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Carving Turns

Learning to cope with boofs and drops with our kayak coaches

PYB Paddling Coach Simon Colley talks about using the shape of your boat to make more effective turns.

Try this…. Push an empty kayak forwards away from the bank Now place a heavy weight on one side of the kayak seat so that it looks tipped or ‘edged’ and do the same. Do both again but this time watch how the kayak moves through the water and how it behaves when it turns.

Carving turns in a kayakTurning your boat when its flat is like a car skidding across a frozen lake. Turning your boat when its on edge is like carving skis through snow. One skids and spins, the other bites and carves. What follows is a collection of ideas that may help you carve beautiful turns across the water and ultimately form the basis of many white-water and sea paddling techniques.


Carving turns in a kayak


Carving turns in a kayak



Dimmer Switch

Carving turns whilst kayaking Firstly make sure you have mastered the techniques from the previous articles. Forwards paddling, edging and balance are the foundation blocks that support everything else so make sure they’re solid. To start off with we are going to develop your edging a little further. At the moment edging may feel a little bit like a light switch; either on or off. This exercise will help you develop your edge so that it is more like a dimmer switch moving smoothly from a little, to a bit more, to a lot, and back again. Initially we are going to work on three levels of edge. If zero is a flat boat and three is fully edged, work out where one and two are. Look at the side of your boat for markings or logos you could use to label each level of edge. You could use electrical tape to mark where the water comes up to on the side of your boat for each edge. Once you have established where one two and three are spend some time holding the kayak at each of these levels as steadily as you can. This may seem like hard work to start off with as your body learns the positions and gets stronger at holding them.

Ninja Edging

Carving Turns in a Kayak

Now shut your eyes and hold your kayak at each level. With your eyes shut try to feel what is happening to your body. Which bits are working hard, compressed or stretched? How much pressure do you have on each part of your body?
Keep changing your edge and feeling your body until you start to get the muscle memory for varying the edge on your kayak. A lot of people feel pressure in their raised knee and sunk buttock. Varying the amount of pressure on these two varies the edge. If you can hold the different edges steady then try to smoothly move between them calling out each level when you get there.

Carving Turns in a Kayak

Check you’re getting this right by looking at your marks occasionally or getting a buddy to correct you. To reach true edging Nirvana shut your eyes or look at the horizon and get a buddy to call out different edges for you to go to e.g. left one, right two, left three etc.
Other things to try now are the same exercises whilst leaning forwards or backwards, playing catch with a ball at the same time or throwing and catching your paddle !


Ok now you have ninja edging status its time to start carving. Get some reasonable forward speed up, edge your boat, then stop paddling. Have several goes at this varying the amount of edge and which side you edge on. Think about what happens. Try the same thing leaning forwards, backwards and with your eyes closed. Feel what’s happening to you and your boat. Does the kayak always do the same thing? Did you almost get wet? You may find that the kayak turns the opposite way to what you would expect. Try putting a slightly stronger stroke in on the opposite side to your edge to initiate the turn.Does the amount of edge change the shape of the turn? Is it sharp and short or smooth and long ? Try making the turn longer by gently continuing to paddle through it. Can you elongate the turn by using the odd stroke on the inside of the turn. You may find that less edge gives a more subtle turn where as more edge gives a sharper turn.


Carving turns in a kayakRight time to play aeroplanes ! Get your boat up to cruising speed, put it on edge, initiate the turn with a more powerful stroke on the outside. Now chuck away your paddles put your arms out as wings and fly round the turn ! Aeroplane noise are optional but may help ! Do this lots with different edges and amounts until your real happy with it. Then do it with your eyes shut and feel…..


Get your boat carving in a wide turn (putting the odd stroke in on the inside to elongate the turn). Try to keep the turn going into a complete circle (you will need to keep putting strokes in but try to put most of them in on the inside of the turn). Play around with the amount of edge you are using so that the circle keeps getting smaller into a spiral just like a plughole.

Well Done !

carving turns in your kayakYou are now on your way to taking your kayaking into an adventurous new world. The white water kayaker in the pictured here is paddling from slack water into moving water or 'breaking in'. He is confidently carving into the moving water without getting fipped.

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