This article is all about white water paddling skills
By Dave Rossetter – paddlesport instructor at Glenmore Lodge
White water kayaking demands a lot from us physically and psychologically. This could be the physical fitness that we have to keep performing at the end of a tough day or being in the correct state of mind for the type of water that we are paddling. I will delve into these in later articles.
This article is about getting the body in the right position to be able to perform well. We will look at key areas:
Control of blade
Understanding of edging/leaning
These will form the corner stone or your skills as you develop. It is worth practising these on flat or grade one water and understanding them before applying them on anything harder.
A position that will keep you safe and ready to work
Throughout any strokes paddlers need to be aware of their shape and positioning e.g. the Paddler’s Box. This is the space within which your paddling takes place. This is essential to ensure that you keep your paddling joints in a state of readiness and free of injury by not over extending during strokes. This shape will move with you as your perform your strokes.
The position: While sitting in your kayak with an upright forward posture hold your paddle horizontal in front of your chest. Push your elbows forward so that they are slightly in front of the side of your body. Elbows to be lower than your wrists, shoulders down and relaxed. This space between you and the paddle shaft is crucial to helping you remain in balance and have room to move. This will allow any strokes to become easier and put little strain on your joints.
Top tip for paddlers/coaches
The analogy that applies here is that of ballroom dancing. They have the frame where each partner holds this space. This is what we are striving for.
Paddlers: Throughout the sequences of strokes look for your frame or paddler’s box.
Coaches: This is one of these core postural aspects to observe in your performers. Fix this and other areas become clearer and easier for the performer.
Control of the blade
The lower hand controls the blade shape and movement. During strokes and throughout any manoeuvres the blade needs to be controlled and moved with the lower hand taking the lead.
The grip needs to be relaxed but yet positive on the shaft. Too tight and you will not get the blade control or the dexterity through the wrist. Too loose and the water will control the blade and not you.
The wrist needs to be able to move to an open and closed position allowing the blade to move from an open ruddering blade through to a closed power stroke.
Open wrist is when your palm of your hand faces the front and the knuckles move back. Closed wrist is the opposite. The palm faces back and the knuckles rotate forward.
The upper hand needs to allow this to happen. This is best achieved by having a relaxed hand so that the top hand has the freedom to be out and over the water.
Top tip for paddlers/coaches
Paddlers: While practising these strokes, open your top hand a little to release the tension in the upper arm. Can you waggle your fingers on the top hand through the strokes?
Coaches: Use the lower wrist and the fingers in the upper hand as observational flags while watching your paddlers. If they are struggling to link strokes or get the top hand out and over the water, go back to the fundamentals and look at their posture and muscle tension. This all helps with keeping an active blade.
This is where the blade is in a positive position to control/power the kayak.
Fix: Ensure the blade is fully engaged and has caught the water
Weight: Once the blade is fixed get weight on it. This is where you are ready to provide pressure through your feet and up through the connections points with a strong lower handgrip.
Drive: Once the blade is fixed and weighted, drive off the blade.
To hold the kayak on its edge
Edging is one of the techniques used to change the kayak’s profile on the water. It is used in a variety of contexts and within different techniques and skills. The way the kayak turns while it’s on edge has to do with a range of factors including – last stroke used before edging, strokes used while the kayak is on edge and the environment.
- While sitting upright with the kayak flat, raise one knee and straighten the other leg. Keep your horizon line horizontal with your head above the kayak rather than out to one side. You will need to have a loose core to do the above. The upper body also needs to have a slight forward tilt. Your centre of gravity remains inside the kayak with your balance point being over the lower edge.
- Ensure that your contact points are switched on. This is your foot on the low side of the kayak pressing forward. The other foot will the heel pressing down into the hull of the kayak. The knee on the low side will be loose (less pressure than when the kayak is flat) while the knee on the high side is fully pressurised. This will give you a wide base to balance on, as you will be fully pressed into the seat.
Get someone to watch you as you show him or her your numbers. Paddle through a series of movements and get them to watch your edge control. Talk to each other afterwards and compare how it felt to what was seen. Was there a difference?
Use of rating scales
It is useful for you to be able to define what edge you are on. With flat being zero and three being the maximum you can achieve, find your one, two and three edge. Three will be your limit that you can hold without losing balance or doing lots of upper body movement to hold it.
Once you have your numbers, shut your eyes and feel what happens within your contact points so that you can repeat these in a number of environments.
A way to help initiate turning in a kayak
Leaning is another of the techniques used to change the kayak’s profile on the water. It is used in a variety of contexts and within different techniques and skills. The way the kayak turns while it’s on edge has a lot to do with a range of factors including – last stroke used before leaning, strokes used while the kayak is on edge and the environment but it will generally turn to the side of the lean.
- While sitting upright with a flat kayak straighten your lower leg and press forward while the upper knee raises and presses up into the kayak.
- Allow your body to move over the side that your leg straightens on. Your horizon line changes and comes off the horizontal. Your centre of gravity will move outside the kayak and you need to keep momentum on the kayak to remain in balance.
Use the rating scales from earlier to check where you are so that you can repeat on demand.
Using these core concepts within your white water paddling will help you move up the grades with confidence.
Happy paddling and hope to see you on the water.
Dave is the full time paddlesport instructor at Glenmore Lodge – Scotland’s National Outdoor Training Centre. He has been involved in the development of the new awards and provides expert advice throughout the industry on all things to do with coaching, safety, leadership and personal paddling. He is passionate about all things paddling and specialises in white water kayak and open canoe where he will most often be found. He is supported in his paddling adventures and coaching by Pyranha Kayaks, Mad River Canoes and Palm Equipment.