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.