Wild Ontario sea kayak: Lake Superior

In September 2012 I traveled from Wales to the Canadian shore of Lake Superior as a guest of Ryan Rushton’s Geneva Kayak Center. My destination was the town of Wawa Ontario, in the northeast corner of the world’s largest freshwater lake, for the annual Great Lakes Gales Storm Gathering.

The 2-day journey north, along the west shore of Lake Michigan and into Canada at Sault St. Marie, was an intriguing glimpse of Interstate Americana for this Brit boy. One language, but certainly two cultures!

The final hours followed the north shore of Lake Superior, through a brochure-perfect panorama of golden-red autumnal colours, the forested landscape occasionally revealing the beautiful rocky lakeshore. Afternoon brought us to Wawa, a remote scattering of buildings along the Trans-Canada Highway. A few more kilometers of dirt track led to Rock Island Lodge at the mouth of the Michipicoten River.

www.kayakessentials.co.uk     www.kayakessentials.co.uk

This enchanting accommodation and activity base, owned by avid local sea kayaker David Wells, was perched on a tiny rocky promontory extending into the lake like the prow of a ship. Flanked by white beaches, with a breach in the sand spit allowing the river to escape into the mighty Lake Superior, Rock Island Adventures was truly blessed with a perfect paddling environment.

Watching the sun set into the glassy waters of the lake, its southwest horizon unbroken by any sight of land, it was hard to imagine the mighty waves that my local hosts assured me were commonplace in storm conditions. Five more days of idyllic conditions – perfect for the BCU Level 1 Coach course that occupied me and the staff team of Rock Island Lodge – gave no hint of Wawa’s reputation among Great Lakes sea kayakers.

www.kayakessentials.co.uk

www.kayakessentials.co.uk

The placid weather did permit my first journey in a traditional Voyageur canoe. These remarkable craft plied the Great Lakes during the heyday of the fur trade era, loaded with pelts for the old world upper classes. Coordinating the efforts of two dozen crew brought a whole new perspective on teamwork and communication!

www.kayakessentials.co.uk

www.kayakessentials.co.uk

www.kayakessentials.co.uk

The eve of the Gales Storm Gathering, however, brought a dramatic change in weather conditions. As participants arrived, they were greeted by a southwesterly storm that brought with it great walls of water crashing onto the beaches each side of the lodge. The spectacular view through the dining room windows of the crashing surf on the tip of the rock spur reinforced the sensation of our being aboard a ship’s bridge – the ‘Rock Island Lodge’, steaming purposefully towards the American shoreline 200km distant.

www.kayakessentials.co.uk

www.kayakessentials.co.uk

A 2-day respite allowed the Storm Gathering paddlers to venture into the superb waters of the Michipicoten Bay, an amazingly diverse environment of current, surf, rock gardens, sheltered waters and dramatic shorelines.

The return of the storm on the final day delivered impressive surf into the river mouth next to the lodge. A rare combination of outgoing current and incoming swell over a rock reef-sand bar created unusually large and steep faces in such windy onshore conditions. It was too good to miss!

After ten days in the unique company of Lake Superior, it felt fitting that my final hour afloat should be in such fantastic conditions. Freshwater surf? Wawa delivers the goods and Rock Island Lodge offers ‘park and play’ magic. I’ll be back one day…

www.kayakessentials.co.uk

www.kayakessentials.co.uk

DSC_6018

www.kayakessentials.co.uk

www.kayakessentials.co.uk

www.kayakessentials.co.uk

My trip to Ontario would not have been possible without Ryan’s invitation. David Wells and his Rock Island Lodge team – Megan Gamble, Ray Boucher and Ree – gave me a fantastic Wawa welcome. The Gales Storm Gathering organisers and coaches – Keith Wikle, Alec & Sharon Bloyd-Peshkin, Haris Subacias, Chris Lockyer, Shawna Franklin, Leon Somme, Sam Crowley and many more – were a delight to work alongside.

Most importantly, the event could not have taken place without the commitment and enthusiasm of all the participants who traveled so far to paddle in Lake Superior with us. I had a great time with everyone who joined me afloat. My thanks to everyone involved in the 2012 Gales Storm Gathering.

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Safer sea kayaking: Guiding principles

Safer Sea Kayaking: some guiding principles

Large numbers of sea kayakers paddle in UK waters every day of the year. The vast majority enjoy incident-free experiences, returning safely without troubling the emergency services. However, emergency call outs have increased in recent years, occasionally with tragic results. These incidents are a result of actions and decisions made by groups; patterns emerge from the reports, with learning opportunities for the sea kayaking community.

This article addresses the issues in a practical way, with ‘good practice’ suggestions that groups can compare with their own approach to sea kayak safety.

As a sea kayak coach I am often asked to offer a framework for safer sea kayaking, especially by people who paddle independently or are responsible for others on the water. The challenge is to find strategies that work for paddlers as they gain experience, until the decision-making process becomes more instinctive. I often introduce this ‘safer sea kayaking’ model, focusing on four key elements of safer sea kayaking. Let’s consider a few examples of ‘good practice’ and possible issues for each key area.

safer sea kayaking model

Plan, Anticipate & Review

Planning and experience can build a picture of the likely conditions on a sea kayak journey; we can compare these conditions against the abilities and aims of the group; suitable equipment reduces the likelihood of problems arising, and their consequences. Formal plans can increase the likelihood of a group sticking to a route choice in the face of deteriorating conditions; launching with a range of options and a flexible approach will allow us to compare the reality of the situation with the expected outcomes. A constant process of reviewing paddlers and conditions will help us to make good decisions at appropriate moments in the trip.

Some Tips:

Get a weather forecast. Check tide times and establish the tidal picture for your paddling area. Get a swell forecast and check conditions for a few days before your planned trip. You can’t have too much information.

Create a picture of the likely conditions in your chosen paddling area. Compare the expected conditions with the ability of you and your group. Be realistic.

Upon arrival at your chosen paddling area, check conditions before committing to the trip. Check wind direction, strength, sea state, tidal picture – do the conditions match those expected for the day? Do you need to consider an alternative plan?

Consider the technical difficulty of the conditions and also the seriousness of the planned paddling area. Avoid high technical difficulty (for you and the group) combined with serious situations, or at least fully recognise the implications of combining these two elements.

Consider the people in the group – aims and objectives; experience, ability and attitudes; fitness and health: is everyone on the same page, regarding the plan for the day?

Group dynamics: are you a group of friends, sharing decisions and responsibilities throughout the day; a formal group with a designated ‘leader’; or somewhere between the two? If the latter, how much do you know about your ‘followers’? Are they a compatible team, willing to engage in the principles of safe group sea kayaking?

Equipment: does the group have seaworthy kayaks and sufficient safety equipment? Are you the only paddler with towline, radio/flares, map/compass etc? Are you willing to go afloat in such company?

Communication & Group Dynamics

Sea conditions can be predictable for the experienced sea kayaker, route choice and positioning becomes second nature, good equipment is available: people, in contrast, can bring widely differing attitudes, are sometimes unpredictable and can hide their strengths and weaknesses from the rest of the group. Establishing everyone’s comfort-challenge zones is a complex task. Honest communication and discussion between group members is vital, and begins before going afloat.

An analysis of sea kayak incidents often reveals communication breakdowns within groups, separation of group members and misunderstandings between paddlers. If we can agree strategies to maintain communication, the likelihood of problems developing is much reduced.

Some Tips:

Meet at a ‘neutral’ rendezvous, i.e. somewhere that offers a range of options for the group, depending on the actual conditions on the day. A cafe, a short drive from a number of different launch sites, could be a good choice.

If you meet at the beach, the Law of Early Arrival states that, no matter what time you reach the rendezvous, someone will be there already and will be ready to launch – regardless of the conditions afloat.

Share everything within the group – forecasts, tidal information, expected conditions, options for the day. Encourage discussions, involve the team in decision making. Knowledge is power, don’t keep it to yourself.

Beach briefings are the last chance to discuss plans before the sea has its say. Group management will only be more difficult afloat.

Compare the expected conditions with the realistic abilities of all group members. If everyone is in their comfort zone, we can afford a more relaxed approach – if paddlers are more challenged, we will need to be more disciplined in our group management.

How many people are in your group? A team of six is a reasonable working maximum in any kind of challenging conditions. If there are more of you, give serious thought to splitting the group into smaller independent teams. There is no such thing as safety in numbers.

If there are not enough ‘leaders’ or more experienced paddlers for independent teams of six, accept that your overall group safety will be severely compromised in more challenging conditions.

If the least experienced group member is unable to paddle effectively in the conditions, the safety of the entire group is compromised. Plan trips that meet the needs of the weakest paddler.

Every group member needs to accept their responsibilities to each other. Great planning will not help if one group member decides to paddle away, unannounced, into more difficult water.

Discuss plans/options throughout the day – look ahead: e.g. 10 minutes, 30 minutes, 1 hour, 2 hours, end of day. Anticipate changing conditions and consider the later consequences of earlier decisions. Be flexible.

At the end of the day, review the trip together. Discuss key moments, issues arising, what worked well, what needs to change next time. Be open, share, accept constructive criticism. Aim to become a stronger team with every trip.

Gogarth 2

Route Choice: Macro & Micro

Consider route choice in two ways: the overall paddling area (macro) and the water track from beach to headland to bay (micro). Good route choice involves a suitable paddling area for the expected conditions and the ability of the group. Within this overall paddling area, if we ‘shape a good course’ from ‘safe zone’ to ‘safe zone’, we can find the conditions that the group are seeking. This does not necessarily mean avoiding more challenging water, but does involve good timing, selection of suitable waypoints and correct paddling speed/direction.

Bad route choices are often a cause of sea kayaking incidents: for example, a group launching into rapidly-increasing sea conditions that quickly demand too much of group members; a group swept into a tide race due to poor route choice upstream of the race; kayakers in steeper breaking waves following a route through shallow water and/or reflected waves. Good route choices help to achieve trouble-free paddling days and reinforce good communication within sea kayak groups.

Some Tips:

Be realistic about the overall paddling area before committing to the journey. Does the launch point offer a range of options and allow the group to experience the various conditions that will be encountered, or is there an immediate commitment to the journey?

Lower commitment: for example, a bay with gradually more exposed conditions offshore, allowing warm up and preparation for the demands of the journey.

Higher commitment: for example, a downwind journey with immediate exposure to more challenging conditions and few landing zones.

Discuss and agree a series of shorter legs, linking locations where the group can stop and consider the next section of the journey. Decide what course to shape between waypoints, taking into account specific hazards en route. For example, if approaching a zone of rougher water off a headland, shape a course to a ‘safe zone’ before committing to more challenging conditions.

If it hard to establish waypoints and safe zones, identify key moments in the day when, for example, weather and/or tidal conditions are expected to change. Use these ‘decision points’ to discuss and agree strategies for the next section of the trip.

Remember that there is often a number of different routes to link two waypoints. Factor in your understanding of the group’s abilities vs. the anticipated conditions when shaping a course.

p mawr team

Positioning & Line of Sight

In a group of paddlers with equal skills and experience, ‘leadership‘ is often shared throughout the day, with group members taking on navigation, route choice, safety/rescue and launching/landing tasks, according to the specific demands of each situation. In groups of differing abilities, more experienced team members often provide guidance and support to less able paddlers. This can include positioning (in relation to the rest of the group and relevant hazards) to safeguard other group members and to reduce the demands of the conditions.

Where a formal leader is responsible for a group of less-experienced paddlers, good positioning becomes an important element of safer sea kayaking. Again, we need to consider the abilities of group members vs. the paddling conditions (people and places). If within the team’s comfort zone, we can be more relaxed about positioning; in more challenging water, good positioning is an essential component of risk management, route choice and communication.

Some tips:

Remember the principle of remaining between the group and the relevant hazard. In some locations the decision is a straightforward one, for example when crossing the mouth of a bay in offshore winds; in more complex situations good positioning is less obvious and may require a compromise between competing demands.

Take a dynamic approach to positioning – it’s often easier to move to a new place in the group than to ask other group members to change their position.

It is often a good idea to be on one side of the group or another, with all group members within easy communication. Line of sight is easily maintained; it’s also easier to make course changes and to check that the paddling speed is appropriate for all group members.

Positioning on the down-tide or downwind side of the group can make it much easier for a ‘leader’ or ‘navigator’ to make a course change up-tide or upwind, ‘squeezing’ the group onto a new heading simply by making the desired course change. In wind against tide conditions, you’ll have to decide which is the most important concern.

If group members are to the left or right of a ‘leader’, you can simply brief the group to respond to the leader’s course changes. An instruction for example, to paddle ‘on my left, within 50m of me’ gives the rest of the group all the information they need at that moment.

When rock hopping take up positions that maintain line of sight, in a position of usefulness in case of capsizes. Try to find places that achieve both these aims – and work together as a team to maintain communication among the rocks. We face similar challenges when launching/landing and when dealing with surf zones.

There may be times when a ‘leader’ must move to the front or the back of the group, for example if approaching a surf beach or if entering a calmer bay from more challenging sea conditions. If we can anticipate these occasions, it is much easier to adopt a dynamic approach to positioning, moving to a new place in the group in good time to take appropriate action.

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Conclusion:

Safer sea kayaking for groups is a complex matter. This model is a useful starting point for paddlers seeking group management guidance, but can also risk isolating mutually-dependent factors. The principles overlap and influence each other – ideally, we should keep in mind all four elements throughout a sea kayak trip. With practice and experience, it can become second nature to consider all factors at all times; as we gain experience, it’s also helpful to focus on each element, to better understand its application in an overall approach to safer sea kayaking.

In conclusion, I hope the ideas contained in this article will reinforce existing good practice and will provide a start point for further discussion among sea kayak groups.

Tide race skills: Crossing the line!

Sea Kayak Essentials: Rough Water Boat Handling
Crossing the Line – a self-help guide to mastering moving water

It seems that sea kayakers are never far from an eddy line – our tidal waters are full of headlands, islands, channels and river mouths that constrict the flow and create zones of water moving in opposite directions. Even famously non-tidal paddling destinations such as Scandinavia (excluding Norway!), the Great Lakes and the Mediterranean can boast currents and eddy lines to keep the local paddling community on its toes. Itʼs no surprise therefore, that the ability to cross these lines is a key skill for many paddlers.
This article take a look at the skill of moving from one zone of water to another – thereʼs plenty of information here to improve your confidence over those mysteriously swirling waters. If the fast water of a tide race already holds no fears for you, there are a few new ideas here to experiment with and, hopefully, to develop your eddy line moves. Many of the balance, boat trim and posture ideas explored in previous articles are particularly relevant to the skills outlined here.

Swellies 1

Getting started

Itʼs all too easy to imagine powerful tide races when we talk about moving water skills, but letʼs leave those oceanic beasts well alone for now. What we really need is a simple area of moving water with safe water downstream, a few well defined eddies, room to maneuver and an easy route back upstream. Many tidal channels, river mouths and coastal areas have excellent training venues. The key is to find a place where you can work on refining skills without the consequences that more exposed locations can create. In this article I refer to all venues as ʻtide racesʼ as a generic description for any suitable venue.
Itʼs a good idea to kayak with a couple of other people, for safety and for motivation when working through the range of exercises. Itʼs always more fun to paddle in company!

Check out the big picture & zoom in on the detail

It’s easy to get disorientated by the complex flow of water in a tide race – even simple moving water contains subtle changes in speed and direction that can appear baffling at first sight. Itʼs a good idea, therefore, to look at the overall scene and ask yourself a few questions:

Whatʼs the overall picture – which direction is main tidal stream flowing? Are there significant eddies that are feeding into the tide race – where are they? Whatʼs the wind strength-direction? Is it creating ʻwind-withʼ or ʻwind-againstʼ tide conditions? Are the eddies identifiable – are the rocks creating them visible?

It may be helpful to view the tide race from a different perspective – if a convenient headland allows you to get a little higher, the new vantage point can reveal water movements otherwise invisible from sea level. This new viewpoint can also help you to plan routes between eddies and across zones of faster water.

Itʼs also important to look at the detail of the environment – recognising the exact direction and speed of water is important in choosing the correct boat angle and position on the eddy line. Try to zoom in on precise movements of water – there may be small changes of direction where water flows around rocks or over underwater obstructions, or changes in
speed in different sections of the race. Identifying these will help greatly in planning accurate moves across the eddy lines.

n stack justine 3

Itʼs all won and lost in the eddy

If youʼre planning to leave an eddy and head into the faster water, remember that you have, at this moment, complete control over what happens next. Youʼre free to choose an exact point to cross the eddy line, youʼre able to select a specific place inside the eddy from where to begin the move, and youʼre able to choose the boat angle, speed and paddle strokes to make the move youʼve planned. Take time to choose all these elements, check that they combine well together and consider your intended outcome. Are you planning to turn quickly downstream or make a longer radius turn away from the eddy line? Are aiming to cross the fast water towards another eddy? Or are you setting up to surf a wave? If you know where youʼre intending to go, youʼve a much better chance of getting there…

Small changes & big differences

When practising turns on flat water, small changes in boat speed, trim and angle tend to produce small differences in outcome. For example, if we edge a little more the boat will be a little more maneuverable – and we therefore experience a slightly tighter turn. This progressive change in results creates easily-understood feedback and allows us to experiment freely with the variables that control the turn.

On moving water, however, the powerful dynamic of moving water creates forces on the kayak that magnify the effects of small changes in elements of our technique. For example, when crossing an eddy line, a small change in boat angle – say, increasing the angle of the kayak in relation to the water flow from 10 to 20 degrees – can produce a dramatically different arc and speed of turn. These ʻbig differencesʼ resulting from ʻsmall changesʼ can catch us out, leaving us fighting the unexpected movement of the kayak. The answer? Try to make the ʻsmallestʼ change to the your boat angle, measure the resulting difference in the move and make another ʻsmallestʼ change. This incremental approach will help to refine your ability to process the feedback from the kayak and will help to develop more precise paddling skills.

Remember, on moving water small changes make big differences! Lead with the head & stay ahead of the boat.

Many people focus on not ʻleaning upstreamʼ to avoid ʻcatching the flowʼ with their upstream edge. The confusion of figuring out which is the ʻupstreamʼ edge can lead to wobbly turns, less confident moves and capsizes. Thereʼs an easy solution to this – look again at the flow of water, identify the eddy line and imagine which way your kayak is likely to turn as you go from one zone of water to another. Itʼs really quite easy to do this, especially if there are other kayakers around. Pick a paddler, track their progress through the water and observe which way their kayak turns as the cross eddy lines. Got it? Now letʼs look at confidently making those same moves.

As you approach a new zone of water, anticipate the direction the kayak will turn and turn your head and shoulders in this direction, looking for a new target on the inside of the turn.
This way, youʼll stay ahead of the kayakʼs movement and will feel the kayak “catch upʼ with you as you complete the turn. Itʼs a dynamic way to commit to your turns and provides a balanced position for your to control the kayakʼs movement.

We can combine this ʻlead with the headʼ approach with other related posture changes that will help in faster water. If you experiment on flat water with a rotation of the head and shoulders – say, to the left – youʼll notice that the left edge of the kayak naturally drops a little as your body weight shifts to the left corner of the seat. This can be a relaxed way to change the hull shape and is highly effective when combined with a heightened awareness of your upper bodyʼs position over (or beyond) the kayak.

Itʼs also a good idea, especially in more challenging water, to combine upper body rotation into the turn with a forward weight shift. This places your upper body over your lower knee, keeps your centre of gravity closer to the kayak and is an excellent coping strategy in bigger water. Youʼre still well placed to paddle dynamically in this position and you can adopt a more upright body position as soon as your sense of balance allows.

matt swellies

Experiment with one element at a time

Boat speed, boat angle, boat position on the eddy line, paddle stroke selection, boat trim and body position are all key elements of successful moves when crossing eddy lines. The problem is, itʼs seems terribly complicated to work out the specific effect of technique changes. Every turn can feel different and finding consistency can seem very elusive. Hereʼs a simple strategy for organising your own practice and taking your performance to the next level:

Start in an area of moving water within your comfort zone, with a working area and eddies that you can return to after each set of moves. Warm up with a few crosses and eddy turns, simply using techniques that youʼre comfortable with. Once youʼre feeling ready to experiment, focus more carefully on the elements of your existing technique. Try to cross the same point on the eddy line, using the same boat speed, angle and trim, the same body position and paddle strokes.

Now you can start to vary one element of your technique – for example, try increasing or reducing boat speed while maintaining the boat angle and position. Then, try making small changes to boat angle while keeping the boat speed constant. You can also keep boat speed and angle the same while experimenting with changes in posture – body rotation and weight shifts.

This is one way to vary practice – an important component in improving performance. You can also build variety into your practice by working with a variety of eddies and by finding a variety of routes between eddies. Versatility and awareness are the key components of quality performance – varied practice goes a long way towards achieving this goal. Here are a few exercises to help develop awareness:

Boat speed: cross eddy lines at 40%, 60%, 80% and 100% of your maximum speed
Boat angle: when leaving eddies, experiment with angles between 5 and 45 degrees. When entering eddies, experiment with all boat angles

Boat trim: use a 1 (almost flat) to 5 (personal maximum) edging/leaning scale to explore the effect of changing boat trim

Body position: pick a target, focus on it, open your upper body in the new direction and ʻleadʼ the kayak towards that target. Experiment with upright posture and forward weight shifts.

Paddle Strokes: make moves using paddle strokes that maintain boat speed, then experiment with paddle stroke combinations that maximise the turning effect on the eddy line. There are more ideas on this later in the article.

Eddy line awareness: stop the kayak between zones of water, with your hips directly over the eddy line. Try spinning the boat without moving fully into one zone or another, leading with the head to encourage your kayak to ʻfollowʼ your body.

You can also make eddy turns and crosses in reverse, building awareness of the effect of boat angle and speed without the distraction of being able to see where youʼre going!
The list of experimentation exercises you can follow is almost endless – use your imagination to build your own repertoire of varied practice.

PTC standing wave - surfing skills

Plan your route & visualise the moves

Itʼs vital to have a plan of action before you leave the security of the eddy or, if youʼre already in the flow, before your target eddy gets too close. If youʼre in the calm water of an eddy youʼll have time to visualise your chosen move. Try to clear your mind of distracting negative thoughts, focus on the corridor of water through which your kayak will move, imagine the path you and the boat the will take and picture the body movements-paddle strokes youʼll need. If youʼre able to safely close your eyes, visualise yourself making the move and focus on a successful outcome. Take confidence from the ʻvideoʼ youʼve just enjoyed, prepare to make the move and commit to it. If youʼre unable to see a successful outcome, run through it again in your mind and try to work out what changes are needed to make a successful move.

Of course, youʼre unlikely to visualise every move and at times the action occurs quickly enough to make such rehearsal strategies unrealistic. But practising this skill can help enormously in improving your performance, making visualisation less important in a wider range of conditions.

Eddy lines vs eddy zones

You may have noticed that not all eddy lines are the same – depending on the size/shape of the obstruction and your downstream position, the eddy line may appear as a clearly defined boundary between two zones of water or as an indistinct area of recirculating water. Both situations offer different challenges.

If crossing a clear and sharp eddy line, it is much easier to spot your approach and to time your actions as the kayak crosses from one zone to another. The trade off is that the forces acting on the boat will be much greater, with potentially faster turns. Balance, accuracy and anticipation are essential elements of a successful move. If planning to turn downstream, consider a longer arc with a more streamlined boat angle as the kayak meets the eddy line. If you have to make a tight turn, commit to a broader angle, pre-rotate to spot your downstream target, stay forward with your upper body ahead of your hips and lead the kayak through the turn. This is also a situation where a precise approach to the eddy line will pay dividends – take the time to look carefully at the flow of water, the angle
of the eddy line, your position from the upstream obstruction and the wave shapes in the flow next to your entry point. Small changes will make a big difference!

If planning to make a cross without losing ground downstream, boat angle and speed are vital to success. Choose a sharp (<20 degrees) boat angle and commit to a higher boat speed that will enable you to cross the eddy line as quickly as possible. Imagine yourself beginning to surf a wave before you reach the eddy line, with the ʻrideʼ continuing until you have completely cleared the eddy line. Remember also that an increasing speed of water as you head deeper into the tide race can also cause a turning effect, so maintain your speed well beyond the eddy line.

If crossing wider, less defined eddy ʻzonesʼ, the issues facing us a little different. The turning effect on kayak is reduced, but the turbulent water of the eddy zone can play havoc with our boat speed and angle. As you approach the zone, look beyond it into the target body of water and focus on making a long enough radius turn to completely clear the circulating water. The kayakʼs natural tendency is to turn more tightly than needed, so be ready to make power strokes or even sweep strokes on the inside of the turn. This is a balanced and natural place to work, as your natural body position will be towards the inside of the turn. Aim to maintain forward boat speed, even if you lose your ideal boat angle.

linking ferry glides

Sea kayak turns & white water moves

The subtleties of turning sea kayaks give us the option of using both ʻinsideʼ and ʻoutsideʼ edge turns. On open water, away from eddy lines and breaking waves, these choices are often clear and easy to understand. In moving water, however, it can get a bit confusing. If youʼre luck enough to have a white water kayak background, the answer is simple: when crossing eddy lines, imagine yourself in a very long river boat and do what come naturally! If youʼre new to this game, remember that youʼre edging/leaning to stay in balance and ahead of the kayak as it turns and accelerates between zones of water. Commit to your new course, lead with the head, look where you want to go and the kayak will edge in the right direction. In practice, this results in an inside edge turn.

Between eddy lines, depending on your confidence, you can use all the usual techniques for turning sea kayaks. if youʼre feeling balanced enough, an outside edge turn can be an effective way to spin the kayak in readiness for the next move. So be prepared to mix techniques – just look out for those eddy lines!

Passive turns & active turns

If you find a balanced body position when crossing the eddy line, youʼll be free to experiment with a variety of paddle strokes to control the arc of the turn. Many paddlers lean on a low brace until the boat clears the eddy line, but this is a passive approach that depends upon the kayakʼs speed and angle as it leaves the eddy. If youʼre happy to go for a ʻpassiveʼ turn, work on a more balanced position by applying less blade pressure on the surface of the water. With practice, youʼll soon be able to skim the blade over the top of the eddy line, or even keep the blade out the water completely.

An active or more dynamic approach gives us lots of advantages. We can increase or reduce speed, have a reference point for balance, change boat angle and change the arc of the turn. Try out the following exercises for more versatile turns:

Set a speed and angle approaching the turn and aim to maintain an unbroken forward paddling action throughout the turn. Simply allow the kayak to follow its own arc; your job is to keep paddling! It helps to begin with a fairly sharp initial boat angle.

Repeat the exercise, this time working switching to a series of short power strokes on the inside of the turn as the bow of the kayak reaches the eddy line. This will help to maintain speed and will create a longer arc through the water. You can also replace the power strokes with sweep strokes on the inside of the turn. This can feel more balanced and will help to drive the boat further across the flow.

If youʼre looking for a tight turn, you can switch to reverse strokes to tighten the kayakʼs arc. At its most basic, an increase in blade pressure in the low brace position can help to spin the kayak as you cross the eddy line. For more accuracy and control, try rotating into the turn to place a stern rudder in the water alongside the kayak. As the boat begins to turn over the eddy line, a reverse sweep will tighten the arc – simply choose the necessary blade pressure to control the turn. Remember that good body rotation is needed for this technique and be careful not to stall on the eddy line. A decent approach speed in the eddy can help to reduce this risk.

break in - facing camera 2

Take it to the next level

The exercises outlined here are simple, basic foundations for a solid performance. So what to do next? They work well in a wide range of conditions, so thereʼs no need to unlearn anything when the the water gets faster. Of course, itʼs a good idea to develop accuracy and control in simple situations – ʻhard moves on easy waterʼ. But if youʼre looking to get out into the big stuff, remember to take a progressive approach, test your skills gradually and find yourself a strong supportive group of friends to paddle with. Thereʼs a world of adventure beyond the eddy line, so letʼs cross it with style!

penrhyn mawr 2-7

Sea kayak essentials: Blade awareness

Sea Kayak Essentials: Rough Water Boat Handling
Blade Awareness

Kayaking is a simple sport; sit in a boat, hold a stick, dip it in the water and pull. That’s it really, isn’t it? Want to go faster? Pull a bit harder. Fancy spinning around? A nice wide arc should do it. The devil, of course, is in the detail. If we begin to consider the subtle interaction of catch–power–exit, the contrasting effects of laminar versus turbulent flow, the boat–body– blade relationship, before long we’re submerged beneath an ocean of technical concerns.

If, however, you’d like to keep it simple and develop more effectiveness in your paddle strokes, take a closer look at the ideas and exercises in this article. They might make a difference next time you’re on the water.

Dabbles with Paddles

To tell you the truth, I’m a pretty lazy paddler; I just can’t see the point of working harder than necessary. When paddling in wind and tide, if there’s a more efficient option you’ll find me there. It’s much more fun to reach the beach with energy to spare (it makes the walk to the pub easier). I’m also pretty keen to conserve energy in my boat–blade connections. I discussed more relaxed positions in the kayak in previous articles, but let’s focus on the way we use our blades in this article.

The principles outlined here can help to develop specific paddling skills. If we consider them ‘blade awareness’ exercises, however, we should find them useful every time we dip a paddle in the water whether flat water cruising, surfing, rock hopping or rough water kayaking. Try them in all environments and feel them working for you when different forces are acting on the kayak and paddle.

Equipment Issues

When I took up kayaking the best equipment advice I got was to buy a high-quality paddle. Over the years I’ve used a wide variety of kayaks for all kinds of activities, but my paddle choices have always focused on lightweight models, a glass/carbon construction for a thin blade cross-section and a suitable blade size/ shape and overall length. For the purposes of this article, I’ll assume that you’re holding the best paddle for you.

Sea kayakers are faced with a choice between wings, ‘flat’ blades and Greenland sticks. The fundamentals of their use, especially in forward paddling technique, vary considerably and some allowances for blade shape will need to be made when practising the exercises outlined in this article. Many of the principles described, however, can be applied to all paddle types.

If you make use of ‘modified crank’ shafts or similar, you’ll be familiar with the injury-prevention benefits of the angled shaft and stable blade position that encourage a more relaxed grip on the paddle. The performance advantages of the blade’s extra ‘reach’ at the start of each stroke are also a motive for sea paddlers to use ‘cranks’. The exercises that follow, however, can be practised equally with straight or bent shafts.

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Sticks, Wings and Flat Blades

Just as it is valuable to spend time in different sea kayaks, it also useful to use different means of propulsion from time to time. My background as a UK recreational sea kayaker has exposed me to flat blades for much of my paddling life, and I’ve become pretty familiar with the feel of this blade shape in the water.
In 2011 however, setting off around the coastline of Denmark, I elected to borrow a Greenland stick for the journey. Ten kilometres into the trip, in a loaded kayak and a stiff cross-wind, I was questioning the wisdom of my decision and cursing the apparent lack of power. A couple of days in, the stick and I had reached an understanding. One thousand kilometres later, I had long ceased dwelling on the differences between this hi-tech broom handle and my old familiar blades.

More importantly, my ‘blade awareness’ had experienced a new challenge as my muscle groups learned to respond to the forces generated by an unfamiliar blade shape. Boat speed had been pretty good throughout the trip too, once I got used to the quirks of my new traditional blades.

Back home in Wales, reunited with my old paddles, I felt the benefit of this experience. I seemed to have a heightened awareness of blade angles and pressures, and appreciated the advantages that a month of experimentation had delivered.

I’ve also experimented with wing paddles more recently, and have been impressed with the need to respond to the feedback from the blade as pressure is
applied to the stroke. Resist the movement of the blade and much of the advantage of the ‘lift’ is lost, not to mention the additional energy required to work against the blade’s design. Another 1000 km of wing-powered trials should answer a few questions …

The notion of ‘relaxed power’ with wings is intriguing; witness Mick Berwick making easy work of the Falls of Lora, surfing and rolling with ‘wobbly wings’ in This is the Sea 3. Likewise, Sean Morley, Patrick Winterton and John Willacy, who have all completed committing expeditions in UK waters with these ‘racing blades’, benefiting from the economy of effort that the efficient blade shape delivers (in the right hands).

A couple of years ago I coached Erik, a Danish paddler who had only a few seasons’ experience but went on to paddle the coastlines of Norway, Sweden and Finland in one summer season. Erik was armed with all three blade types, had no particular preference for any, and was keen to develop his abilities with all three paddle types. His openness to experimentation was inspiring and it’s no surprise to me that he went on to achieve his goals.

If you are used to a particular blade type, why not borrow something different for a while? Once you get past the initial unfamiliarity, you might make a new friend for life!

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Blade Feather

The quest for the perfect blade feather can be a holy grail for the kayaker seeking an efficient technique. Take a bunch of top paddlers and you’ll find they use a range of different blade feathers. The reasons for their choices vary although, in most cases, the prevailing argument seems to be ‘it’s what I’ve always used’. I paddle with friends whose chosen feather varies between 0 and 65 degrees, and all have fairly efficient paddling actions judging by their achievements.

With this in mind and determined to crack the mystery, a few seasons ago I embarked on an experiment. My trusty Lendal – set at 65-degrees RH – had faithfully provided 10 years of trouble-free mileage. The new Werner, however, offered the prospect of 180 degrees of choice in 15-degree increments. I gradually reduced the feather over time, all the way to zero. I then built up to 45 degrees LH before returning to zero. I now use a 30-degree RH feather. My conclusions? Anything other than a zero feather felt completely natural – both LH and RH – over time. In rough water, I naturally favoured a small RH feather, probably a consequence of 20 years’ reinforcement. Zero feather felt pretty good at times in lighter conditions, although in windier weather I found it more difficult to maintain a completely relaxed top hand.

My overall aim was to maximise efficiency, find the angle that worked best for me, and reduce wrist injury concerns. I’m happy with 30 degrees RH, although I remain open-minded about future changes. All this experimentation generated at least one tangible benefit: by focusing on a key element of kayaking (the hand–paddle connection), my technique improved greatly during this period. I’d like to think that my ‘feel’ for the paddle blade has improved as a result.

Try it: it’s a fascinating experience to experiment with a wide range of blade feathers. Just watch out for those wayward blade angles!

Get Some Feedback

Our paddles are an important source of feedback to us in lots of situations: the clean ‘catch’ of a well- placed blade in the forward padding cycle; the support provided by a flat blade on the water; the resistance of the blade as we pressure it during a turn. As the blade angle changes and the paddle generates different forces in the water, the feedback changes as a result. It’s really important to receive this information as clearly and
as accurately as possible. To get a feel for this crucial element, try making accurate moves while wearing neoprene gloves. I’ll take cold hands every time!

Sports scientists call this feedback ‘proprioception’, but we don’t need to worry about the jargon. Basically, when we send a message to the relevant muscle groups to move the paddle in a specific way, the subsequent movement generates forces that are in turn received by us as feedback. Our brains then compare the actual movement with the intended outcome.

Some feedback is obvious, but the challenge is to develop awareness of more subtle differences between intention and outcome. It’s a tough task for beginners, who often struggle to ‘feel’ the blade while coping with the alien sensation of holding a paddle shaft. For more experienced paddlers, we often enjoy a quality of feedback that allows us to consider the paddle blades as extensions of our hands.

Inexperienced paddlers can improve their ‘feel’ for the blades by progressively working through hand-paddling, then holding the active blade, then gripping the shaft at the neck of the paddle blade and gradually moving the hand to its final position. This progressive approach can be an effective way to develop proprioception (for example, when acquiring sculling skills).

There are a number of ways in which we can develop the quality of this feedback. The first is to extend the range of paddling conditions in which we feel able to maintain a relaxed grip on the paddle shaft. A relaxed grip allows more subtle changes in pressure and helps to conserve energy. The classic white- knuckle-death-grip in rough conditions may help
us feel securely connected to the paddle, but does little for the exchange of feedback between hand and blade.

One way to develop a more relaxed grip is to periodically experiment with the extremes of hand pressure on the paddle shaft. For a half-dozen paddle strokes, grip your paddle with as much force as you can. Then switch to the opposite extreme, maintaining just enough grip pressure to prevent the paddle dropping from your hands. Now, when you return to your ‘normal’ grip you’ll have a much better sense of how relaxed your hands are on the paddle shaft. You can give that grip a number on a personal 1–10 scale. The final step is to try reducing the tension of your hands by one number or more. Observe how long you can keep a more relaxed grip and whether you can maintain the same number in changing conditions.

We can also improve feedback between hand and paddle by focusing on the smallest changes in technique. For example, during the forward paddling cycle observe the involvement of each of your four fingers on the paddle shaft at different moments. With the blade locked in the water and your active hand ‘pulling’, are all your fingers engaged in the action? Can you relax the last two fingers completely, with the paddle shaft held only by the thumb, first and index finger? As the top hand guides the paddle forward, is your wrist maintaining a straight line between your forearm and the back of your hand, or is there an angle? If so, how much? Can you change it?

This focus on detail trains the brain and body to receive and process the fine changes in technique that can produce big differences in outcomes. High-quality practice time also helps us to develop economy of effort, reducing the likelihood of injury.

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A Slice of Technique

Can you slice your blade through the water? No problem. Can you slice it cleanly, without generating power, without causing the kayak to move from its starting position? OK, that’s a little more difficult.

Starting in a ‘stern rudder’ position, try slicing the submerged blade from the back of the kayak to the front, exiting at the feet. Most ‘flat’ blades have a curve or spine on the back of the blade, creating ‘lift’ as the blade slices through the water. The aim of this exercise is to minimise the lift created by maintaining a neutral blade angle that allows the blade to track alongside the hull of the kayak, generating minimal sideways movement. This ‘pendulum’ slice is the foundation of many effective stroke-linking techniques.

You can develop this exercise in a variety of ways, such as by changing the speed at which the blade moves through the water. This raises the stakes a little with a greater chance for the immersed blade to disappear under the kayak. Keep a light grip with the top hand, ready to let go completely if necessary. You can reduce the speed of the exercise again and work on maintaining an even more relaxed grip.

Also try pausing the slice at its midpoint, with the immersed blade level with your hips. The paddle shaft should be precisely vertical. It’s easier to achieve this if the blade is quite deep in the water, with the top hand no higher than chin level. You can also bring your hands a little closer together and use a shorter paddle.

You can build some variety by trying the same exercise with a moving kayak, both forwards and in reverse. To minimise the turning effect on the kayak, drop the skeg and work on maintaining a clean slice with as little turbulence as possible. You can also develop feedback by practising with your eyes closed. Check the accuracy of the slice with the one-handed version: engage the immersed blade in the water and release your top hand from the paddle shaft. A bit of one-handed practise will convince you of the merits of a fully immersed blade!

Blade Angle: Less is More

You can take the results of the slicing exercises and build them into a variety of techniques, such as moving sideways (stationary and on the move) and turning (bow rudders, if you use them in sea kayaks). The key component of these exercises is to experiment with the amount of blade angle used to achieve the desired outcome. To take a simple example, let’s consider the sculling draw.

Beginning with the slicing exercise, repetition creates a gentle sideways movement of the kayak. You can increase its speed with an increase of blade angle by a few degrees. The challenge is to establish the minimum blade angle needed to achieve an acceptable sideways movement. With less blade angle the kayak may take longer to develop its speed, although each individual movement of the blade will require less effort.

Experimenting with increased blade angles, a point is reached at which the blade begins to ‘break’ its hold in the water and turbulence forms around the blade. The effort needed for each movement of the blade is also much greater, and accuracy is sacrificed.
Returning to a reduced blade angle with heightened awareness of the movement of the blade through the water, the challenge is now to find the optimum angle that combines economy of effort with an effective sideways movement. Combining other principles, such as a relaxed grip, moving kayak and eyes closed, will help to produce a versatile, efficient use of the immersed blade.

These exercises can be applied with a range of other techniques. Other components of the skill will affect the outcome, although here we’re concerned primarily with the effect of changing blade angle.

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Active Hands

This is a simple concept, relating to which hand controls the paddle blade during a technique or sequence of moves. At its core is the principle that the hand closest to the immersed blade, the ‘active hand’, controls the action. This is easy enough when for example moving sideways, although it’s also important to remember the principle of a relaxed grip. If using blades with feather, you’ll need to accommodate the different blade angles by rotating the paddle shaft in your non-control hand before the stroke. Most experienced paddlers do this automatically, but it’s worth checking the symmetry of your paddling on left and right. Does one side feel more comfortable than another? Take a close look at your active hand: is your wrist angle identical on both sides, or is there a small difference? If so, a simple drill can help:

Hold your blades at arms’ length in front of you, the paddle shaft across the kayak. Check out the blade angle of your control hand: it’s probably poised to drop into the water for a forward paddle stroke. Now focus on your non-control hand, and change the blade angle until it is also perfectly angled for the entry of a forward stroke. Is your wrist perfectly straight? It should be. If that’s easy enough, now move the blade into various positions, such as stern rudder, draw stroke or low brace. Can you maintain left-right symmetry now?

The aim of course is to allow for the different blade angles in a smooth action, contained within the technique itself. Isolating the moment when the blade angle changes, as an awareness exercise, helps to build accuracy and consistency.

When controlling the immersed blade with the active hand, remember to apply as light a grip as your comfort in the conditions allows.

One final exercise is to try a variety of one-handed moves, for example stern rudder or hanging draw. Place the immersed blade where you want it and release the non-active hand. It should be equally easy (or tricky!) on both left and right.

Feel the Pressure

The pressure we apply to our strokes is another key variable in developing blade awareness. A simple experimentation exercise involves spinning the kayak on the spot. Gentle blade pressure will produce a slow turn but will also encourage a ‘clean’ entry of the blade and a minimum of turbulence. Gradually building the blade pressure will increase the speed of the turn, but will also place greater demands on a precise ‘locking’ of the blade in the water at the start of each stroke. A point is reached where an increase in blade pressure will simply create a turbulent blade and a loss of control. Interestingly, this problem can be overcome by increasing the edge or lean of the kayak. The more manoeuvrable hull shape will turn more quickly and will allow a more powerful blade pressure.

You can test this principle by making some inside- edge turns on the move. The added boat speed demands a precise blade entry at the start of the turn. If you commit to a stern rudder position, pause a second to ensure the blade is ‘locked’ in the water and then drive the active blade away from the kayak, far greater blade pressure can be applied. Combined with boat lean, this produces a tight and dynamic turn.

In every paddling skill we can experiment with changes in blade pressure. We might find an optimum pressure in specific situations, although the real benefit will be in the awareness it develops of the feedback we can receive from the active blade. So let’s get practising!

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Stroke-Linking Ideas

The real test of blade awareness lies in the ability to smoothly link individual strokes into a seamless combination of moves. The slicing exercises described in the article make a great starting point. Here are a few others to experiment with:

• Stern rudder: slice forwards to a vertical paddle level with the hips, then return to stern rudder

• Repeat exercise: open blade angle to create a sideways movement (hanging draw)

• Repeat exercise: slice blade in front of hips to create a turn towards the active blade.

• Link two forward paddle strokes on the same side of the kayak without removing the blade from the water

• Reverse sweep stroke, rotate blade level with hips, pull the power face of the balde towards your knee

• Draw the active blade towards the knee, change blade angle and convert to a power stroke

• Reverse kayak, apply ‘stern rudder’ at bow of kayak, experiment with blade angle to create small changes of direction

• Same exercise, slice active blade level with hips back to reverse stern rudder

• Active blade vertical in water level with hips, apply reverse blade angle to create ‘sculling push’

• Hanging draw, switch to reverse blade angle to create ‘hanging push’

• Cross-deck hanging draw

• Sit stationary, write your name with your paddle blade. Don’t remove the blade from the water!

As these exercises become more familiar – on both sides – you can up the challenge by practising in more demanding conditions.

Conclusion

The ideas and exercises outlined in this article form only the starting point for exploring the hand–paddle connection and developing the effectiveness of increased blade awareness. There are many other stroke-linking exercises that can sharpen our skills in this respect; you’ll find plenty in Doug Cooper’s Sea Kayak Handling books (Pesda Press) and in our Kayak Essentials DVD series.

Blade awareness is a key element of effective forward paddling and a future article will address this skill.
So now you have a few blade-awareness ideas to take on the water next time. Getting to know our paddles a little better is an excellent goal that can only help develop our boat-handling skills. These, combined with good body positions as explored in earlier articles, give us a solid foundation in sea kayaking techniques in all conditions.

Sea kayak essentials: Are you sitting comfortably?

Are you sitting comfortably?
Dynamic posture for sea kayakers

In the last OP issue, we took a closer look at changing the sea kayak’s hull shape to influence its maneuverability. The key aim was to alter the boat’s ‘footprint’ in the water, using balance techniques that kept body tension to a minimum.

Here we consider the importance of an effective posture when sea kayaking – creating a more efficient power transfer from paddle to kayak and making best use of the ocean’s energy. It’s time to switch from passenger to pilot!

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Dynamic Posture

Are you sitting comfortably? Are you, really? Can you imagine sitting in comfort for the next two, four, ten hours – or however long your next sea kayaking adventure takes you – between landings? If you’re reading the paper version of OP, grab your magazine and sit on the floor with it. If you’ve got the e-version, save it to your iPad and do the same. Let’s take a closer look at effective posture in our sea kayaks.

In an ideal world we would all be lithe paddling athletes with excellent muscle tone and flexibility…of course, we’re all in that category! Reality dictates that’s not the case for most of us, squeezing sea kayak adventures into busy lives with little time to properly develop our paddling-related muscle groups. Accepting this, we can still aim to make the best of our present shape and form, and try to achieve small changes that will make big differences in our paddling efficiency. Let’s take a look at a few simple ways in which we can improve our paddling posture.

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With an upright, dynamic posture, you should be able to rotate freely, remaining relaxed and tall in the kayak.

Sitting Tall

So, you should be on the floor by now – sit on a cushion if you like, we could be here for a while! One important way in which we can improve and develop our posture is to sit as ‘tall’ as possible. Sitting tall will allow us to rotate more freely, to separate upper- and lower-body movements and to stay more relaxed in our kayaks. It’s worth developing this ability, which depends in part on the shape we give to our lower back. To improve awareness in this area of the body, experiment with two extremes:

First, slump down into a ‘low’ sitting position: feel your shoulders drop, your spine become rounded and compressed and your backside flatten onto the floor. You might notice that your lower back changes position as your pelvis tilts backwards.

Now, try to adopt a ‘tall’ sitting position, as if a cord attached to your head is gently pulling you upwards. Notice how your spine straightens and lengthens and how your backside lifts, bringing your body weight slightly forward. Most important, your pelvis tilts forward and your lower back becomes straighter and slightly ‘hollow’. This ‘tall’ position brings benefits to our sea kayaking, as described below.

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An upright posture, with the pelvis tilted forward, enables us to ‘sit tall’ and rotate freely with every paddle stroke, bringing great benefits to our paddling performance.

But how comfortable are you? Do you feel muscular tension or tiredness? Can you maintain this position for long, without fatigue? It’s much harder – and quite revealing – to hold this posture without the support provided by the kayak. It also emphasises two key areas in which we can develop dynamic posture to improve our sea kayaking:

Core Strength

The ‘core’ refers to the muscle groups around the middle of the body that stabilise movement and provide a link between the upper and lower body. When sitting tall, we ‘switch on’ these muscles to engage and maintain body position, rather than relying on the support of backrests and thigh braces to do the job. We can train our bodies very easily to ‘switch on’ the core by practising ‘sitting tall’ at every opportunity – watching TV, driving to work – and when sea kayaking! We may not achieve it 100% of the time, but a bit of quality practice will reap huge rewards in our paddling.

It’s not about developing a ‘six pack’ or any of that nonsense – you’re reading the wrong magazine, I’m afraid! Abdominals are only a small part of the ‘core’, which is made up of a large number of muscles from the neck to the lower back, stabilising the spine, pelvis and shoulders and adding to power to the extremities. Paddle your kayak while ‘sitting tall’ and you’ll actively strengthen these muscles, giving your kayaking skills a stronger, more balanced platform for performance.

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With an upright, dynamic posture, you should be able to rotate freely, remaining relaxed and tall in the kayak.

Flexibility

This is the place in a technique article when many of you will throw down the magazine – I know, there’s nothing more tedious than being told to improve your flexibility! But stick with me, we’ll get it out the way as painlessly as possible…

Still sitting on the floor, sitting tall? Good. Are you experiencing any lower back discomfort, any resistance to tilting the pelvis forwards? If not, you’re lucky – you can skip this bit and go to the next section. Most of us, however, can feel a little tension in the lower back with this posture. The cause is often a relative lack of flexibility in the hamstring and hip flexor muscles that have their origin in the base of the pelvis. If they’re tight, they pull the pelvis back and often create lower back pain. Many sea kayakers battle on with tight muscles for years, working far harder for their miles than necessary.

So, what to do? Well, there are plenty of simple stretches that can improve this area – a quick Google search reveals a host of options. Some years ago I did a lot of stretching to fix a minor lower back problem, and learned a few important lessons on the way:

We’re creatures of habit, so taking 5-10 minutes a day for gentle stretching becomes easier once you’re through the first week. You don’t have to work too hard – your body will respond naturally over time to achieve the new positions you’re seeking. A little discomfort may accompany the sensation of stretching, but not pain. If it hurts, stop.
Some people are naturally flexible, others less so – it’s better not to compare yourself to your paddling friends.

Don’t overdo it – 10 minutes of gentle stretching after exercise is often enough.
If – like me – you get bored easily, distract yourself by reading a couple of OP articles or watching a chapter of the latest sea kayak DVD. The hamstring and hip flexor stretches are quite compatible with this ‘lazy’ approach! Stretching can be quite addictive – beware, you might sell your kayak to buy a mat and leotard…

Lizzie Bird’s recent article included a variety of stretches – here’s another to get you started:www.sportsinjuryclinic.net/sport-injuries/thigh-pain/tight-hamstring-muscles/stretching-tight-hamstrings

Boat-Body Connections

It’s time to get up off the floor and sit down again – in your sea kayak. If you can’t get on the water, find a soft area where the boat sits flat without too much lateral movement. Let’s compare the feeling of ‘sitting tall’ on the floor with the same exercise inside the kayak – do its size, footrest position, thigh braces and backrest allow a comfortable ‘tall’ position, or are you more constrained by the posture you’re forced to adopt?

Starting with the seat, find the most natural position for your backside – check that it allows a comfortable position without pressure points. You’ll need to relax the back strap to find this starting point.Now you need to consider the position of the footrest. If you’ve a bulkhead footrest, hopefully it’s adjustable or can have layers of foam added and removed.

Experiment first with positions that are too long and too short for your leg length. A footrest too far away will force you to stretch down the kayak and will hinder a dynamic, forward posture for the upper body – it’s therefore tempting to get a snug fit by bringing the footrest much closer. Many paddlers feel more secure with solid points of contact – the classic white water ‘frog’s legs’ position, however, with the heels together, toes splayed out and thighs pressed under the deck of the kayak, can seriously reduce your ability to ‘sit tall’ in the boat.Try it, and experiment with titling your pelvis forward – feel the resistance?

If you need convincing, adopt this ‘tight’ position and check out your upper body body rotation – it’s much harder, and requires more muscular energy to rotate freely in the kayak. The resulting lack of flexibility can affect paddling performance in many different ways.So give yourself a little more space inside the kayak – length the footrest a little, bring your feet into a more upright position with the feet less splayed out – and allow your legs to drop a little from under the deck of the kayak.

Finally, adjust your back rest to ensure that it provides a little support if you need it, or ideally adjust it so it lightly touches your lower back when ‘sitting tall’. Above all, it should be unobtrusive – too tight a position will affect you comfort and flexibility.

Now get out on the water – and be ready to make small adjustments to find a comfortable sitting position that combines upright posture, positive foot pressure against the footrests and freedom to rotate with excessive effort.

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With only a light grip on the points of contact inside the kayak, I’m able to stay relaxed in moving water with independent movements of the upper and lower body.

Paddling Lightly

It’s time to get afloat and experiment with your body-kayak connections. For these exercises you’ll need a venue with conditions that comfortably challenge you – an ‘interesting’ sea state for your level, but not a ‘difficult’ one. To build awareness of your interaction with the kayak, check (in the protection of the bay), the tensions in your points of contact:

1. Press each foot hard against the footrest, then relax each foot completely.

2. Grip the kayak tightly with your legs, then relax them completely.

3. Shift your body weight from one side of the centre line to the other, then return to a
central position.

4. Rotate your upper body, checking how much resistance there is with less/more pressure on your points of contact.

5. Change the boat’s footprint in the water with weight shifts/leg pressure, checking your sense of balance and comfort.

Now it’s time to paddle out into the conditions, observing the changing tension/relaxation in your body as the sea state increases. In green (unbroken) waves, can you ‘paddle lightly’, with only gentle input from your points of contact? In other words, can you allow the kayak to ‘follow’ the surface of the water as it passes under your kayak, or do you grip the boat and work to keep it ‘level’ in this dynamic environment? You may need to experiment with footrest and back rest positions, to compare looser and tighter set ups.

Clearly, we can conserve a great deal of energy by ‘paddling lightly’, remaining relaxed in the kayak and only ‘gripping’ the kayak when paddling in broken waves, turning quickly or making extreme changes to the boat’s footprint. With an upright posture and an active core, we can allow the kayak to move under us while the upper body remains balanced over this moving object.

If you feel a little uncomfortable with this ‘relaxed’ approach, remember that changes in technique can bring these negative responses. As you get used to the changes, your mind will accept your new posture – and your body will learn to balance effectively without conscious instructions from the ‘pilot’!

So much for effective body position – but what are we going to do with it? How can ‘sitting tall’ and ‘dynamic posture’ actually help our sea kayaking performance? In simple terms, dynamic posture allows us to move more freely in the kayak, to rotate the head and upper body, shift weight forward and back, separate lower and upper body movements, and to react to the ever-changing ocean environment. Let’s find a few examples.

OP03.12.4Sitting tall in the kayak allows me to make effective, powerful paddle strokes with a full upper body rotation.

Power Transfer

As sea kayakers we spend the vast majority of our time paddling forwards. Each paddle stroke requires a rotation of the upper body to enter the active blade as far forwards as possible. A free rotation of the upper body, with a relaxed sitting position and good posture, will reduce the effort required to achieve this ‘entry’ position. We can conserve this energy or channel it into the power phase of the stroke – increased speed, more waves, more fun!

To test this technique, pause between paddle strokes and observe how much resistance you feel when rotating fully before the entry of the paddle blade. Are you sitting tall? Is your arm fully extended – or your elbow bent? Are your gripping the paddle shaft tightly – or are your fingers open and relaxed? It’s far easier to relax your hands with effective upper body rotation.

Dynamic posture can also develop your turning skills. A full body rotation will allow you to place the active blade in the water in an effective position towards the front or back of the kayak, with an efficient power transfer from blade to boat. We can apply fewer strokes to turn the kayak, with more accuracy and power.

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Dynamic posture even allows me to look at where I’ve been and where I’m going!

Body Rotation

Perhaps the best advantage of dynamic posture is the ability to rotate freely in the kayak. In fast-moving environments such as surf or tide races, the ability to ‘lead with the head’, to open the upper body towards our next target and to stay ahead of the kayak’s movement, is a vital element of effective rough water paddling. Crossing eddy lines, riding waves, turning in broken water – all require the combined skills of boat trim and body position.

One simple way to develop these skills is to practise foundation turning skills on flat water. With both outside- and inside-edge turns, lead with the head and shoulders by looking into the inside of the turn, focusing on a target over the inside shoulder. Focus on maintaining an upright posture throughout, keeping your centre of gravity over or slightly forward of the hips.

In conclusion, dynamic posture can be a satisfying element of your paddling technique to develop. Improvements in flexibility combined with good body position will improve your balance, reduce the effort needed to make your moves and will help you you to avoid injury, paddle further and faster, sea kayak more easily and have more fun.

So get out there, work on the exercises introduced here and step your paddling up a gear!

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Barry enjoys the ride as his kayak finds the sweet spot on a North Stack wave. Although he appears to be leaning back, his weight remains centred over his hips as the bow drops down the wave face.

Sea kayak essentials: Free the kayak, feel the performance!

Sea Kayak Essentials: Rough Water Boat Handling
Boat Trim – free the kayak, feel the performance!

In the last article I introduced a way of focusing on the components of skilled sea kayak performance in rough water by identifying ‘five essentials’: boat speed, boat angle, boat trim, body position and stroke linking. This article takes a closer a look at one of these elements: boat trim.

Let’s begin by establishing what I mean by ‘boat trim’. This is a general description of the shape of the kayak’s outline in the water; its ‘footprint’ if you like, the shape of the kayak where it meets the water and the view you would have of the hull from directly below your kayak.

Different kayaks have different footprints: some are longer, their ‘waterline length’ influenced by their dimensions and ‘rocker’. Some are wider and some have their widest point in front of or behind the kayak’s mid-point. The same kayak can have a different footprint on different days: a heavier paddler can give the kayak both a longer and wider outline; and waves passing under the kayak can momentarily change the kayak’s footprint as the hull moves from trough to crest and back again.

A paddler can actively change a kayak’s footprint by using ‘boat trim’: to a lesser extent with fore and aft weight shifts; and to a much greater extent by making lateral changes in the waterline shape of the boat. Most kayakers use the term ‘edging’ to describe this effect.

Enough theory already! This is not an article about boat design, but rather is concerned with the effect that changing the shape of your kayak’s footprint can have on its – and your – performance. One of the most magical experiences of paddling a well-designed sea kayak is the fantastic combination of speed, maneuverability and rough water seaworthiness it offers us – qualities that can only be truly appreciated with an ability to actively change the kayak’s footprint according to the demands of the moment. Sea kayakers wishing to develop their skills in rough water should consider boat trim as a vital, fundamental technique to master.

The Benefits of Boat Trim

The benefits of boat trim are known to many sea kayakers: most contemporary sea kayaks will respond to the asymmetric hull shape of an ‘edged’ kayak. Paddling in light winds, a gentle turn to the kayak’s ‘high side’ is a consequence of the boat following the curved shape of the ‘low side’ where it meets the water. A small or moderate amount of ‘edge’ can create this turning effect without noticeably affecting boat speed.

We often use this principle to good effect: to make small course changes without breaking our forward paddling rhythm; to tighten the radius of an ‘outside edge turn’ as we use sweep strokes to change direction; and to either increase or reduce the ‘weathercocking’ (or upwind turning) effect of a crosswind by ‘edging’ on the upwind or downwind side of the kayak.

More extreme lateral changes in hull shape exert much greater effects on the kayak’s performance. Such changes can produce two major outcomes: the kayak’s maneuverability noticeably increases as the kayak’s waterline length reduces; and the potential hull speed reduces. We can use both these effects to great advantage; the precise outcome will depend upon the duration and amount of change in hull shape, our boat speed at that moment, the combination of paddle strokes used, and the degree to which we are in balance over our kayaks.

Balancing Skills

Let’s dispel any confusion between ‘leaning’ and ‘edging’ – the terms are often used to describe the following actions:

‘Edging’: the paddler’s centre of gravity remains over (or near) the kayak’s centre line as the kayak tilts laterally; the kayaker remains flexible around the body core and makes independent movements of the upper and lower body.

1.'edging'

Changing the hull shape of a stationary sea kayak using ‘edging’ skills. The centre of gravity remains close to the kayak’s centre line, with leg pressure keeping the boat at a constant trim.

‘Leaning’: the paddler’s centre of gravity moves laterally as the kayak tilts laterally; the upper and lower body move as one unit.

2.'leaning'

As a stationary exercise, many paddlers will find it hard to ‘lean’ very far before the upper body’s lateral movement creates a sense of imbalance. Compare this image with those displaying ‘dynamic leaning’.

Kayakers are often coached to the mantra of ‘edging good, leaning bad’. This advice is unhelpful and can hinder skill development, as it implies one ‘technique’ over another; the reality is more subtle – an analogue approach in a digital age! In later articles we’ll take a look at ‘outside edge’ and ‘inside edge’ turns; the different skills involve body positions that might be considered ‘edging’ and ‘leaning’, each a good technique in the right context.

3.edging or leaning?

Relaxed balance over a laterally tilted kayak: the centre of gravity has moved away from the mid line of the kayak but remains able to balance without the support of the paddle.

So let’s take a different view of effective boat trim. Our desire is to create a lateral change in the kayak’s footprint, while remaining in balance. A simple exercise to practise and develop these skills is as follows:

Sit in your stationary kayak and experiment with progressively increasing the lateral changes you make in the kayak’s hull shape. You’ll probably achieve this by increasing the pressure of one leg against the underside of the kayak’s deck. Don’t worry about whether you’re ‘edging’ or ‘leaning’; just focus on the moment when you begin to feel less comfortable and begin to feel the need to either flatten the kayak or to use your paddle for support. And right there is the key point! You are aiming to change the shape of the boat in the water without losing the ability to move your kayak in any direction you choose – you should still be able to paddle forwards, backwards, turn and stop.

Many paddlers like to give numbers to different ‘footprints’, with a zero representing a flat boat and a five the maximum they can change the lateral shape of the kayak without losing balance. One, two, three and four are stages in between these two extremes – it’s a useful way of developing awareness of our body position.

Throughout these exercises, ensure you maintain a relaxed upright posture, sitting slightly forward, with the body core engaged and pelvis tilted forward. We’re about to experiment with lateral weight shifts, but will gain no advantage from leaning back. Don’t do it! (By the way, if you think you’re not leaning back, practise all your exercises while looking down at the surface of the water next to your kayak, just behind your hip. If you can’t look there, you’re leaning back…oh yes you are!). If we lean back, we lose the ability to make subtle changes to the lateral movements of our upper and lower bodies – not good in the rough stuff.

Are you still practising? It’s time to switch your attention to the amount of upper body lateral movement when experimenting with different ‘footprints’. One way to achieve this is to compare the extremes:

Try dropping one edge of the kayak while keeping your upper body as centred as possible over the midline of the kayak. Try not to let your body move laterally, even a single inch towards the low side of the kayak. Check out how much the kayak changes its shape in the water, and also focus on which muscle groups are working – and how hard – to achieve this position.

5.dynamic 'edging'

During an ‘outside edge turn’, the centre of gravity is is close to the mid line of the kayak. The kayak is ‘edged’ using leg pressure, with the upper body rotated into the turn, towards the ‘high side’ of the kayak.

Now try the other extreme. As you drop one edge of the kayak, keep your body core relatively fixed and allow your upper body to move away from the mid line of the kayak. Go as far as you can in this direction before you begin to feel unbalanced (this might not be far!) and make the the same observations as in the first exercise.

6.dynamic 'leaning'

Midway through an ‘inside edge turn’, body weight is committed beyond the low edge of the kayak, but remains balanced with a solidly planted reverse sweep stroke. This ‘dynamic leaning’ produces a dynamic turn!

Now you can start to work between these two extremes, comparing gradual lateral weight shifts and their effect on both the shape of the kayak in the water and the muscular tension needed to hold that position. With practice, you’ll be able to find an optimal posture that allows a combination of maximum change in hull shape, least muscular tension and a feeling of balance that allows the paddle to be freely used in a variety of ways.

The results could leave you with your body weight centred somewhere near the bottom corner of the kayak seat when the kayak is tilted laterally. This can be a comfortable, relaxed place to be…

Developing the Skills

While working on the exercises above, experiment with upper body rotation, turning the head and shoulders towards the low side of the kayak. You might notice that you can achieve the same change in hull shape with a little less muscular tension. This more relaxed position will allow you to fine-tune the kayak’s hull shape, and to conserve your energy. Less fatigue, more miles, more waves! You might also notice that your body weight more naturally sits in the bottom corner of your kayak seat, a reference point to which you can return when making more dynamic moves.

It’s time to develop this skill, so try the following progressions:

Work on left and right – don’t develop a weak side. If one side feels less precise or comfortable, spend more time practising until it becomes more skilled.
Keep experimenting with the variables – you’re trying to develop a versatile, responsive skill. Practise different lateral weight shifts, use the 0-5 values, find relaxed positions.
Try all the above exercises while the kayak is moving – if you paddle a short leg with the skeg down you’ll reduce the kayak’s tendency to turn when you change the hull shape.
Practise your boat trim skills while reversing, turning, stopping.
If you’ve come this far in a flat water venue, begin the whole process over again in slightly more challenging conditions – a few small waves will do for now. In fact, you can apply the 0-5 values to paddling conditions, with a 5 being the limit of your comfort zone. Work progressively and gradually until you begin to feel more comfortable with these skills in a wide range of conditions.

It’s often a good idea to observe the performance of a fellow paddler. Be careful however, with direct comparisons, as the variables of body size/weight and boat design can encourage very different weight shifts. A small paddler in a stable kayak will inevitably ‘lean’ much more to effect a change in hull shape and will be able to laterally move their centre of gravity a long way before feeling ‘unbalanced’. The opposite will be true for a larger padder in a less stable kayak. Many of us will work with variables somewhere between these two extremes.

8.dynamic 'leaning' in rough water

The same ‘inside edge turn’ in rough water follows the same principles for success. A confident commitment to the weight shift and good timing ensures a successful move.

Applications

The exercises listed above will develop what I consider a core skill. They are a key element of many sea kayak ‘moves’ and combine with other fundamentals such as posture, boat speed and stroke linking. We’ll take a look at specific applied skills in later articles; for now, effective boat trim is a worthwhile skill to develop in its own right. You’ll find that your turns, forward paddling and balancing all improve as a result. Work on these exercises regularly and you’ll see rapid results.

Conclusion

I’ve attempted to highlight the importance of the ability to make small, moderate and extreme changes in your kayak’s ‘footprint’ while remaining relaxed and balanced. If we can achieve this skill in challenging conditions, we will unlock the amazing performance that our sea kayaks can deliver. Next time you’re on the water, check out your boat trim skills, work through a few exercises, set some goals and begin the process of taking your sea kayaking to the next level!

9.flat boat!

Sometimes it’s just a good idea to sit upright and keep a flat kayak!

Sea kayaking: The 5 essentials

Sea Kayak Essentials: Rough Water Boat Handling
The 5 Essentials

I’ve been coaching sea kayaking for about twenty years now in the dynamic and challenging waters of the UK coastline. During this time I’ve also coached at a similar level in white water kayaking, alpine skiing and windsurfing and it’s often struck me that while these sports demand different techniques, the core skills are remarkably transferable. I’ve met many ‘talented’ individuals who seem to cross over with ease between activities and environments, taking with them the same fluent performance.

Are these people the ‘lucky few’? Or can we all unlock the potential for high level performance in our chosen sport? Perhaps everyone can discover the secrets of precise, relaxed boat control in rough water environments. Don’t worry – there’s no need to swap your sea kayak for a surfboard, mountain bike or snowboard! The truth is, the best rough water kayakers take the same approach to their skill development as the best surfers, bikers and boarders. They develop an unshakably solid base of foundation skills that underpin their performance in big water. They can paddle in tide races because they can paddle. The evidence is clear in their relaxed efficiency on flat water. Many paddlers, entanced by the wonder of our fantastic sea kayaking environment, miss out on this crucial area of core skill development – and never return to it. So let’s go back there together!

This series of articles will break down and explain the key components of skilled sea kayaking performance, provide practical exercises and progressions for self-learning and will offer a strip-down rebuild of your paddling techniques in rough water. It’s a big subject, far beyond the scope of one article. To kick start the series I’ve chosen five images, taken this summer in my local tide races of Penrhyn Mawr and North Stack, that illustrate the core foundations of effective kayaking performance. I call them ‘The 5 Essentials’. They underpin advanced paddling technique in all environments, can be developed in flat water venues and interact together to give us the speed, control, balance, coordination, timing and power to paddle with grace and control in the challenging conditions of the ocean environment.

Later articles will focus on each of ‘The 5 Essentials’ in detail; this month I will introduce them together and take a look at their application in tidal races and other environments.

My 5 Essentials are:

Boat Speed
Boat Angle
Boat Trim
Body Position
Stroke Linking

The 5 Essentials are inter-related, of course: if we change one element within a skill we often change other elements, either as a consequence or in order to effect the original change.
The images presented here clearly show how these key components can work in harmony with great results!

1-intro

Barry, Justine and Marcus enjoying the waves at North Stack, Anglesey North Wales

Boat Speed
This concept is easy to understand on flat water: the effort we put into each paddle stroke produces “boat speed” as the kayak slides through the water. In dynamic water, with the combined or cancelling effects of wind, tidal stream, swell and surf waves, it can become less clear just how much “boat speed” we have at any given moment. If we can develop an appreciation of our “boat speed” in the many situations we encounter as sea kayakers, we can use this knowledge to paddle more accurately, efficiently and dynamically.

We may need to produce acceleration when catching waves in a tide race. It’s often necessary to ‘go up through the gears’ over a short distance, between two wave crests to achieve enough speed to make the ‘take off’. There are also moments during a ride when we need to change speeds: to climb higher or lower on the wave face or to respond to the kayak’s changing boat angle. Short bursts of speed as we cross eddy lines are also a core component of the tide race experience. An effective forward paddling action, and sense of balance in the kayak, that allows a smooth transition through a number of paddling speeds will contribute to our paddling efficiency.

2-boat speed

On the top wave at Penrhyn Mawr, I quickly link strokes to accelerate onto the wave face. Boat trim is flat and my posture is upright for maximum speed, while the kayak’s position on the wave allows accurate changes in boat angle.

Boat Angle
We can consider a sea kayak’s “angle” in relation to the different forces acting upon it. Approaching an eddy line in a tide race, we can focus on ‘boat angle’: ninety degrees (across the flow), zero degrees (directly into, or away from, the flow); 45 degrees, and everything in between. Different boat ‘angles’ when paddling into, or with, surf waves can also exert a considerable effect on the outcome of a specific move. On open water, the angle of a sea kayak to the swell as it passes underneath the kayak also influences the boat’s movement through the water.

Choosing the correct angle in relation to any combination of these elements can also improve our accuracy, efficiency and effectiveness.

3-boat angle

Here Justine sets up for a straight run on an smaller wave in the outer race. Boat angle and trim combine effectively for a balanced ride, good body position encourages an effective rudder – and, as ever, Justine is remembering to enjoy herself!

Boat Trim
By this term we specifically mean here both the kayak’s trim laterally (edging and balancing) and the kayak’s trim longitudinally (bow to stern). Both are important and contribute to the hull shape – or “footprint” – that we present to the water; clearly, though, we can much more dynamically alter our kayak’s lateral trim through edging and leaning. Forward and backward weight shifts, however, can make small changes to the kayak’s longitudinal trim, as can good timing in open water conditions, choosing moments when our position on a wave unweights the bow or stern of the kayak.

Consider the following principles:

A sea kayak with a flat hull on the water is typically more directionally stable than a sea kayak hull presented at an angle when edging. The longer waterline length and bow/stern keel line of a flat hull reduces the kayak’s maneuverability. An edged sea kayak is more maneuverable than a sea kayak hull flat on the water. Also, the slightly reduced waterline length and reduced grip of the keel line contribute to the boat’s maneuverability.
A sea kayak with moderate amount of edge will lose only a small amount of boat speed compared to flat hull.
A sea kayak with a radical amount of edge will have noticeably slower boat speed than a lesser degree of edging or a flat boat; it will also be much more maneuverable.

Different situations in tide races can demand different boat trim, according to the shape/direction of the waves and our position among them.

4-boat trim

Here I’m committing to a dynamic turn to set up a better boat angle for the next Penrhyn Mawr wave. An extreme change in boat trim is producing a tight turn with rapid loss of speed: I’m committed to the active blade that is anchoring the entire turn. A second later, I sit upright and begin to accelerate in a new direction to make the take off.

Body Position
This principle refers to all aspects of our dynamic posture: head position, body rotation, fore/aft weight shift, edging/leaning, connectivity within the kayak and tension/relaxation of active/passive muscle groups. Rough water sea kayaking involves dynamic boat movements and wide range of environmental factors such as wind and waves. Good body position is essential for accurate, efficient paddling, for example:

Head Position – a sea kayak turning rapidly on a wave or across an eddy line creates dynamic changes in boat speed and boat angle. By anticipating the kayak’s movement, good head position allows us to ‘lead’ the kayak around the turn, improving balance and efficiency.

Body Rotation – If we can ‘lead’ with the head, we can also ‘lead’ with the upper body by rotating into the turn, or pointing towards our next target. This also ‘opens up’ the upper body for stronger, more effective paddle strokes and encourages better, more consistent edging.

Upright Posture – this dynamic position, sitting upright and slightly forward with the pelvis tilted forwards, maintains a strong, flexible back position, encourages weight shifts to trim the kayak effectively in rougher water and allows the upper and lower body to work independently.

Effective body position therefore encourages good balance, economy of effort, power and accuracy. It underpins all our sea kayaking activities.

5-body position

At the top of the tide race at North Stack, Barry’s boat speed and angle is perfect to slide sideways across the wave face. He’s focused towards his new target, opening up the upper body and encouraging a change in boat trim. Aware of his positioning, he’s taking a moment to actively relax and allow the the kayak to run with a minimum of input from the paddle.

Stroke Linking
Effective use of the previous four essentials will also greatly assist the effective use of the paddle. In dynamic sea kayaking situations, rapid boat movements will demand the efficient linking of different paddle strokes to achieve the desired move, or combination of moves. The following key principles will underpin all effective stroke linking.

Active Blade – this refers to the blade immersed in the water, against which pressure is applied to propel, turn, steer and brace the kayak. The “active hand”, the one nearest to the active blade, controls that blade throughout the stroke. The “non-active hand” should remain relaxed to avoid compromising the accuracy of the paddle stroke.

Light Grip – in any situation a light grip, just firm enough to control the movement of the active blade, will bring many advantages. These include: reduced risk of injury; improved body rotation and effective use of muscle groups; improved feedback from the active blade; more accurate movements and better paddling!

Clean Entry – a clean blade entry, with minimum turbulence, will also bring advantages: a better grip in the water, especially if combined with a full immersion of the active blade; more effective power transfer, with less loss of energy; more accurate, precise moves.

Clean Exit – all the above benefits!

Blade Angle – many moves, especially steering and turning strokes, require a changing blade angle to deflect water flow, generate blade pressure and influence the kayak’s movement. A sea kayak’s relatively high boat speed and relatively low maneuverability require the subtle use of minimum blade angle to get the job done. Less is more! Start with zero blade angle (in relation to the kayak’s movement at that moment) and gently increase angle until the desired effect is achieved (with minimum turbulence).

6-stroke linking

Here Justine is committed to making the take off on this glassy North Stack wave. With the kayak balanced at the crest of the wave, she’s coming a flat boat trim with effective forward paddling and a weight shift to ensure the bow drops towards the trough. A second later, these 5 Essentials all change as she switches to a diagonal left run.

In conclusion, it’s clear that breaking down such complex skills into five related ‘Essentials’ helps us to improve our understanding and to organise our practice time afloat. The real challenge, of course, is putting these components together again to improves our performance. Later articles will focus on unlocking these secrets and giving us the freedom to paddle dynamically in challenging ocean environments.