice.

YOUR KAYAKING BUDDY IS SWIMMING

How to help

Swimming to shore with gear is not easy, even in mild current, so nearly every kayaker welcomes an assist when they do swim. But it is not always obvious how to help. Understanding your options will help you make the correct choice.

The first paddler on the scene should approach the swimmer. In the midstof a rapid, the best way to assist is frequently with encouragement or by giving directions for an aggressive self rescue. In the midst of rapids or close to shore clear directions are often the best way to help a swimmer.

whitewater swim encouragement

"Swim this way, keep those feet up. You got it!"

If the swimmer needs an assist with a longer swim, you will probably approach the swimmer stern-first. Once he has hold, head for shore. The swimmer helps out by kicking.

whitewater swim help

TIP: Wait until the swimmer has a good grasp. Many newer boats have loops that are very difficult to hold. If the swimmer doesn’t kick, you won’t make much progress, so they will often need a gentle reminder.

 

If you have a long distance to go, and enough size in the stern, you can get a paddler up on the back deck. Back deck towing works best with a long boat and cooperative swimmer.

Other times you’ll find it works best to get the swimmer on the bow. Most small boats handle better this way, plus you can offer face to face reassurance and directions. Many instructors find this works well in deeper water with a panicked swimmer.

CHASING THE GEAR

When someone swims, don’t all crowd around him! As you get into position, look for the job that isn’t being done, then do it. One person gets the swimmer, and the other gets the gear. An efficient rescue can be amazingly quick if everyone is well practiced at the skill.

Sometimes a rescue simply takes longer than expected. If the swimmer starts to drift into a harder rapid, everyone will be safer if you back off. Follow the swimmer and gear through the drop, then try again. Don’t chase gear through a difficult or dangerous drop.

BULLDOZE OR SHOVE?

kayak swim

You can bulldoze a kayak into the shore with your bow. Align the boat so the upstream end is pointed slightly towards shore, and push it in, being careful to maintain the angle. Don’t get in the way by getting between the shore and the boat!

kayak swim

Sometimes, a big shove can get the boat to shore most efficiently. You’ll usually leave the boat upside down for a shove, bulldoze, or tow. Only flip it upright if you are sure you can without getting much water inside.

 

LASSO THE PADDLE

kayak paddle rescue

If the swimmer has been taken care of… make sure someone has the paddle. If you have big hands, you can use it together with your regular paddle. More likely you will toss it to an eddy or onto shore. Even if it only gets part way to shore, it slows down and will be easier to find.

 

REVIEW

There are a lot of decisions for a swimmer, and a rescuer, to make. These get easier with experience and practice. Practice in a known rapid that is deep and unobstructed.

Whitewater Safety

Successfully running a difficult river is not always a measure of your improvement. Instead, challenge yourself by making hard moves like ferries and surfing on easy rivers. Racers and all really good boaters develop their skills this way. Knowing your ability and matching it to appropriate rivers is the best way to ensure safe boating.

Preventable Risks in Whitewater Boating

On the first day of a beginner course, I remember standing thigh-deep in Lake Fontana, gazing off at the southern tip of the Smoky Mountains, waiting patiently for the last student in my kayak class to paddle over for rolling instruction. The extra time it took him to drift to me provided clues to his fears. And, as I had guessed, he panicked when he finally let his boat flip upside down."How do you feel?", I queried."Okay", he muttered."What's on your mind?" I asked."Drowning," he admitted.

Gulp. As a professional instructor, I believe in insulating my students from unnecessary worry by teaching skills in a logical, reassuring progression. An outline of the day's activities, closely supervised wet exits, and maintianing a high regard for safety precautions usually serves this purpose. Unfortunately, this whitewater-bound beginner had arrived with fearful mis-conceptions about safety in the sport. His well-meaning friends had sent him off with intimidating comments about his poor,ownerless dog starving. They had made teasing claims to his posthumous bank account. Then, after signing the purposefully graphic course waiver, my student's insecurities had toppled.

"Are you afraid of drowning here on the lake?", I asked."No," he swallowed."On the river then?" I pursued. "Well..." He paused. "How many of the 150,000 people who travel the Nantahala each year do you think drown?" I ask, imagining student's mind racing into the double digits. "Two drownings in twenty years." I explain, "Neither was a kayaker. One wasn't wearing a lifejacket."

Immediately following this incident I described to the whole class the five preventable causes of death that give whitewater sports a risky reputation.

"Number one, alcohol is a common cause of accidents. That is clearly not an issue for us today.""Number two, not wearing a tight fitting PFD. Our class has already discussed this topic.""Number three, no prior education in the sport causes 95% of whitewater accidents. Here we are in class, avoiding that mistake.""Number four, flooded rivers are a frequent killer. Sadly, we are in the midst of a five year drought. Although we would welcome higher water, floods are certainly not a risk to us today.""Number four, hypothermia... Clearly I am in the greatest danger, shivering slightly from 3 hours of roll instructing. You, however, are in no risk, basking in 90 degree temperatures with a wetsuit available. I noticed everyone's shoulders relax as I reviewed whitewater sports' five unnecessary killers. The class closed with smiles on everyone's face.

Dealing with Fear

A common way to aggravate fears is by paddling with groups of different experience and thrill interests than your own. My favorite example of this was actually with a group of drill sergeants who were put up to a raft trip by a commander. The commander wanted guides to take the sergeants on a wild ride, with a lot of risk. Understandably, when the drill sergeants arrived, few of them were looking forward to the trip in any way. The trip was, as a result, more conservative than most.

Sadly, the most common condition for fears is the wife or girlfriend scenario, where the woman is dragged into the sport by an obliviously macho boyfriend. Often in this situation the woman gets poorly fitting, hand me down equipment, and less instruction and say in river destinations. I can report that I have seen men dragged into the sport with the same result. Paddle with people of similar skills and interests!

To deal with your river fears, remember that fear is a deeply ingrained protective mechanism, designed to protect you. The horrible feelings you get are nothing more than extra energy for doing battle. Instead of thinking of yourself as nervous, think of having extra energy. Treat your mind to rerun images of making rapids successfully, rather than dwelling on the worst that can happen.

Fear of whitewater is caused like any fear: confusion, and a lack of specific understanding, allows your mind to manufacture anxiety, ill ease, and fear emotions. Specifically identifying the risks and choosing exactly where you paddle will go along way toward harnessing your fears. Very few hazards are lurking in every rapid. Knowing when not to worry will undoubtedly make most of the sport more pleasant.

Your vision patterns will match the water difficulty you paddle. Beginners tend to look only at the bow, and slightly ahead. Intermediates tend to see eddies along the shore and look well down the rapid. Expert paddlers catch eddies while scanning downstream for hazards and upstream for other boaters. Developing your vision patterns will actually improve your skill level.

Swimming Whitewater

Most whitewater paddlers have heard the rule of thumb: "keep your feet up", which is the cardinal rule for avoiding foot entrapments caused by trying to stand in the river. This defensive swimming strategy is important, but it is not the only thing one should know about swimming whitewater!

Swimming whitewater: Beyond "feet-up"

Most whitewater paddlers have heard the rule of thumb: "keep your feet up", which is the cardinal rule for avoiding foot entrapments caused by trying to stand in the river. This defensive swimming strategy is important, but it is not the only thing one should know about swimming whitewater!

Swimming in whitewater has several different styles every paddler should know: defensive, aggressive, and special techniques for dealing with eddy lines, strainers, holes, drops, and big water.

Defensive Swim- the first thing

swim with feet up

The first thing to do after an unexpected swim is get on your back withyour feet pointing downstream. Floating in this defensive swimming position, you can evaluate what lies ahead, and you are well protected.

Keep your body lined up with the current so you can slip by rocks.


foot entrapment

While swimming, always keep your feet near the surface, and never try to stand up in water deep enough to float you. If your foot gets caught, the water pushes your body over and can hold you underwater. A foot entrapment is a dangerous, but avoidable situation.

proper whitewater defensive swim technique

Experienced paddlers can make this mistake. Don’t let embarrassment, frustration, or cold make you hunt for footing. Swim properly unless it is just too shallow to do anything!

From the defensive swimming position, on your back with your feet up, you can evaluate what’s next. When you see a hazard to avoid, or an eddy or shore for safety, angle your body and backstroke to maneuver. You can move around by angling your body in the direction you want to go and backstroking upstream. You will be looking between your feet at what you are avoiding… since you can’t see where you are heading, this position can be disconcerting. Think of aiming the top of your head for your destination!

SWIMMING AGGRESSIVELY

whitewater swim

If you need more power, change to an aggressive swimming technique.Roll over on your stomach and use a crawl stroke. Breathe on the downstream side if you can to avoid inhaling water. This style of swim is pretty tiring, so it is best for short, intense bursts. A breast stroke or side stroke will improve your visibility but slow your progress.

Any swimming is exhausting, and you’ll be thankful for a little practice and fitness training. The crawl style aggressive swim is especially important for rivers with deep turbulent water. If you see where you want to be, get there!

SPECIAL SWIMMING TECHNIQUES

BARREL ROLLS ACROSS AN EDDY LINE

When you swim into an eddy, you will find it easiest to break through the eddy line by doing barrel rolls over the eddy line. This technique helps you break through the eddyline, which naturally tries to spin and reject you.

DON'T MISS THE OBVIOUS: GRAB A ROCK

With powerful current you may not be able to swim into eddies, so your best chance may be grabbing for a rock, or even swimming head first up onto a friendly rock. In certain cases this can save you from a long battering swim.

STRAINER SWIM

kayak roll photo

Swimming over a strainer is done head first. You want to avoid thispredicament, but if you find yourself unavoidably swimming towards a strainer, switch to head first, and kick flat to launch up and over the top. The goal is to keep your head up. The normal feet first position is too passive for strainers! Head first is an important technique to know.

VERTICAL DROPS

swimming whitewater drops

Vertical drops have a unique swimming technique. The idea is to ball up,to avoid the possibility of washing into a foot entrapment. This is a concern starting with sheer drops of several feet or more.

 

SWIMMING IN A POUROVER HOLE

hydraulic swim in whitewater

Swimming in holes can be big fun with the right wave hole… but in largerpourover holes it is not fun. If you feel stuck in one don’t just swim for the surface! Change your shape to see if this causes the hole to spit you out. The most reliable system is swimming aggressively for the sides where water rushes by or swimming upstream to hook up with current flushing out underneath.

SWIMMING IN BIG WATER

It is best to avoid a swim on long stretches of continuous whitewater, especially in cold, flooded rivers lined with trees and strainers. But if you end up in an unfortunate big water swim, be super aggressive if you see a way to get to safety. You’ll need to watch the currents to decide if you are safer staying with the extra floatation of your boat, or abandoning your boat to allow a super aggressive swim. In big flows you will probably need help getting to shore… and you’ll be thankful if your group has the skills to assist.

REVIEW

So there really are quite a few swimming techniques every paddler should know! Backstroke for orientation and protection, crawl strokes for deep water power, and use special techniques for catching eddies, handling unavoidable strainers and drops, and dealing with holes and big water. Don’t wait until you really need the skill to practice. There is no replacement for on the water training with an instructor.

One More Warning

cold swim

You end up in the water when you least expect it, usually from anunplanned swim or minor rescue situation. Being prepared to swim starts when you dress for the river. Cold water and hypothermia are an obvious threat on nasty snowy days. But good weather days can be deceptive. If the Air temperature plus the water temperature combined is less than 120 degrees is pretty chilly. Check the water temperature, and dress accordingly.

Tip: Snug, quality helmets and lifevests round out proper preparation for boating. Keep everything streamlined so nothing holds water or can get snagged.

River Hazards

The following river hazards are described briefly which forces the paddler to adapt an inquisitive attitude. The river sense of experienced boaters is based on this approach.

Don't let these descriptions intimidate you. Your purpose is to understand the hazards clearly, enabling you to know when they are a factor to your safety. If you would like further explanation, ask local instructors to point them out on nearby rivers.

A Foot entrapment is simply catching a foot in rocks on the bottom of the river. It is caused by trying to stand up while getting swept downstream in water usually in water mid-thigh to mid-torso deep. Prevention is easy: stay in the safe swimmer's position (on your back, feet up and pointed downstream) unless the water is less than knee deep. Practice swimming and maneuvering through rapids aggressively, on your back, looking between your feet at the side of the river you wish to avoid. In very deep water practice swimming freestyle, on your stomach. River swimming wisdom is to ball up when swimming over a sheer drop of more than 3-4 feet.

Strainers are trees or single branches in the current, with river water flowing through, causing a severe pinning hazard. Strainers are caused by erosion. Trees fall because of old age, floods, and storms. Look for them on wooded riverbanks, along small creeks after high water, often found on the outside of bend, and on less frequented rivers. Assume they are present unless you know otherwise. Use downstream vision to spot bobbing twigs or irregular flow patterns.

Man Made Entrapments Anything manmade in the river is dangerous and are a constant cause of alarm and are inherently more dangerous than most things natural. Keep an eye out for bridge pilings, low head dams, junked cars, any man made junk found commonly in urban riverways, under highway crossings, and at abandonned dam sites. Maintain a habit of visual downstream scanning. Avoid anything suspicious!

Broaches Getting pinned on a rock, either amidship or at the ends. Avoid sharp rocks that can potentially crease a boat or serve as point to be wrapped by your kayak! Develop the instinct to lean into the rock with your boat and body leaning together like a bell buoy. Reach your body out to "Love the rock". Practice this skill with an instructor on gentle, shallow water until it becomes instinct.

Undercut Rocks Undercuts are a water feature where a slab of rock, or rock shape, forces the current flow to go under the surface. Learn to spot them by the dark shadow on the upstream side of the rock, the lack of pillowing action by oncoming water, and by the lack of a predictable eddy on the downstream side. Most dangerous undercuts are well known by locals, and listed in guidebooks.

Entanglement Getting tangled exiting your boat is most likely to be caused by ropes, and loose lines, in your boat. Practice wet exits and critically evaluate your outfitting for entanglement potential. Treat throw ropes as a potential hazard. Keep them neatly bagged, and carry a knife for rescue.

Vertical Pins occur when the bow buries and gets pinned on the bottom after a steep drop. This is not a concern until you are paddling drops of over 3 or 4 feet. Advanced paddlers prevent them by checking the water depth first, and leaning back into a 'boof' move to keep the bow up. Paddling boats with a large volume bow reduces this risk substantially- Thats why creek boats have high volume!

Hydraulics The killer hydraulics have evenly formed backwash, water moving back upstream for four or more feet. Holes with more of a wave shape are intimidating, but typically less hazardous than water flowing smoothly upstream. Dams, and hydraulics that are very regular, and perpendicular to the current are far more dangerous than hydraulics angled with one end downstream.

Long Swims Many people unfamiliar with the sport might expect long swims to be a primary killer. Since most beginner/intermediate rivers have pools between the drops, this is rarely the case. Wearing a tight PFD, matching your ability to an appropriate river, and being dressed for a swim can be excellent defense against a long swim. Of course another great precaution is a competent group of friends with either a shore or boat based rescue plan.

Back to basics: wear a helmet in kayaks, and learn to tuck tight forward to the deck when you flip ...dress appropriately for the water and air temperatures. Drysuits and wetsuits are a must if the combined water and air temperature is under 100 degrees.

The Bad Holes

You spend the first half of your paddling career trying to stay out of holes, and rest of your paddling career trying to stay in them.

How to Read the bad holes

You spend the first half of your paddling career trying to stay out of holes, and rest of your paddling career trying to stay in them.

The expression is a daunting joke to rodeo competitors… but seems to be quite true for most paddlers. The less you know about holes, the more frequently you seem to get stuck and trashed. The more you know, the better you are at picking ones within your ability.

The Basics: Wave Holes And Ledge Holes

Holes with more of a wave shape are intimidating, but typically less hazardous. Very little water is recycling back upstream. Even the huge wave holes will usually just tumble you a time or two before flushing you out.

about hydraulic in river

Ledge holes are not so nice. These go by different names… like pourover, keeper, sticky hole, etc. The water drops down, goes underneath, and some recycles back upstream. This water moving upstream can be tricky, and hold a boat, and in some cases if you swim. Learn how to identify the ugly ones so you can avoid them.

Big Backwash Is Bad

hole backwash

The distance the water in a ledge hole is moving upstream tells you a lot about its danger and power. If the backwash is approaching four feet, there is a greater chance you can get recycled in there if you swim. If the current moves upstream a greater distance, it is getting really nasty and dangerous. A ledge hole with only 2 feet of backwash, might be pretty sticky for a boat sidesurfing, but as soon as you swim it will flush you out pretty quick.

Irregular Is Better

A hole or ledge hole that is irregular is nicer, since there is more likely jets of current breaking through the backwash. Hook up with one of those irregular spots, and you are on your way out. If the backwash is wider, stretching across more of the river, it is worse.

Width Is Worse

dangerous dam

The worst examples are low head dams, which often have dangerous hydraulics because they are wide, have several feet of backwash, and no current blowing through. If you look carefully, you can spot the horizon line from upstream. A ledge hole that is only a few feet wide is less dangerous, since it won’t take as much effort to swim out the side.

 

Smiling Or Frowning

holes shape

Whoever thought of this famous memory trick must have been in a helicopter at the time. Smiling or frowning refers to the view looking upstream from overhead. Basically, if the ends of a hole are angled downstream, it will tend to feed you out the end. A frowning hole has the both ends angled upstream, and is worse, more likely to hold you. This one is smiling.

A hole that is angled relative to the current flow will be more friendly, since it will tend to flush you out the side into the current rushing by.

Rare Exceptions

If the ends of the hole are closed, like angled upstream or against a wall, it can be real sticky and bad.

Another exception is a hole with unusual power moving back upstream. These are rare, but the worst examples have a rock underneath, aiding the backwash. Some low head dams are designed with this feature, making them extra dangerous.

What to do

Smart paddlers don’t ever run drops blindly. When you can’t see clearly downstream, either to the end of a rapid or the next sure eddy, stop and get a better view. Scouting is always a good option, and a good opportunity to share knowledge!

GETTING OUT SWIMMING

Swimming in holes can be big fun with the right wave hole... but in larger pourover holes its no fun. If you feel stuck in one don't just swim for the surface! Simply changing your shape may cause the hole to spit you out.

First, swim aggressively for the sides where water rushes by. You may improve your chances to escape if you swim upstream to hook up with current flushing out underneath.

Rating System

The whitewater river rating system classifies rivers from Class I to Class VI. While the system is often discussed and debated, it is imperfect.

To get an accurate idea of the difficulty of the run you need to get a full description. This will include information about the nature of the rapids. Are they drop pool, or continuous. What is the gradient? How many major rapids, and are they easily portaged. Is the river generally though to be safe, or dangerous? What is the water temperature, and how remote is the river?

This system is not exact; rivers do not easily fit one category, and regional or individual interpretations may cause misunderstandings. Allow an extra margin for safety when the water is cold or if the river is remote.

Class I EASY. Fast moving water with riffles and small waves. Few obstructions, all obvious and missed with little training. Risk to swimmers is slight, self rescue is easy.

ClassII Novice. Straightforward rapids with wide clear channels which are evident without scouting. Occasional maneuvering may be required, but rocks and medium sized waves are easily missed by trained paddlers. Swimmers are seldom injured and group assistance, while helpful is seldom needed.

Class III: Intermediate. Rapids with moderate, irregular waves which may be difficult to avoid and which can swamp an open canoe. Complex maneuvers in fast current, and good boat control in tight passages or around ledges is often required. Large waves or strainers may be present but can be easily avoided. Strong eddies and powerful current effects can be found, particularly on large volume rivers. Scouting is advisable for inexperienced parties. Injuries while swimming are rare; self rescue is usually easy, but group assistance may be required to avoid long swims.

Class IV: Advanced. Intense, powerful but predictable rapids requiring precise boat handling in turbulent water. Depending on the character of the river it may feature large, unavoidable waves and holes or constricted passages demanding fast maneuvers under pressure. A fast reliable eddy turn may be required to initiate maneuvers, scout rapids, or rest. Rapids may require "must" moves before dangerous hazards. Scouting is necessary the first time down. Risk of injury to swimmers is moderate to high, and water conditions make self rescue difficult. Group assistance for rescue is often essential but requires practiced skills. A strong Eskimo roll is highly recommended.

Class V: Expert. Extremely long, obstructed, or very violent rapids which expose a paddler to above average endangerment. Drops may contain large, unavoidable waves and holes or steep congested chutes with complex demanding routes. Rapids may continue for long distances between pools, demanding a high level of fitness. What eddies that may exist may be small, turbulent, and difficult to reach. Scouting is mandatory, but often difficult. Swims are dangerous, and rescue is difficult even for experts. A very reliable eskimo roll, proper equipment, extensive experience, and practiced rescue skills are essential for survival.

Class VI: Extreme. One grade more difficult than class V. These runs often exemplify the extremes of difficulty, unpredictability, and danger. The consequences of errors are severe and rescue may be impossible. For teams of experts only, at favorable water levels, after close inspection and taking all precautions. This class does not include drops thought to be unrunnable, but may include drops only occasionally run.

Whitewater Leans

This scenario is often played out in whitewater canoeing and kayaking classes around the country. Leans, and the resulting good balance, are an important part of learning to paddle, but are rarely described with precision. Leans can be organized into three basic types: the J lean, the Bellbuoys lean, and the body lean.

Instructor: "Lean, Lean, Lean"

Student: "I am leaning"

Students' thoughts: "If I lean any more I know I will flip"

 

This scenario is often played out in whitewater canoeing and kayaking classes around the country. Leans, and the resulting good balance, are an important part of learning to paddle, but are rarely described with precision. Leans can be organized into three basic types: the J lean, the Bellbuoys lean, and the body lean.

The "J" lean, named for the "J" shape of your spine, is a boat lean with your body weight centered over the boat. This lean keeps most of the weight off your blade so you can use it for balance and for strokes. The "Bellbuoy" lean is named for the stiff rocking action of an ocean bellbouy. Navigation bellbuoys are so bottom-heavy that they are self righting. Boats aren't that way! So bellbuoy leans in a canoe or kayak require support from the paddle. As we will see, this makes it a less usable whitewater lean. The final lean, the "body" lean, leaves the boat flat while the body leans. Beginners like this lean since the boat stays securely flat. Of course that usually defeats the purpose. This frequent misunderstanding underscores the importance of describing exactly the type of lean required for each whitewater maneuver.

Probably the most graphic demonstration of the different leans is in sidesurfing. A sidesurf in any boat is exciting, and comfortable surfing requires understanding which lean is correct.

Sidesurfing requires a J- lean to the downstream side. With this lean you can teeter totter your weight over the boat. This allows you to put nearly no force on your paddle blade, so you can use it to move around in the hole or to quiet the bouncing of your boat. Meanwhile you can adjust the exact lean of the boat to try to keep the water from grabbing the upstream edge.

Sometimes beginner paddlers are fooled into thinking they are leaning the boat when in fact they are just leaning their body. This is actually just opposite to the correct J lean, since the boat is flat and the body is leaning out over the water. Instructors refer to this as "I'm leaning, I'm leaning", for the replies students shout when told to lean more.

Even good paddlers fall prey to trying to sidesurf with the bellbuoy lean. The bellbouy does lean the boat, and it satisfies the paddlers' instinct to get the paddle far away from the boat

for more outrigger type support. The flaw to this approach is subtle, but important to understand. The further you reach the blade from the boat, the more you pull your torso out of balance, and the more paddle pressure it takes to maintain. Paddlers sidesurfing with a bellbuoy lean often feel that their paddle is sinking in the water.

A classic whitewater joke speaks of the redneck who takes up sidesurfing his kayak. Before he jumps in to try it he summarizes the three things he knows he will find true.

"First, I know this is going to be really hard"

"Second, I know I need to have a really reach out to get leverage"

"and third, I will have to put a lot of pressure down on the blade."

Of course this is all wrong. Easy sidesurfing requires that you keep the shaft horizontal and slide the blade in close to the boat to make it easy to keep your weight over the boat. The blade should only be used to help you move from side to side in the hole. Typically the high brace position (with elbows down, knuckles up) is rotated slightly to the stern and the blade angle turned to move forward. To move the other direction, use a low brace (elbows up, knuckles down) and move into a reverse stroke with the back face of the blade. If you have trouble moving the paddle around while you are sidesurfing, you probably are in a bellbuoy lean. Move the blade inboard, closer to the boat, to help center your weight over the boat.

Learning and practicing the J- lean is best done on flatwater. First lean your boat, and feel how the weight and pressure changes from both cheeks of your butt to one cheek and the opposite knee. Notice how a good J lean requires that your head be cocked away from the direction of lean. If you can hold that lean for a while, try paddling forward while you maintain a slight J- lean. Your comfort doing this will be directly related to your enjoyment of sidesurfing. Transferring this drill to mild rapids will be even better for developing your whitewater balance.

Canoeists often have a bad habit of riding their braces down rapids. These paddlers use their brace as a crutch, and immobilize the effectiveness of the paddle to do proactive strokes. The irony is that the brace most of these people use is really similar to a bellbuoy lean. True, without the blade in the water they would flip, but that is because they have a bellbuoy lean, not because they have a successful brace. You should be paddling with a minimum of braces, so your weight is balanced over the boat and so your strokes can be effective.

Eddy turns and peelouts are another showcase for proper leaning technique. Practice them without using strokes to adjust the turns. You will learn to feel the hull of the boat smearing across the water, sticking to initiate a good turn. It may feel more dynamic to do a turn with some of your weight riding on a

brace stroke, but in the long run this impairs the effectiveness of corrections you can do with the blade. Duffek and turning strokes should be gently placed to fine tune turns. The paddle shaft should be vertical, so the blade reaches deep into the water rather than with any angle toward horizontal. The more vertical the shaft the better. Even when you use strokes to catch the eddy, avoid depending on them to provide the turn.

Paddlers often develop a misconception about what sorts of leans are required in the middle of a jet of current. To understand correct leaning think of standing on a moving sidewalk in an airport...Do you need to lean while you are moving along? NO...only just when you step on or off the conveyor belt do you need to compensate differently with momentary leans. The same is true for whitewater. You only need to lean when you are in transition from an eddy to the current, or from the current to an eddy.

In small waves, practice floating sideways with no lean so that you are comfortable as you and your boat bob up and down. Your weight should be low in the boat: centered in your butt for kayaks and shared between your knees and butt for canoeists. You can add new twists to this drill by spinning in circles as you drift through standing waves. Only if you encounter holes (that stop the boats momentum) or rocks (remember that bellbuoy lean!) will you need some sort of a lean. Big water open canoeists actually add an upstream J lean to keep tall waves from coming in over the gunwales. To catch eddies gracefully, with a minimum number of strokes, you will need to be somewhat sideways in the current to get the proper approach angle.

Good balance on whitewater is really nothing more than understanding how to keep your body weight centered over the boat with proper leans. When we walk on the moving sidewalk these leans are quite automatic, so we describe them as balance. Work on some of the mentioned balance and leaning exercises, and you will be amazed at the improvement in your paddling.

Sidesurfing

Sidesurfing is a great way to play on the river, and to get an understanding about holes. The goal is to sit sideways in a hydraulic, using the wave shape to hold you in position. You will be free to move if your balance comes from posture and knee lift, rather than a heavily weighted paddle, which will make you feel stuck.

kayak sidesurf hole

Easy sidesurfing holes resemble waves with shallow entry angle on the upstream side. Even a tall wave can offer a gentle ride if its entry is shallow. Initially, avoid such holes as pourovers in which the water moves smoothly back upstream. Where the water falls steeply, a smooth ride is unlikely. In addition, a steep entry angle requires a strong boat edge resulting in a weighted paddle. The length of the backwash is a factor in evaluating a sidesurfing hole's strength. The longer, the stronger, and the more dangerous.

The best sidesurfing is done with the boat edged, the head and body balanced over the boat. Unfortunately, many paddlers instinctually place the paddle far away from the boat for outrigger type support. The flaw to this approach is that the blade keeps sinking. The more the blade reaches from the boat, the more the head and shoulders move off-center, and the more paddle pressure is needed to stay upright.

kayak handsurf

Simply find a balance point where pressure on the blade is unnecessary. Use just enough edge to keep the boat from flipping upstream. Stay loose in the hips for the ride. Tight muscles tire quickly, balance is lost. Don't allow tension inside your boat. Your body should feel relaxed and balanced over the boat. Remember to breath! Hand surfing is sometimes easiest, since the paddle in both hands tends to tempt you off balance.!

For safety, your arms should be held low, elbows well below the shoulders and in front of your torso. Shoulder dislocations are infrequent, but the most common injury in kayaking. They are caused during extended arm positions. During torso rotation your elbows should remain in front of your shoulders and close to your body. Be especially careful to avoid upstream braces in shallow holes. Instead, tuck your head tight to the cockpit as you flip. If you feel stuck trying to move the paddle around while sidesurfing, you are probably leaning out over the water, stiff, like a bell buoy. Instead, move the blade closer to the boat to center your weight.

For balance purposes, only use gentle pressure on the paddle. Also try moving forward and backward in the hole. Use the blade in high brace or low brace positions.

GETTING OUT IN A BOAT

Riding a hole sideways is called a sidesurf. To stay upright in a sidesurf, you must keep the upstream edge of your boat clear of the green water falling into the hole. If this edge catches, its an instant flip. However, if you tilt the boat too far downstream, you'll look to the blade for constant support, then you won't be able to maneuver effectively. Steep ledge holes force lots of boat tilt, so it is hard to stay balanced.

Your goal is to find an ideal balanced position, so you can use normal forward, or reverse strokes to move your boat. If you don't have enough balance for pure forward or reverse strokes, you can sacrifice power and incorporate a brace. The high brace combines easily with a small forward sweep to propel you forward. The low brace works nicely with a reverse sweep to move you the other direction.

You've got one more stroke option for moving around in a hole: stationary strokes. These take advantage of the current under the pile to pressure the blade. You'll use a combination of these propulsion strokes to get out of a hole. In a deep hole, you are literally climbing out, so a little momentum will help. Sometimes you have to back up, and get a run at a good exit.

Accelerating Stroke

One important component of a forward stroke is having the blade run right along the side of the boat, pulling you efficiently forward. This paddle position minimizes the boats inherent desire to turn. Too much wag reduces your efficiency dramatically!

...Then Traveling Stroke

One important component of a forward stroke is having the blade run right along the side of the boat, pulling you efficiently forward. This paddle position minimizes the boats inherent desire to turn. Too much wag reduces your efficiency dramatically!

kayak stroke vertical

To eliminate wag, the optimum is a vertical stroke with the top hand quite high so the blade is closer to the boat. The vertical stroke label refers to the view from the front of the boat.

This vertical shaft position is ideal for acceleration. However, this position reduces the ease of harnessing power from torso rotation, and takes longer to transition to steering strokes. Once under way, you won't need so much verticality, but you will want your paddle blade in close to the boat.

kayak photo

The practical solution is a low, more horizontal stroke with top hand at shoulder to forehead level. This is more nimble and transitions easily into steering strokes.

Food for thought:

Experiment with a more vertical acceleration stroke and compare with the lower traveling stroke.

1. Which would you want making an attainment, climbing up a jet of current?
2. Which would you want in a real short boat?
3. Which do slalom racers use?
4. Which does a wildwater racer use?
5. What are other benefits of verticality?







Answers
1. Vertical
2. Vertical to accelerate, lower once underway.
3. Typically paddle in more vertical style because they are often accelerating and avoiding slalom poles with their top blade. Once underway they relax to lower style.
4. Wildwater racers typically use a lower stroke because the boat tracks easily and is not predisposed to turning like slalom or recreational boats.
5. Vertical strokes are also used to carve and maintain speed through a turn. Also, vertical strokes such as draws help avoid excessive and unplanned sliding and skidding on the water.

Boat Control Strokes

Knowing how to edge the boat, sit up straight, and hold the paddle correctly are all prerequisites to developing a kayaking finesse. The best boaters are fanatics about their strokes, practicing and fine tuning them on flat, easy water.

I'll start by describing sweep strokes, which turn the boat, and help you control your direction. Draw strokes to move sideways, and reverse paddling will round out our strokes lesson.

Forward Sweep

A well developed forward sweep stroke enables you to reach your paddling potential. Used toturn the boat, forward sweep strokes incorporate three principles: They are powered by large muscle groups of the torso, they follow a full 180 degree arc, and require a solid purchase on the water.

The powerful muscles that connect your torso to the lower body power this stroke, while arm muscles are reserved for small, subtle adjustments. Torso rotation enables you to harness this large muscle group. Do this by turning your torso and extending the blade forward. Straighten the arm near the water and pull your other hand back and below your shoulder. Plant the blade completely in the water, then unwind your torso. As you reach the end of comfortable twist, lift the edge of the boat on the side of your stroke.

During the sweep, the blade should travel in an arc extending about three feet from the boat. In order to do this, both hands should start below shoulder level. Make sure the top of the blade remains submerged throughout the stroke. To maintain your torso rotation, watch your blade sweep all the way to the back. Pay close attention to insure the blade angle stays straight up in the water. Without your adjustment by cocking your wrist, the blade has a tendency to twist at the end of the stroke, reducing its bite on the water.

Note: there is an advanced sweep stroke, where your torso does not follow your sweep. I don't teach this for average recreational boaters learning to surf. This way they can develop better blade control at the back of the boat. For more see Sweep Debate.

Transfer the power into your boat with your legs, by pushing on the sweeping side's footpeg and pulling your hip towards the blade. Practice forward sweep strokes while the boat is flat and while it's on edge.

How you apply power is important as well. Yanking the paddle simply pulls it through the water. A solid hold on the paddle allows it to move effectively. Bubbles or splashes behind the blade are an indication that you are pulling too fast. Notice how well your boat turns when the blade grabs the water securely.

The Stern Draw

kayak moves

The last part of the sweep stroke is so important and frequently botched that instructors oftenisolate it by calling it a stern draw. For the purposes of practice it's important to move your sweep stroke in a full 180 degree arc from bow to stern. But often you will vary the the length of the sweep to provide the turn needed. For instance, the back portion of the sweep is used to pull the stern around without moving the boat forward. This is the stern draw.

A common mistake is to hold the paddle at a lifting angle which simply lifts water, and doesn't move the stern around. I recommend you punch across your body with your top hand, twist your torso with the stroke, and watch the blade as you pull all the way in to the boat.

Reverse Sweep

Occasionally, for a quick turn, you will use a reverse sweep. This is simply the opposite of the forward version. Use the back of the blade, and provide most of the power while your torso unwinds. Linking the two strokes, one on each side, can provide a crisp turn. Practice this turn, and critique how smoothly you are doing the motion. This stroke combination is great for turning around.

In a short whitewater boat you will be able to spin easily, and fast enough to get dizzy. In a sea kayak the turn will be slow, like jockying your car around in a narrow driveway.

The Draw Stroke

kayak draw

Occasionally, you'll want to move sideways. A basic stroke for this is the draw stroke. Turn your torso to place the blade straight out from your hip. With both hands over the water, push out at the top hand as you pull in the blade. Tilt your boat away slightly. Feather the blade 90 degrees for the recovery.

If you are enjoying these basic stroke drills, you might want to skip ahead to the more advanced drills in Breakthru Tips.

 

Reverse Paddling

Important for stopping and maneuvering, reverse paddling complements your other strokes. Without changing your grip, use the back of the blade and the same techniques for forward paddling.

Secret Breakthroughs in Kayak Strokes

So you really want to improve your whitewater paddling? Whitewater paddling is so complex, how could there possibly be one secret you might ask. There is. Think about the methods that champions utilize in virtually every sport. Drills. They aren’t sexy, but they work!

kayak cartwheel

So you really want to improve your whitewater paddling? Whitewater paddling is so complex, how could there possibly be one secret you might ask. There is. Think about the methods that champions utilize in virtually every sport. Drills. They aren’t sexy, but they work!

Think about it. If you go to a coach for nearly any sport, the coach will give you exercises and have you systematically practice drills designed to develop the correct patterns for the game. In soccer you do a 2 on 1 drill, left foot shooting, right foot shooting, heading. To excel in basketball you repeat a similar routine.

This same systematic approach can be applied to your paddling with remarkable results. It's easy and it works! In the long run, it's more fun to be able to place your boat exactly where you want it and make moves more reliably, to catch air more predictably, and to stay upright!

With a few exercises you can eliminate years of trial and error and bad habits, and build a solid foundation of skills. It might help to think of paddling as a culmination of drills in two areas: boat control, and whitewater skills.

But wait! You can’t go directly to the whitewater drills. The coach doesn’t simply let you scrimmage at the start of practice!

So how do you design your drills?

Study this list of broad categories of technique relating to your body, the blade and your boat. Simply messing about in a boat with awareness of these key variables will improve your paddling. But for real improvement, isolate one component at a time, and design a drill for improving your ability in that area.

Body Mechanics

Extension: Reach to place the blade for the longest pull.

Balance: Experiment with different types of leans.

Flexibility: Find your personal weaknesses.

Boat Kinesthetic Sensitivity

Carving: Feel the hull tracking through an arc.

Glide: Avoid bobbing, wagging, or wobbling as you paddle.

Pivot point awareness: Find where the center of rotation is for a spin. How does it change with speed?

Blade Skills

Feathering: Develop the ability to slice the blade through the water.

Sculling: Learn to move your boat sideways with the sculling motion. Maximize movement with fewer strokes.

Varying pressure: Search out resistance with the blade for the maximum stroke quality.

Catch, Power, recovery phases: Develop a quality catch and a quick recovery for the most power.

Vertical paddle strokes: Compare vertical acceleration strokes and lower traveling strokes.

High-level paddlers strive to do an hour of flatwater drills once a week. You can also add several of these drills to your normal warm-up and cool-down routine. Best is to do the drills on flatwater, so you can appreciate the effects of your strokes without the complication of currents.

Easy at first glance, stroke drills are remarkably hard to practice correctly. Improvement comes with deliberate thought and practice. Be smooth, slow, and purposeful. Refining your technique seems to require more effort... in truth your muscles are merely unaccustomed to the motion. Stick with it!

Keep in mind these drills are just a means to an end. Get out on the river and shred it up, putting the drills out of mind. But chances are, you will find new skills creeping into your playboating.

Spin Control

Paddling whitewater can be thought of as paddling in arcs while turning and avoiding obstacles. Rarely does a paddler maintain a perfectly straight course downstream. Turning is essential for paddling whitewater, and is often an under-practiced skill.

STARTING TURNS

kayak draw

The most basic stroke is the active bow draw, which is valuable for startingabrupt turns and for maintaining a squirt turn. The blade starts a comfortable distance out from your feet, with the power face of the blade facing your knees. For power, drive your feet and knees to the blade. Imagine swinging the boat to the blade rather than moving the blade to the boat. Leading the turn with your head and chest rotated in the direction that the boat will pivot is one of the best ways to get a tight turn.

kayak draw

You can get a little boost of forward speed from a bow draw called a C-stroke.It is an active bow draw, with a closed blade angle followed by a minimal forward stroke. With the C stroke you will use the closed blade angle similar in a bow draw. Minimize the forward stroke that follows, because too hard a forward stroke would turn the boat in the wrong direction.

A carving circle is the best way to practice this stroke. Tighten up the circle with the C stroke. If you aren’t at least vertical as seen from the front of the boat, it isn’t worth practicing. Oblique, or with your paddle shaft past vertical, is best!

SPIN CONTROL

Short boats turn so easily that you often have to spend more time controlling the spin, and less time starting the spin. Momentum is precious, so you want to use it to your benefit. You will always control the spin with a stroke on the inside of the turn.

kayak draw

One great way to maintain momentum is with a static draw by your hip. Thisrunning draw by your hip can help you keep momentum.

Taking the blade back helps resist the boats turning. By subtly adjusting your blade placement, forward and back off of your hip, and adjusting the blade angle(open or closed), you can harness and control your spin momentum. It might help to think of this stroke as serving the same purpose as a keel under the middle of your boat. You will find this very difficult if you do not have well refined sculling draws, that stay vertical with little effort.

kayak duffek stroke

For a tighter turn that maintains less momentum, plant the blade in front ofyour knee with an open angle to spin with the bow anchored and the stern swinging around. This classic duffek stroke is less frequently used with short boats because it creates such an abrupt sliding turn.

The hip draw will give you a wider turn. As you move the blade forward, you will get a tighter turn, more like a duffek. Opening the blade angle also tightens the turn. Experiment and compare! You will often start with a static draw at the hip and scull it forward towards your feet to get a sharper turn.

kayak  draw

There is one more turning option called a sculling bow draw. The blade scullsfrom the hip forward to tighten the turn. Often this subtle sculling will help you current pressures on the blade.

You will be most versatile if you are practiced at all of these draw variations. The draw by the hip, the sculling draw, the static duffek, the active bow draw, and the C stroke. Verticality of the shaft of the paddle is the most important component of these to practice, so it will be natural when you need a crisp turn out there on the river.

Carving Control

For the best boat control in whitewater, you will want to understand how to get the boat to carve by holding it steady on its edge. A sign of good paddling is the ability to carve to carry speed efficiently, rather than sliding into eddies and catching edges with a flat boat.

kayak edging

For the best boat control in whitewater, you will want to understand how to get the boat to carve by holding it steady on its edge. A sign of good paddling is the ability to carve to carry speed efficiently, rather than sliding into eddies and catching edges with a flat boat.

Try it this on flatwater. Compare a carving turn with a skidding turn. Get some forward momentum and then start the boat carving on its edge, stop paddling, keeping it on edge, then set the boat flat and observe what happens. Keep the blade out of the water so you can feel all of the changes.

When the boat is set flat, the bow stops and the stern washes out. This is good when you want the boat to spin easily. However, a sliding turn stalls your forward momentum, and is less precise. Most people keep the boat flat too often, and lack steady edging ability. So if you need momentum and precision, then carving and steady edge control is preferred.

To improve you will want to develop steady edging and carving , AND be able to take strokes when the boat is radically tilted on its edge. The best paddlers can tilt the boat up on edge, and paddle aggressively without relying on their paddle for balance. Steady edging and carving will help you feel confident!!! You will be more dynamic in your boating with less effort.

By working on carving, you will also improve your balance. Without steady edge control, you will get little wobbles. Little wobbles reduce your paddling performance, even if you don’t flip.

DRILL TIME Are you ready to improve? Here are the drills to help you with your carving precision, edging balance, and stroke quality.

kayak edging

The purest form of carving is to hold a steady edge, and paddle on one side. Use a vertical stroke, and extend each stroke up to the bow when planting the blade in the water. To get the boat to co-operate, you will need to first initiate the boat into a turn in the direction you want. Then hold a steady boat tilt while you paddle with the blade on the inside of the circle. Push your top hand out over the water to get the shaft vertical.

Carving is a great way to work on the quality of your catch. Try to keep the paddle shaft vertical as seen from the front of the boat. Practice combining a steady boat tilt with verticality in each stroke. You will find that when you add lots of verticality, it becomes harder to hold a steady boat tilt. So work on tilt and verticality separately, and then ultimately you can combine them together. If you have trouble, it is most likely your blade is not close enough to the boat, or you don’t have a steady enough tilt. Multiple strokes on one side are frequently the best source for propulsion.

You probably know the wobbly, less stable feeling of sliding into eddies. Edging isn’t just for eddies. Carving helps accelerate through an arc while maintaining momentum. Another benefit of being comfortable with your boat on edge is improved surfing. Without edge control, you will frequently bury your bow when surfing, or even bury your bow before even getting onto the wave.

Practice the drill shown above because developing precise form carving and edging will provide your boating will noticeable improvement. Be forewarned, it is harder than it looks!

The best paddlers can tilt the boat up on edge, and paddle aggressively without relying on their paddle for balance.

Pick your sweep

There are three sweep variations an intermediate/advanced paddler should know and practice. The aggressive sweep, the last half of a full sweep(the stern draw), and the full sweep. Let’s look at each type of sweep, and study where and when it is most effective.

Aggressive sweep, Leading with eyes and chest

In the aggressive sweep the key is to focus your eyes and CHEST in thedirection you wish to turn. This anticipation with your eyes, head, and torso is ultimately one of the key elements for powerful and precise boat placement, and is used very frequently in playboating. An ideal use of this ‘preturn’ of the torso and forward sweep is when completing the second half of flat spins.

For doing cartwheels this torso movement is extra important. Your body needs to stay ahead of the boat by leading with your head, torso, and blade. If you get caught with your body behind the boat then typically what happens is that you will lose your balance and fall over.

Aggressive sweeps at the bow are also valuable when heading down a river or arcing down across current. In some of these cases, anything near the stern is wasted effort.

Now let’s work on this forward sweep. Practice leading with your head and chest, so your body finishes in the neutral position. When you start a sweep, start with a push away from the bow. Think of pushing your feet away from the blade. Anchor the blade! Check that the blade gets at least 3 feet from the boat, with a nearly horizontal shaft. Taper off the power on this sweep as you sweep into your hip.

Don’t worry if this aggressive technique is a little different from the sweeps you first learned. It is simply a more advanced technique

STERN DRAW

Sweeps to control the stern of your boat are most important when you are learning to go straight, ferry and surf. For these moves, you will often want sweeps that finish with a stern draw. Follow the blade with your torso and eyes, this will give you good strength for the stroke, and helps insure the blade position of a wide stern draw with the blade anchored.

Even the most advanced paddlers use the stern draw at the back of the boat when they are surfing a steep/fast wave, or when trying to hold their downstream angle when diving across an eddy.

You’ll want to choose the stroke that uses the water. Some of the least effective strokes happen when a paddler tries to correct a ferry with a sweep at the bow. Controlling your boat angle on a ferry or surf is an ideal time for a stern draw.

 

The way you do a sweep stroke depends on your experience in whitewater. Many instructors choose to teach the sweep/ stern draw combination as part of a teaching progression for students who don’t have much shoulder strength, torso rotation, and blade dexterity. This way of learning the stern draw helps emphasize a quality stroke, so that beginning paddlers can maintain a ferry angle easily.

Practice your stern draw. Rotate your torso, and finish with your front hand high in front of your face to insure the blade goes deep in the water at the correct angle to anchor the blade. Practice the stroke watching the blade. Once you always get the blade angle correct, practice looking forward.

A good drill is letting the boat fall off a ferry angle, then correct with a stern draw, squeezing the blade gently in to the stern.

A common mistake is trying to correct a boat angle with a sloppy stroke that lifts water at the end. To correct this problem drop your back elbow, and get the front hand high. Watch the blade for feedback until you always get it right! A stern draw with good technique will make corrections easy!

Full Sweep, Following with head/chest

Now practice a forward sweep following the blade with your eyes, head, and torso. Again, you should take the blade in a wide arc. With this sweep you might take in an arc further to the stern, ending in a stern draw. You will get the best results from a quiet stroke without splashes.

As you practice, do the sweep with your boat flat. Keep it steady without wobbles. Even a small amount of edging or wobbles will reduce the efficiency of the turn.

When you are working on your sweep strokes, think of a rounded off rectangle, rather than a half circle – out from the boat, parallel to the boat, and back into the boat. This will maximize the power in your sweep stroke. This full sweep/ stern draw combo will help you practice anchoring the blade in the water without rushing or splashing. This sweep, combined with a reverse sweep, is most effective to get you straightened out when you get backwards.

Pick your sweep

Most paddlers agree, finesse and quality strokes are important in paddling, but all too often on the river we simply pull harder to turn. If you find yourself in a flurry of correction strokes, the odds are you are trying to out muscle the river. It is important to slow down so you can take higher quality strokes.

Lead a sweep with your head and chest for aggressive, proactive moves like flat spins and cartwheels. Follow the stern draw with your torso, and perhaps eyes when you are reactive, like spinning a full circle, or correcting a ferry, or adjusting a surf.

Whichever type of sweep you use is your choice, as each one has their own benefits. Remember, however, to practice good stroke quality for each type of sweep so that you will get the full benefit from each one.

Sweep Style Debate

A dramatic technique debate is working its way through paddling schools and circles of paddling instructors. At question is the torso motion in the forward sweep.

Torso Rotation... The great debate

A dramatic technique debate is working its way through paddling schools and circles of paddling instructors. At question is the torso motion in the forward sweep.

sweep stroke

Traditionally, recreational paddlers have been taught to keep their paddle shaft parallel to their shoulders throughout the sweep. This helps a beginning paddler watch to ensure the blade path remains correct rather than scooping water or abbreviating the last few inches of the sweep. Additionally, the paddlers arms stay in front of the torso, in the strongest position.

However, slalom racers use a different torso action in sweep strokes than recreational paddlers have traditionally used. Here's the deal:

sweep stroke

Racers point their head and chest in the direction of their turn from start to finish. This continual wind-up helps force their legs and boat towards their destination, even though this forces the trailing shoulder into a weaker position. The ending position differs distinctly from the recreational paddlers' sweep, and requires excellent shoulder strength and blade dexterity.

kayak sweep stroke

Anticipation is a factor in determining technique. Racers, with their carefully calculated paths usually use the first part of the sweep to initiate turns or make subtle corrections. Beginning recreational paddlers, on the other hand, are more often reactive, and often need the last part of a sweep to make a course correction.

So which sweep should you use? Evaluate the condition of your shoulder joints, your flexibility, blade dexterity, general strength, and boat design. If your flexibility is good, your shoulders strong, and your boat light (race boats are 18 pounds), then you have the potential to incorporate this technique into your paddling repertoire.

A few paddling schools use the chest leading system and claim excellent results. An equal number of instructors, on the other hand, use the traditional system, as a teaching trick to maximize strength and maintain the proper blade angle at the end of the sweep. For youngsters with a future in slalom racing, or for agressive playboaters looking to improve I teach the more aggressive sweep system.

Top level rodeo competitors are already using chest/head pre-turns. Gymnasts and platform divers lead with their head and shoulder line to accomplish spectacular moves. What will, or should, be taught to fitter playboaters in light swing weight boats is a great topic for debate.

Catch the Eddy

Eddy turns are the foundation for controlling the speed of your descent down the the river. In the quiet of the eddy, you can look at the rest of the rapid, rest, and line up for your next move or get out to portage. By paddling into the eddy at the correct angle with a bit of speed, and then tilting the boat up on edge, you'll remain right side up and feel secure.

The proper approach into an eddy gets you there, not a magic set of strokes. This requires setting your approach angle well in advance of the rock and its eddy. Take into account that the current usually bounces off rocks just before the eddy line. This changes the water direction and speed, pushing your bow away from the eddy. By watching the current as it hits the rock and is deflected, the eddy line becomes easier to see. Study the size and shape of the rock to anticipate the changing current.

\photo\ paddlers point of view approaching an eddy.

Position the boat slightly sideways to the current, keeping the momentum. Sometimes you will need to pause briefly before accelerating into the eddy. It will look like you are going to hit the rock.

Take whatever strokes are necessary to penetrate deep into the eddy. Sometimes a sweep on the downstream side is needed to compensate for the current deflected off the rock. Othertimes a sweep on the upstream side keeps the boat from turning early. Be sure to allow the bow of the boat to stick into the eddy before initiating a turn.

\illustration\ forces of the current help you turn into the eddy

Upon entering the eddy, tilt the boat in order to stay balanced. Start leaning into the turn when your feet cross the eddy line. Gradually flatten the boat as you turn upstream.

Summary:

Set your ANGLE of approach

Build, (or keep) momentum towards the eddy

Tilt your boat as you cross the eddy line

\illustration\parts of the eddy

Your approach path should land you high in the eddy, and deep, away from the eddy line. This will require an aggressive forward speed. If you finish your turn close to the eddy line, or lower in the eddy, where the eddy is less distinctly formed, you'll risk slipping out the bottom. This will make you feel out of control until you spin, and find another stopping place.

Floating Sideways

On occasion, you will position your boat sideways, at an angle to the rapid while running it. This will allow you to paddle forward to get to one side of the river, and backwards to get to the other. Downstream momentum will be lessened as you remain slightly sideways to the current and the river obstacles won't seem to come at you as quickly. You need to turn straight to avoid the instability of hitting a rock or ledge hole sideways.

Ferry for control and fun!

A ferry is a maneuver that gets you across the river, from an eddy onone side to an eddy on the other side. While this is practical for maneuvering, the ferry is best because it can move you into fun surf waves. You start in the eddy, facing upstream.

ferry

A ferry is a maneuver that gets you across the river, from an eddy onone side to an eddy on the other side. While this is practical for maneuvering, the ferry is best because it can move you into fun surf waves. You start in the eddy, facing upstream.

To start a ferry, position yourself nearly parallel to the eddy line. Then establish a slight angle to the oncoming current, and prepare to speed across the eddy line.

kayak draw stroke

This position is often the most important part of the ferry. It requires paddle control and finesse. Backing up, then drawing or sculling may be necessary to move into place. With experience, you will learn to jockey into position.

Once you are positioned close to the eddy line, start looking at the current direction and speed. The current next to the eddy line has usually been deflected by rocks, so it flows in a different direction than the main flow. Establish an upstream angle to move your boat across the current. That angle depends on the speed of the water; The faster the current, the more you'll need to point straight upstream. If you are unsure of the angle, pointing straight upstream is more conservative. The goal is to keep your bow from getting pushed downstream.

Crossing the eddy line is a crucial point in keeping your ferry angle. The bow is in the current, and the stern is in the eddy, so different forces are acting on your boat. Maintaining good forward speed reduces the time these forces have to alter your course.

kayak moves

Stroke timing and placement is important. The instant your feet reach the oncoming current you should be poised for a stern draw correction on the downstream side of your boat, in case your boat turns downstream. Realize the importance of correcting the angle from the stern when ferrying. The end of the forward sweep, the stern draw, works with the current to turn the boat. The first part of a sweep stroke doesn't correct a ferry angle as well since it pushes the bow against the current.

kayak ferry

Another option for correcting the boat angle is a rudder stroke, on the upstream side of the kayak. Use good form with the rudder, rotating the blade close to the boat, then pushing away slightly. Set the blade on edge, like a sailboat tiller. This requires rolling your wrists back and a slight counterbalance lean away from the stroke. Don't do an inadvertent braking stroke, when you want the easy turn of a rudder. A sloppy, poorly executed rudder stroke slows the boat and makes it tippy.

Once you have crossed the eddy line with either a rudder or stern draw, you can open up your angle, and paddle directly towards the eddy on the other side of the river. Well controlled ferries give you the feeling of control on the river.

Peelouts

Peelouts are the moves done to leave an eddy and head downstream. Odds are that your first peelout will be by accident, while trying to cross the eddy in a ferry. Your peelouts from the eddy should be fun and precise. The departure path from the eddy is almost identical to a ferry, but done so with just a hair more boat angle, relative to the current and eddy line. Use strokes that position the boat and keep the boat from turning until you've crossed the eddy line.

Peel out of the eddy in the trough of a wave, rather than climbing up the back of a wave. If your boat isn't positioned properly for the exit with enough speed, it will be turned rapidly on the eddy line. This is a wobbly place to be.

You'll be told to lean downstream while crossing the eddy line. This isn't quite true; Your boat should tilt, not you. Lift the upstream knee and ride on one cheek of your bottom. In this position you will be edging the boat just enough to keep from flipping.

Remember, the faster the current, the greater the tilt needed to remain balanced. When finishing the turn, gradually shift your weight onto both cheeks to flatten the boat.

\Tip\"Lean Downstream" is the most common advice given to beginner paddlers. Remember, this only applies to maintaining your stability when leaving an eddy. If you leaned all the time, you'd rarely feel balanced! Think of tilting your boat, rather than leaning your body.

Surfing

To kayak surf in the river, look for a wave that starts right next to an eddy. You'll ferry into position so your boat is acually sliding down the wave. The key to getting on a wave is knowing exactly where to aim when leaving the eddy, and controlling your boat position in the wave trough

To kayak surf, look for a wave that starts right next to an eddy. You'll ferry into position so your boat is acually sliding down the wave. The key to getting on a wave is knowing exactly where to aim when leaving the eddy, and controlling your boat position in the wave trough

how to surf a river kayak

First, leave the eddy in a ferry. Aim for the depression on the eddy line, in between the peaks of the waves. This is where the trough of the wave meets the eddy.

Position your boat so you are sitting on the wave, with your feet in the trough. Feel for the sensation of your bow dropping down into the trough. Monitor the distance between the bow and the ramp of oncoming water. Try to skim your the bow of your boatJ along that dark water.

When surfing some waves, the water will pour over several inches of your deck; don't let the bow dig in by applying too much power. The bow stays dry while surfing other waves. The instant the bow rises up, or slips back, take hard forward strokes to stay on the wave. Keep your boat pointed straight into the oncoming current with stern draw or light rudder strokes.

Armchair surfing

kayak surf stroke

Imagine yourself surfing down the trough of a wave. Notice the sensation and view when you slide off the wave. How do you correct it? What do you do when your bow digs in?.. What strokes move your bow to the right?...to the left?....

 

Enders are the spectacular old school air-catching moves of kayaking. Getting air is as simple as driving your bow upstream into water that is dropping down over steep waves or ledges. The old big boats got better air, but didn't do cartwheels.

Enders require very precise surfing skills. Most places for enders have a sweet spot with powerful current to aim the bow. The river power will propel you up into the air.

Canoe Ebook

Drill Time for Canoeing E-School

I know, I know, we need more canoe videos and books! Since my heart is in canoe paddling, I would love to do it, and will some day in the future. In the meantime, be sure you have all the current books and videos!

In addition to the links below, don't miss the entire sections on Whitewater Safety and on Reading the River.

I know, I know, we need more canoe videos and books! Since my heart is in canoe paddling, I would love to do it, and will some day in the future. In the meantime, be sure you have all the current books and videos!

Solo Playboating
Drill Time (Solo Playboating II)
Solo Playboating... The Workbook (this workbook reviews and expands on the drills presented in the videos)
The C-1 Challenge "An excellent resource"- Canoe Fun, instructional video for decked canoe paddlers, with host World Champion Kent Ford. Completely covers the advantages to C-boating, learning to roll, and outfitting for comfort. Hot play scenes and basic stroke instruction. c.1990 24 minutes

On to the canoe articles...

Tandem Simplicity

A simple set of strokes and communication concepts can provide the basis for quickly learning how to paddle a tandem canoe. When I teach, I like to emphasize simplicity, and an abbreviated set of strokes to get people out on the water and having fun quickly. A first timer learning to paddle a tandem canoe does not need to learn a comprehensive list of strokes.

canoe cross bow stroke

A simple set of strokes and communication concepts can provide the basis for quickly learning how to paddle a tandem canoe. When I teach, I like to emphasize simplicity, and an abbreviated set of strokes to get people out on the water and having fun quickly. A first timer learning to paddle a tandem canoe does not need to learn a comprehensive list of strokes.

Many instructors theorize that the recent decline in Canoe participation relative to Kayak may come from the perceived difficulty. Canoes are a challenge for sure, with nearly endless possibilities for technique improvement, but there are easy systems for controlling the boat.

The following system of strokes works well for first timers to get a start in controlling a canoe without frantically switching hands and yelling at each other. I have used this progression with Summer camp kids on the lake, Outward Bound students tacking class II whitewater on their second day of boating, and with adults simply looking for a fun experience on basic river moves. The system works well. In presenting it, I try to remember the adage: keep it short and sweet.

canoe bow draw

The bow paddler has just two turning strokes to learn: The Draw to move their end of the boat to their paddle side, and the cross bow draw to move their end of the boat the other direction. To eliminate mistakes, I like to teach the cross bow that has the T-grip elbow tucked tight against the body throughout the stroke. Even so, this stroke typically requires lots of review before the correct technique becomes instinctive.

 

canoe steering stroke photo

The Stern paddler paddles on the opposite side of the boat and also has only two strokes to learn. The Stern Draw, and the Stern Pry. I teach the stern pry as a short 6” jab out from the stern of the boat. This is really nothing more than an active rudder, so people tend to pick it up quickly. I continue to work on technique to keep braking from being part of the stroke by keeping the T-grip vertical and starting with the blade plastered against the boat. The stern draw is a longer stroke, like the last two feet of a full forward sweep. Paddlers need to use their torso for the power. Watching the blade seems to help get the torso involved.

 

 

 

 

 

canoe steering draw stroke

I like to get the paddlers practicing the basic motion of these strokes while in their boat on solid ground. I can stand at the bow, and help nudge the boat the direction the stroke will turn them. Once each paddler has their strokes mastered, we play a quick game where I point, and make them respond correctly as if to dodge an imaginary rock.

When they have those mastered, I teach both paddlers the forward stroke and briefly mention a back stroke.

Once we are on the water I review the same set of strokes with good technique: For each stroke I elaborate and review the technique essentials, since they feel a bit different on the water. I usually wait on technical details of the forward stroke until the paddlers have some directional control and can go relatively straight. Only then do I go into the details of a forward stroke: torso rotation to plant the tip of the blade far forward, relatively straight arms, and a vertical shaft.

Using these five strokes a team can become remarkably good paddlers. The bow paddler makes quick decisions about the route, and provides the power and pacing. The bow paddler is in charge of communicating their desired direction to the stern paddler, either by pointing, leading by strokes, or speaking. But I ask the bow paddler to also be in charge of good communication: in other words, turning around to speak or listen to their stern partner.

In the stern, the boat direction is priority. Frequently this means the beginning stern paddler must do nothing but correct with stern draws & stern prys to keep the boat on line. Power, and following the cadence of the bow paddler are secondary responsibilitys to the stern paddler, who is in charge of the general direction. When these general communication skills are followed, both paddlers work smoothly together and paddling a canoe is not difficult.

Running Dry

It is a beautiful, crisp spring day on your favorite run. So far you have stayed dry, as splashes from the choppy waves spray harmlessly aside. But around the corner is your nemeses, and the threat of bigger waves that could swamp you, dampen your spirits and make a swim much more likely. You wish it was easier to avoid swamping in the big waves.

There are several strategies to keeping your boat dry. Route choice is certainly the most common. Look for the ramp of smooth water through the drop, and paddle through this 'window' between the eddy line and the waves. Usually this window will be just off the side of the wave train. Stay on the shoulder of the waves until the waves are small enough for your boat to ride up and over.

If you end up in the waves, you may have to angle your boat 45 degrees to the wave and lean the boat to keep water from splashing in the downstream gunwale. This momentary boat tilt blocks water from coming in over the gunnel. Tilt the boat by lifting one knee, so your body remains balanced and centered over the boat.

Usually you will angle your canoe so your paddle is on the upstream side of the boat, partly for the comfort of the brace, and partly for the easy sweep that can straighten you out. Other times you will have your boat angled to block the waves with the paddle on the downstream side. In this case you use a bow draw to pull your boat over the wave and straight. Drift through the rapids like a cork while you turn or bounce your boat to block the tallest waves. Changing the trim of a boat can also improve its dryness.

River trippers, carrying heavy loads, use backferries to keep waves from crashing into their boats. This adjustment of speed is a good skill to have, but it shouldn't be your prime mode of staying dry or running rapids. Momentary backferries are great for a brief hesitation to find a dry line or to figure out a safer run. Backstrokes sometimes work as a last ditch effort to keep a wave from breaking over the bow.

These tricks will help you stay dry, when you would really rather not be soaked. But with a warm day, good paddling companions, and proper equipment, there is nothing wrong with plowing through a few huge waves. That can be a lot of fun. However, don't use river difficulty to measure your improvement. Instead, challenge yourself by making hard moves on easy rivers. This is how racers and all the really good boaters develop their skills. Matching your ability to appropriate rivers and rapids is the most important part of safe boating.

Sculling Draw

Perhaps you remember a time of frustration from trying to move your canoe sideways. Perhaps it was on a lake, trying to pull alongside a dock. Or perhaps it was on a river, trying to move further into an eddy to grab the security of the shore or a friends' boat. In either case, you were probably left with the same frustration as you felt learning to parallel park a car.

Moving sideways is a necessary, and often awkward skill for any type of canoeing. Canoes were meant to go straight, not sideways, so your strokes have to be very definitive to make the boat respond.

The basic way to move sideways is the draw stroke. Turn your torso to place the blade straight out from your hip. With both hands over the water, hold the top hand steady as you pull in the blade. Try for a good bite on the water, with the blade digging in deep. Then, pull in gently. Feather the blade 90 degrees to slice it out for the recovery.

Tilting your boat away slightly allows the boat to slide sideways more easily, but more importantly, it provides counterbalance so that both of your hands can get out over the water. This helps gets the blade positioned to pull the boat to the side, rather than push down on the surface.

The sculling draw accomplishes the same lateral movement of the boat, and improves your paddle control and finesse. Your goal is a maximum sideways pull on the boat, with a minimum resistance to moving the blade.

By practicing the sculling draw you'll get a good feel for how subtle changes in blade angle can help you. First work on basic sculling: gently move the blade along a 3-4 foot line six inches away from your boat, making sure to keep the shaft straight up and down. Gradually open the blade angle on the forward portion, then switch it so the leading edge is open as you bring the blade back. Don't try to pull in on the blade, or to apply too much force.

Do you have basic sculling mastered? Try these variations either alone or with your partner: sculling to pull the bow around,.. or to pull the stern. Try cross bow sculling with the same variations :sideways, to the bow and to the stern. If you have all that mastered, try sculling the other direction by reversing the blade angles.

With a little practice you will be able to "parallel park" effortlessly, and you will notice the rewards of better finesse.

Carve your Canoe Turns

Have you ever seen a really good paddler accelerate their boat into an eddy? They seem to make the boat move effortlessly, even during a gradual turn. The key is carving your turns so you can maintain your momentum in the direction you want to go.

Have you ever seen a really good paddler accelerate their boat into an eddy? They seem to make the boat move effortlessly, even during a gradual turn. The key is carving your turns so you can maintain your momentum in the direction you want to go.

This drill will help you learn to carve, and make better use of the natural tendency of a solo boat to veer in an arc. Paddle forward, and do a slight draw to start the boat veering to your paddling side. Then stroke only on that side, using very vertical strokes, with the blade almost under the boat. A little bit of boat tilt to the paddling side will help tighten up the turn.

You will feel the boat continue to turn toward the paddle side, despite forward strokes which would normally straighten the direction. You will learn to search for this turning sensation when you paddle, so you will need fewer corrections and be able to apply more force to the forward strokes.

Learning to do this drill has major benefits. First, it teaches you to paddle with a vertical paddle shaft. This reduces the number of corrections you have to do, and improves your acceleration power.

A second benefit is that forward stroking on the inside of the turn helps keep the boat from sideslipping. The main problem with sideslipping is that you are not maintaining the momentum of the boat in the direction you want to go. A carved turn will carry your momentum in the new direction.

Imagine that the water at the bow waterline is pushing your boat into a tighter and tighter turn, which you now can use to your benefit. You can keep applying forward power while your boat is turning towards your paddle side. The perfect place to use this is in onside eddy turns and peel outs. The boat lean is necessary anyway, and keeping the boat from sideslipping will make the turn more predictable and enjoyable.

The same carving turn is possible, but much harder on your offside. You need a narrow, responsive playboat, and a lot of flexibility to do the cross forward strokes. But with practice, you can do it and enjoy carving all your turns!

THE "J" Correction Stroke

The J is a great correction stroke to keep you going straight. Paddling longer distances, smoothly and with less effort, is easiest with the J stroke correction because the same face of the blade works throughout the forward stroke and correction. The J stroke is much smoother and ultimately faster than a rudder, or stern pry: but it has its limitations. The J is not very good for starting from a standstill, or for making sharp corrections, or for ferrying.

The J is a great correction stroke to keep you going straight. Paddling longer distances, smoothly and with less effort, is easiest with the J stroke correction because the same face of the blade works throughout the forward stroke and correction. The J stroke is much smoother and ultimately faster than a rudder, or stern pry: but it has its limitations. The J is not very good for starting from a standstill, or for making sharp corrections, or for ferrying.

In the J stroke, the top thumb of the T grip hand twists forward and down thus the power face of the blade works throughout the stroke. To learn the J, get your speed going with forward stroke and a pry correction, switch to the J, and try to go in circles towards your paddling side. When you have that mastered, increase the radius of your circles until you can go straight. Expect some difficulties tripping over the J until you get a feel for getting the J to catch.

To accelerate from a standstill it is often easiest to aim the boat towards your paddling side to avoid corrections on the first few strokes. Remember, the rudder/pry is often easier than a "J" for starting and for many moves on whitewater.

As you develop some experience and learn this basic stroke, you will be able to anticipate the boat turn, and correct before the boat really starts to spin. Don't waste energy trying to correct with stronger forward strokes.

The Frantic Side Switch

It is a fun, long set of riffles. The channel seems wide open, and the speed and splashes of the rapid enhance the fun you have been having. Suddenly you have a few rocks to avoid and without thinking you switch your paddle to the other side and slam in a back rudder stroke. Another rock looms ahead, and after another flurry of switching sides you slam in yet another inefficient back stroke. You made the moves, but the abrupt flurry of braking was a noticeable disruption to the flow of your paddling.

A common bad habit was the fault: indiscriminately switching sides. The problem is that if you always switch to make a move, you will take longer to develop a full repertoire of strokes. For instance, you are much less likely to develop a good stern pry to help you make it to the best surfing waves. Besides it is far more impressive to make a move on your off side.

On the other hand, occasionally switching sides while you paddle is perfectly okay. Switching helps you use different muscle groups, and develop a nice rhythm when you are going a long distance. In addition you get good forward power on each stroke, and you don't develop an offside.

Paddling on the upstream side makes it easier to get into eddies. It is especially nice to have your paddle on the upstream side in shallow areas, on the inside of a bend, or on the opposite side of a reaction wave.

I propose that you switch sides to make a move only on the hardest 5 or 6 major moves of a day's paddling, or, systematically approach your paddling so that you can do basic moves equally well on both sides. In any case a wild flurry of switching sides is inefficient and poor form. You need to find a personal balance between gaining temporary efficiency by switching sides, and developing a full repertoire of quality strokes on one side.

So what strokes need a tune up to help you avoid the Frantic Side Switch? In the next few issues, we will look at the best correction strokes: The Stern pry, stern draw, and the J stroke.

Going Straight: Correct at the Stern

You probably know the feeling of trying to go straight with a boat that seems to have a mind of its own. The boat spins into an ever tighter turn.

Good quality strokes at the stern will always correct this veering. Think of the front of the boat as being pushed into the turn, so you have to correct from the stern. With the bow lined up on a distant landmark, going straight only requires persistence, and a little anticipation. Armed with the stern pry, and the stern draw, you can turn in either direction.

The most powerful correction stroke is a well executed stern pry. A good stern pry starts with the blade plastered against the boat, towards the back of the boat, with the blade angle vertical for maximum bite. To get in this position, the thumb on your t-grip hand will be on top. Get the t-grip out over the water. The pry itself is a short 6" jab out to the side, using the gunnel as a fulcrum. This stroke is really effective!

Often it is best to pause until you feel pressure on the blade before initiating the pry motion. To make a major correction, do several very short prys.

Nearly half of all intermediate and advanced paddlers have poor stern prys. These are prys that stray too far from the boat, turn the blade flatter on the water, and have a general negative effect on forward speed. People get this bad habit because it feels less stable to have the blade in the correct position, which is far back and close to the boat.

Sometimes the result is that bow draws are overused: a paddler figures out, or is taught, that strokes at the stern are slowing them down. In truth, what slows them down are poor form stern strokes. Only when you have mastered efficient steering from the stern should you attempt correcting from the bow.

To correct the other direction, use a stern draw. The blade should travel in an arc to the stern, starting about two feet from the boat. In order to do this, both hands should stay below shoulder level. Make sure that the top of the blade remains submerged throughout the stroke.

Watch your blade sweep all the way to the back, to help involve your torso power. Pay close attention to the blade angle. Without your compensation, the blade has a tendency to twist at the end of the stroke, reducing its bite on the water. Transfer the power into your boat by pulling your hip towards the blade.

Learning to correct from the stern using these simple techniques will help you have more control and fun on the river.

Open Canoe Roll

Rolling has become a common skill for open boaters paddling continuous class III and harder rivers. Rolling saves the long swim, and keeps you in the relative safety of your boat.

When you first try to roll, you will probably focus on the paddle motion. This isn't the essence. Instead, the key is rolling the boat up with your lower body, while your the paddle supports the torso. Then your paddle helps you move up over the boat. Good rolling depends on this "hip and torso rotation," which is the torso and knee motion that rights the boat.

The best way to learn this is with your hands on the side of a pool, or resting in a friend's hands at water level. Put your head on your hands. To roll on the right, practice moving the boat through the full range of motion. Stretch your torso to the surface, at right angles to the boat, to wind up. Follow through by gently pressing your forehead towards the water and tugging up on your right knee. Try to minimize the force by being light, keeping your weight floating near the surface. Doing this effortlessly is a prerequisite to rolling with a paddle.

The low brace roll uses this same torso and knee motion. To learn the low brace roll try this easy system. First, float the paddle perpendicular to the boat on your paddle side. Then tip over towards your paddle, and curl your body up so you can grab the shaft. Really stretch your torso for the surface. Try to turn so both shoulders are near the surface, and over the shaft of the paddle. Your head, hand, and paddle blade should clear the surface before you start the rolling action.

Now drive your forehead down towards the shaft, push with your hand while you pull up on your right knee. Push down on your left knee. Starting with your shaft arm bent, and gradually straightening it will help give you a little extra power, but your body should do almost all the work. You might feel that this is very gradual, first pressing gently on the paddle for support, and when it starts to slip turning your torso and hips. Each step happens incrementally.

To finish, pull the T-grip across in front of your waist, while sweeping the blade forward. When the gunnel clears the surface, swing your head low and across the gunnel to the other side. Think of scratching your nose on each gunnel of the boat. People often spoil their roll by raising their head too soon.
Once you're rolling consistently on a low brace it's time to learn the set up. This way you can roll no matter which way you flip. The set-up is with your body tucked forward and the blade flat against the top of the boat, ready to swing with your body out to the side.

A good way to learn this is in a decked C-1, where the force required is typically less. Converting a decked C-1 roll to an open boat requires a little more force and a little slower roll.

Your boat design and outfitting can affect the ease of rolling. Outfitting should be snug, but allow easy escape when necessary. If you can slide your knees or butt more than 1 inch in any direction, your outfitting is probably too loose. Some boat designs and float bag configurations can make the boat get stuck partway upside down. When this happens, you'll need a short underwater sweep stroke to pull the boat completely upside down.

A closely related skill is the brace, which properly used can often save you from flipping in the first place. With some practice, you can develop a brace, a roll and save the hassle of the long swim.

Mental Kayaking ebook

 Enjoy these articles written by Mary DeRiemer of DeRiemer Adventure Kayaking.

Why do people kayak? The bottom line is that the experience is so enjoyable and meaningful that we want more! Kayaking can provide feelings of enjoyment, well-being and personal achievement. In order to have this kind of experience, these conditions must exist:

• The activity is completely voluntary.
• Your state of mind is open.
• The goal is clear and the feedback is immediate.
• There is a feeling of control over your actions in the environment, a sense that your personal competence is matched to the challenge, even though the outcome is uncertain. When I started boating my hero said that 90% of the sport is mental, that once a paddler gets a certain degree of skill, the rest depends on her head. I’ve found that statement to be fairly accurate.

In order to experience the best of kayaking, ones state of mind must be open. When taking on a new challenge, some amount of energy is spent in overcoming barriers. Mental distractions such as fear are by far the largest. There is only so much room in a person’s mind. If distractions are present, there is less room for learning, or even remembering things you already know! Information theorists say that the mind has a certain channel capacity - the maximum amount of information is called the signal; everything that gets in the way of the signal is noise. Static on the radio is a form of noise. Fear is the loudest kind of mental noise.

How do you quiet the noise of fear? The first step is to listen to the static: actually pay attention to the fear itself, what is it saying? You may find that it has two parts, fear of actual danger and psychological fear. Once you separate the two, the fear becomes more manageable. Let’s listen in on the mental channel of a paddler experiencing fear:

“There’s the eddy…DROWNING! ENTRAPMENT! WHERE WAS I? Get my angle…ROCKS! HOLES! SUFFOCATION!!!”

These fears may be real; it is only the danger that is imaginary. It may be that your mind has a hypersensitive survival instinct. You need to reassure this overcautious protector that your environment is safe.

What’s more likely? To be trapped in a boat or experience a dislocated shoulder? Yet the static caused by fear has one thinking the opposite! You will not drown while learning to paddle if you use good sense and follow basic safety procedures. The real dangers, shoulder dislocations, cold water, a long day, getting in over your head, aren’t the kinds of dangers that grip your gut and jam all your channels. Experienced paddlers know that most things you are likely to be afraid of are not really dangerous. Rather, it’s more likely that you have overestimated the risk and underestimated your skills. When you feel fear arising, ask yourself whether it represents actual danger. To help develop a realistic evaluation of your skills and the dangers, get input from the more experienced paddlers in your group.

If 90% of the sport is mental, change the belief systems in your head! Adopt these mindsets to desensitize yourself to and overcome your fears.

Kayaking is an underwater sport. Tell yourself that being up-side-down is fun. Ok, how about interesting? Reassure yourself that your environment isn’t hostile and start to embrace the underwater environment. Then flip over and hang out in safe places.

The most effective approach to fear is gradual exposure. If you’re scared, practice until you’re bored. Can you ever remember being bored and scared at the same time? Experience your fears so that you have proof that the fearful outcome your in your mind isn’t reality.

Swim! In eddys, in safe rapids and into small holes that flush. Be more focused on doing a roll rather than “getting up!!” Roll often, in eddies, moving current, the feedout of rapids, and in the waves trains.

When learning, mistakes are a good thing! If you watch children starting to walk, they often laugh with glee when they fall down. When learning to walk or to kayak, you are not only the mad scientist but also the laboratory mouse. Approach learning with curiosity, humor and openness!

By Mary DeRiemer, host of River Runner's Edge, The Kayak Roll, Kayaker's Edge, Kayaker's Playbook DVD's and books.
adventure kayaking
We think there's nothing better than slipping into river time and returning to what is truly significant. It's very likely that you do too. Whether you are new to the sport, interested in making plateau breakthroughs, or wanting an exceptional wilderness or international trip, join us in reaching your destination. www.adventurekayaking.com

The Mental Side of Kayaking

The Mental Side of Kayaking By Mary DeRiemer

Why do people kayak? The bottom line is that the experience is so enjoyable and meaningful that we want more! Kayaking can provide feelings of enjoyment, well-being and personal achievement. In order to have this kind of experience, these conditions must exist:

• The activity is completely voluntary.
• Your state of mind is open.
• The goal is clear and the feedback is immediate.
• There is a feeling of control over your actions in the environment, a sense that your personal competence is matched to the challenge, even though the outcome is uncertain. When I started boating my hero said that 90% of the sport is mental, that once a paddler gets a certain degree of skill, the rest depends on her head. I’ve found that statement to be fairly accurate. The Mental Side of Kayaking By Mary DeRiemer

Why do people kayak? The bottom line is that the experience is so enjoyable and meaningful that we want more! Kayaking can provide feelings of enjoyment, well-being and personal achievement. In order to have this kind of experience, these conditions must exist:

• The activity is completely voluntary.
• Your state of mind is open.
• The goal is clear and the feedback is immediate.
• There is a feeling of control over your actions in the environment, a sense that your personal competence is matched to the challenge, even though the outcome is uncertain. When I started boating my hero said that 90% of the sport is mental, that once a paddler gets a certain degree of skill, the rest depends on her head. I’ve found that statement to be fairly accurate.

In order to experience the best of kayaking, ones state of mind must be open. When taking on a new challenge, some amount of energy is spent in overcoming barriers. Mental distractions such as fear are by far the largest. There is only so much room in a person’s mind. If distractions are present, there is less room for learning, or even remembering things you already know! Information theorists say that the mind has a certain channel capacity - the maximum amount of information is called the signal; everything that gets in the way of the signal is noise. Static on the radio is a form of noise. Fear is the loudest kind of mental noise.

How do you quiet the noise of fear? The first step is to listen to the static: actually pay attention to the fear itself, what is it saying? You may find that it has two parts, fear of actual danger and psychological fear. Once you separate the two, the fear becomes more manageable. Let’s listen in on the mental channel of a paddler experiencing fear: “There’s the eddy…DROWNING! ENTRAPMENT! WHERE WAS I? Get my angle…ROCKS! HOLES! SUFFOCATION!!!”

These fears may be real; it is only the danger that is imaginary. It may be that your mind has a hypersensitive survival instinct. You need to reassure this overcautious protector that your environment is safe.

What’s more likely? To be trapped in a boat or experience a dislocated shoulder? Yet the static caused by fear has one thinking the opposite! You will not drown while learning to paddle if you use good sense and follow basic safety procedures. The real dangers, shoulder dislocations, cold water, a long day, getting in over your head, aren’t the kinds of dangers that grip your gut and jam all your channels. Experienced paddlers know that most things you are likely to be afraid of are not really dangerous. Rather, it’s more likely that you have overestimated the risk and underestimated your skills. When you feel fear arising, ask yourself whether it represents actual danger. To help develop a realistic evaluation of your skills and the dangers, get input from the more experienced paddlers in your group.

If 90% of the sport is mental, change the belief systems in your head! Adopt these mindsets to desensitize yourself to and overcome your fears.

Kayaking is an underwater sport. Tell yourself that being up-side-down is fun. Ok, how about interesting? Reassure yourself that your environment isn’t hostile and start to embrace the underwater environment. Then flip over and hang out in safe places.

The most effective approach to fear is gradual exposure. If you’re scared, practice until you’re bored. Can you ever remember being bored and scared at the same time?

Experience your fears so that you have proof that the fearful outcome your in your mind isn’t reality.

Swim! In eddys, in safe rapids and into small holes that flush. Be more focused on doing a roll rather than “getting up!!” Roll often, in eddies, moving current, the feedout of rapids, and in the waves trains.

When learning, mistakes are a good thing! If you watch children starting to walk, they often laugh with glee when they fall down. When learning to walk or to kayak, you are not only the mad scientist but also the laboratory mouse. Approach learning with curiosity, humor and openness!

Focusing the Fear Positively

You are approaching The Rapid. A familiar feeling arises...it makes your muscles tight, your balance spastic and it messes with your head. You label it FEAR. Here are some ways to focus your mind positively and deal with irrational fear.

FAILURE, DEATH, EMBARRASSMENT, INJURY, DROWNING, THE UNKNOWN, TAKING THE STEP UP, SWIMMING, HISTORY......

One: identify the fear.

•Once identified, this "feeling" can be assessed in terms of whether the danger is real or perceived. For example, when evaluating A. "I'm afraid I'll swim and be embarrassed" and B. "I'm afraid I'll swim and drown", the former is more likely to be real and the latter perceived.

Two: reality check. Putting things in perspective... •Is your rapid half full of things to avoid or half full of opportunities that can help you get to your destination? Rocks, holes, waves, eddylines, and pillows are also components of tongues and eddies. Used appropriately, all of these features can help propel you toward your destination.

•From this new perspective, how likely is the outcome of those two fears to occur? "Well, there's a 50% chance I'd flip on that pillow and a 25% chance I'd miss my roll and swim the bottom of this Class III rapid. There's a good chance I'd feel embarrassed, but the likelihood of drowning is virtually impossible."

•What is the worst real outcome if this happens? "I'd probably have a bruised ego, and maybe feel a little shook up.

•Can you survive the outcome emotionally and physically? "Yes, I might bump my butt on that rock, but I'd be OK." "No, I'm terrified of swimming Class III and doing so would set me back or make me quit altogether."

•Are you willing to experience that outcome? "Yes, I've got lots of natural padding anyway!" "No, I want to continue this sport at my slow pace because that's fun for me."

SWITCHING GEARS... Three: I can do this. Here are some self-assessment questions. •"Am I boating in control up to this point? Have I practiced similar or harder moves in the easier rapids? Can I put the individual moves together for this rapid? "

•"How is my psyche? Am I feeling secure about myself and those with whom I am boating?" Psyche can be affected by the weather and by personal events. Perhaps you'd run a particular rapid on a sunny day but are unable to summon the focus in the rain. Or perhaps you're feeling vulnerable because you've recently had a falling out with your partner.

•If your answers are positive, start to de-sensitize yourself to your fear and ensure success by visualizing or feeling your run through the rapid to your destination eddy. Identify landmarks and crux strokes along the way. "Start on the left side of the tongue and paddle hard angling right. Edge left into the pillow and place two consecutive left-hand strokes on it to drive me into the river right current. From there the rest of the rapid is Class II". This dialogue may occur verbally, visually or kinesthetically - depending on your learning style.

•Once committed, it's time to get centered. Get in your boat, shake out your muscles, close your eyes and start taking deep, relaxed breaths; big breaths that fill even your abdomen. Relax! Imagine yourself as strong and as graceful as your paddling hero. Sit erect in a forward, anticipatory posture and start paddling aggressively around the pool above the drop. Focus on how well you move the boat and whoop it up to get rid of any extra adrenaline.

Four: you are what you replay.

•What's going on in your head is practice, and only perfect practice makes perfect. If your run wasn't as successful as you wanted, make changes in your mind so that when you replay it, you've nailed the move and are upright and smiling at the bottom. If you are able to get centered and have the energy, run it again to further desensitize yourself to that particular drop. *At the end of the day, notice how you describe your skill and runs to others. Keep it positive! Even if you had a "bad" run, DON'T describe it! Instead, say how you would make changes to have a successful run next time.

•Pre-trip head centering sets the tone for the day. Don't let your fear take you downstream during the shuttle. When you're miles above The Rapid in playful Class II, keep your mind focused. Remind yourself where you are and that you will only boat what's in front of you.

•Mantras are a great way to positively focus the fear-seeking mind. Feeling nervous? Weak and imprecise? The moment you notice these negative thoughts, coach yourself by choosing opposite words. With every stroke of the paddle repeat "I'm strong and precise. Paddling is fun!".

By Mary DeRiemer, host of River Runner's Edge, The Kayak Roll, Kayaker's Edge, Kayaker's Playbook DVD's and books.
adventure kayaking
We think there's nothing better than slipping into river time and returning to what is truly significant. It's very likely that you do too. Whether you are new to the sport, interested in making plateau breakthroughs, or wanting an exceptional wilderness or international trip, join us in reaching your destination. www.adventurekayaking.com

How To Create Confidence

Many paddlers have been told that they have the skill to run more challenging rapids -but they hold back. What drives us? What limits us? There is much information in this field. If we use this info consciously, we can influence the level at which we boat and free ourselves up to enjoy whatever level we choose.

People like to perform their best and so purposefully (although often unconsciously) seek out conditions that produce a state of optimal arousal in the brain. A paddler can perform at her peak when the brain is neither overwhelmed nor bored. Each of us has our own measure of just what optimal is. People participate in kayaking because of the intrinsic feelings of enjoyment, well-being and personal achievement. This state of being, which lies outside the parameters of worry and boredom, is called being in the moment or in the Zone.

Here are some conditions that are necessary for a paddler to be in the Zone. The activity is completely voluntary, the motivation is intrinsic, the outcome is uncertain. There is just the right amount of challenge. Being in the Zone can only be experienced when the ability to influence the outcome by applying personal competence is matched to the risky situation.

What makes being in the Zone worth repeating the activity? The goal is clear and the feedback is immediate. Action and awareness merge into pure, uninterrupted concentration. The field of stimulus becomes centered and limited. There is an experience of “self forgetfulness”. There is a feeling of control over ones actions in the environment. The experience is so enjoyable and meaningful that the individual hopes to reproduce this state by repeating the activity!

Knowing this about our minds, we can cultivate a type “C” personality, one that objectively evaluates our commitment, control and confidence over a challenge. Commonly, there is the rapid or river that represents the step up. Your mentor has assured you that your skills are up to the challenge. Yet you’ve held yourself back. The first question you must ask yourself is, “Do I want to do this?” Your motivation must be intrinsic and the decision voluntary.

If you decide “yes” then guide yourself through this process. It will help you step out of the emotional side and into the physical side, and help you create an attitude of control and confidence.

*First measure the difficulty of the parts. Break the rapid down move by move. Have you ever done similar moves on any other river? Have you done similar moves upstream?

*Rate the difficulty on your own scale. Can you make that ferry? Can you catch that eddy?

*Rate your ability. How successful were you with similar moves? How is your energy?

*Imagine the worst outcome. How likely is that to occur? What are more realistic consequences? Are you willing to suffer the most likely consequence?

*Evaluate your group and location. Do you have confidence in the support your group can provide? Does the environment provide the necessary margin of error to let you take on this challenge today?

Next create a “can do” attitude by visualizing your run. See yourself successfully dealing with the crux move. Which paddle blade goes into the curler? What posture and boat edge is needed? Continue to see your line all the way through to the final eddy. If progress stops at a certain feature, you’ll need to work through it until you see yourself successful. Use only positive and realistic self-talk. Quiz the better paddlers in the group. Watch their runs to reinforce your plan. Remember that a great percentage of the work is done above the move. From each staging eddy, where did the successful boaters line up? What landmarks can you use to lead you to the positive line?

On the other hand, if you are happier seeing the take out than the put in, perhaps your motivation is not intrinsic. How many of us have run a rapid because “so-and-so ran it and I’m better than he is.” Or because the group we paddled with created an atmosphere of judgment? You’ll never boat in the Zone at peak performance if something other than joy is driving you. What drives us changes day-to-day, even moment-to-moment. Let yourself focus on the water in front of you and realistically evaluate your skill and the difficulty. Know that YOU want to take on this challenge, or not. Only you can control the conditions that allow you to be in the Zone. Some days it may be catching every eddy in a familiar rapid. Another day it could be while running a rapid for the first time.

By Mary DeRiemer, host of River Runner's Edge, The Kayak Roll, Kayaker's Edge, Kayaker's Playbook DVD's and books.
adventure kayaking
We think there's nothing better than slipping into river time and returning to what is truly significant. It's very likely that you do too. Whether you are new to the sport, interested in making plateau breakthroughs, or wanting an exceptional wilderness or international trip, join us in reaching your destination. www.adventurekayaking.com

How do you learn the sport of kayaking?

There is a wonderful model on cognitive learning that shows we vacillate between different levels of understanding. When we are first exposed to a sport there is a good chance that we are unconsciously incompetent. As we watch from a distance we think, “I can do that!” After exposure, we become consciously incompetent. “Wow, I had no idea these things flipped so easily.” With some instruction and practice, we become consciously competent. “If I just keep this edge up crossing the eddyline I’ll stay upright.” And after miles on the river, we become unconsciously competent. So much so, that should someone ask us how to do a certain maneuver, we would have to consciously try a few before being able to give an answer. Some of us are programmed to give verbal answers more easily.

There appear to be two modes of thinking, represented separately by the left and right hemispheres of the brain. Each has a different way of interpreting and processing information. You may have an experience of hearing someone describe some part of kayaking and you thought, “I knew that!” Up to that point you may not have been able to articulate, but you could perform! Your knowing was in your muscles. You were accessing the right brain, which is the skills side and is oriented toward grasping whole patterns. It deals simultaneously with multiple concepts and makes intuitive leaps to complete associations. The left side is the verbal side. When learning occurs from the left side it is analytical. No matter how you are programmed to LEARN, the competent kayaker when interacting with the river relies on the right brain capabilities of simultaneously processing many inputs. Analyzing from the left-brain happens best during practice, where valuable information can be shared through verbal means.

While you are learning, you’ll find that this verbal understanding boosts you into the consciously competent stage. As this happens, you may find yourself taking one step forward…and two steps back! That is because in the heat of the game, “to analyze is to paralyze”. As you modify your technique or play around with your river running strategies, your new awareness can get in the way of synchronizing your movements to the current. Know that this is normal. With time and practice, your more effective actions will become unconscious and you’ll be way ahead of the game with better technique. In the meantime, take an attitude of “there are no mistakes, only the process of exploring and experimenting to find more effective way”.

People tend to have a primary way of learning sports. It can be analytical, doing, feeling, or seeing. Those of us who learn kinesthetically need only to expose our muscles to certain sensations and these "smart" muscles store that awareness for future use. This knowledge remains unconscious to our analytical mind. We perform, but don't necessarily understand. Analytical learners are at a loss to attempt a skill until there is sufficient understanding of the how’s and whys. The conscious mind thus prepared can coach the muscles to perform. Visual learners also need to understand before attempting to perform. However, their mode of gathering information is through their eyes. It is their fortune to "monkey see, monkey do". Most of us learn through some combination of these styles.

If you are primarily kinesthetic, search out drills. As your muscles begin to feel the affect of movements, your muscle memory will quickly understand where this movement will work for you on the river. If you're analytical then reading is valuable. As well, find a more experienced analytical kayaker and enjoy verbally dissecting the sport. It will translate to your actions on the river. Visual learners learn fastest by watching better paddlers, to enable their muscles to see and understand what to do.

Having a friend on the water with you as you practice, or even better, to video you will help to ingrain new, techniques more quickly. Remember that learning is a process, not an outcome. Keep it fun. Making errors is part of the process. And humor goes a long way toward keeping things enjoyable!

By Mary DeRiemer, host of River Runner's Edge, The Kayak Roll, Kayaker's Edge, Kayaker's Playbook DVD's and books.
adventure kayaking
We think there's nothing better than slipping into river time and returning to what is truly significant. It's very likely that you do too. Whether you are new to the sport, interested in making plateau breakthroughs, or wanting an exceptional wilderness or international trip, join us in reaching your destination. www.adventurekayaking.com