By Paul Bull – UKCC Level 3 Coach at Paul Bull Coaching
As we venture from the relative calmness of flat water paddling and take our first steps into the world of white water kayaking we need to develop a range of key skills enabling us to progress safely down a river. One of the key skills to learn is how to break into and out of flows, also called eddy turns. The effective mastering of this skill can ensure that we can start to break down rapids, stop and play on features or just catch our breath!
The technique that I find works particularly well as we start out in the more dynamic white water environment, but is equally relevant and effective as we progress up the river grades, utilises the principles of drive and an active blade as we carry out our turns. The drive and active blade ensures that we cross the eddy line, the most unstable part of the manoeuvre, as quickly as possible whilst maintaining stability.
Let’s break this down into easy steps, starting with breaking into the flow to progress downstream:
- Firstly, we need to identify the eddy-line. This is the line generated where the slacker water of the eddy meets the main flow.
- We accelerate the boat towards the eddy line using three or four good power strokes.
- As our boat nears the eddy-line, we time our last stroke (the key stroke) so that it’s catching the water just over the eddy-line, in the flow, and we drive our boat across this with a good forward power stroke on the inside of the turn. The timing of this stroke so that it catches the water just beyond the eddy line is critical. Too early and our boat starts to slow down as we cross the eddy-line. Too late and we have already crossed the eddy-line before we rotate and edge, leading to instability and a potential capsize. (Picture 1)
- As we drive the boat forward, the foot on the inside of the turn engages with the footplate and our leg straightens and stays engaged until our boat is pointing downstream. (Picture 2 & 3).
- We finish this key stroke behind us with the paddle in a trailing blade position, blade fully immersed in the water. Our front hand is over our downstream knee and our rear elbow is behind the hip and over the edge of the kayak, creating a capital “A” between the boat, our body and the blade (Picture 4). With the correct position we will feel a positive pressure build on the power face of the blade, and by locking that paddle position in place we can derive some really good stability from this pressure (Picture 5). If we have the paddle too wide then we will feel pressure on the back face of the blade and the boat will slow down through the turn.
- By developing this active trailing blade position we have naturally rotated our body downstream, looking for our future water and with the right connectivity in place our boat has naturally edged the correct way. Two less things for beginners to worry about!
- As we develop this skill, the need to hold the trailing blade in the water is lessened, or alternatively we can be more adaptive and slice the blade through the water into our next stroke.
So this describes the technique for breaking into the flow, but how do you break out?
Well, this is the beauty of this technique – only one thing changes when we apply this to breaking out, and that’s the placement of that last key stroke. Instead of placing this last stroke in the flow as we do with breaking in, we reach across the eddy-line and plant the paddle in the eddy, driving our boat across the eddy-line again on the inside of the turn.
Now, if we were to complete 100 of these turns in exactly the same manner and on the same eddy-line, we would expect the same shape of turn each and every time all other things being equal. “Not very useful in our dynamic environment” I hear you say. Very true as no eddy is the same and sometimes we need a tighter or wider turn depending on what’s downstream of us or the particular move we want to achieve. Well, the technique stays the same but we need to start thinking tactically. Here’s three ways we can tactically affect the turn for any scenario without changing the technique:
Speed: By varying the speed that we cross the eddy-line we can change the shape of the turn. The more speed we carry the wider the turn will be, and we will get further across into the flow. The slower we go the tighter the turn will be. Remember though that the boat needs a minimum speed, otherwise the boat spins out on the eddy-line and we have a wobble!
Angle to the eddy-line: By changing our angle that we cross the eddy-line at we can again change the shape of the turn. Pointing the boat more upstream will create a wider turn, whilst pointing our boat more across the river our turn will be tighter.
Trim: Every open canoeist will know about trim, but what does this mean for kayakers? Well if we micro-trim our bodies forward, we release the skeg at the back of the boat slightly which allows us to turn tighter. By micro-trimming backwards slightly, the skeg effect is accentuated and our turns are wider.
All of these tactical variations can be used in conjunction with each other and are not mutually exclusive.
Using a combination of the same technique, varied tactically depending on the type of turn we want to achieve, makes for really dynamic paddlers. Then it’s all about the planning. What do I mean? Well it’s about sitting in the eddy, taking a look downstream, understanding the water between us and our next objective and deciding what sort of turn is needed to achieve a successful outcome and then making our plan. Then it’s all in the execution. As we go through the learning stages though it’s important for us to complete a review of the last move we made so that we complete that ‘Plan-Do-Review’ cycle and learn from each turn we make, whether it’s a successful outcome or less so. This also starts to build our understanding of the water, any features and how these affect our kayak.
Paul is an enthusiastic full time UKCC Level 3 Coach who’s passionate about helping people to develop and enjoy kayaking and canoeing whether thats more advanced skills on the more technical or bigger volume rivers of the UK and Europe or grass root sessions nearer to home. Paul delivers a range of BCU and personal skills courses in both canoe and kayak. More information about Paul and the courses he offers can be found at www.paulbull.co.uk or via Facebook at www.facebook.com/PaulBullCoaching