Supporting Yourself Through Kayaking
PYB Paddling Coach Ben Lawes shows you how to stay upright in your kayak.
The aim of this article is to provide you with a technique for keeping yourself upright and thus hopefully preventing a dunking.
Developing a reliable support stroke not only increases your confidence but will improve your skill level as well.
By reducing the fear of capsizing, secure in the knowledge you can prevent it, you can focus on the new technique your learning. It's not a difficult stroke to master and provides the building blocks for the beginnings of a roll. It also starts to develop your body awareness with regard to your centre of gravity and how that affects the stability of the kayak.
I'm going to assume that you've used a spray deck and are comfortable capsizing with one on. You can still perform these foundation exercises without one, but your kayak is likely to fill up with water.
Prior to learning the support stroke you need to be able to edge the kayak. In order for you to be able to have effective edge control however, the kayak may need to be customised so that it is in contact with your hips. Ideally some sort of closed cell foam that is easily shaped then stuck onto the sides of the seat should be used. If you have to use a club or a centre kayak you may have to use removable hip pads. They do the job but can be fiddly to attach and aren't as solid as the ones you glue in. This means that you can still slop about in the seat thus reducing the level of control achievable when using your hips. See Dino's Top Tips for fitting out your kayak.
Edging is simply weighting one buttock whilst lifting the opposite side using your knee, thigh and hip. To prevent capsizing, your torso needs to "curl" sideways towards the hip that's being raised. This action puts your head back over the centre of gravity stabilising the manoeuvre.
- Notice the torso curling towards hip being raised.
- See the head position stabilising manoeuvre
Water-borne Edging Exercises
Buddy up with a partner. Use their bow to provide a solid base to practice the hip flick off of.
Try NOT CHANGING the trunk curl. Is it easier or harder to get the kayak righted?
Try looking in the opposite direction to the side your buddy is on. Is it easier or harder to get the kayak righted?
Try again looking at your buddy, any easier?
These exercises will hopefully provide you with the physical feedback of how easy the manoeuvre should feel if done correctly.
Now substitute your buddies bow for your paddles and replicate the movement. You can build up the level of commitment at edging as your confidence grows.
Remember to practice on both sides and spend time each session until it becomes second nature. The trunk curling is also referred to as the "C to C" move and is the foundation for learning to roll, another good reason for getting it right.
- Practice edging the kayak with the security of another paddler to push off if you go too far.
- Time how long you can hold an edge for?
- Try dipping your head towards your partner. What happens?
- Remeber - always edge towards your buddy.
- Try edging leaning right back/forwards. How does this affect your ability to hold the edge?
- Set up a circuit (fig of 8) and paddle it holding the edge.
- Try and change edge whilst maintaining forward speed.
Hopefully these exercises have stimulated the grey matter and your beginning to work out some answers for yourself e.g. keeping your head over the centre of gravity improves stability.
Bear in mind that the more you practice the movement the better conditioned the relevant muscles become.
Support and Recovery
Good edging technique will greatly improve your overall control, but may not always bring you back from the brink of capsize. Using the paddle for support could mean the difference between staying dry and swimming.
Initially this can be practised on dry land to get a good impression of what the manoeuvre feels like.
Note the low angle of the paddle shaft. This allows the maximum surface area of the blade to be in contact with the water thus providing the maximum amount of support.
Arms and wrists are pushing down on the paddle shaft. Elbows are high, creating a strong position for the shoulder.
Blade is out away from the side of the kayak, like an outrigger. Too close - no support. Too far out - it badly alters the stresses on the shoulder
Note the finish position of the head. Stabilising the centre of gravity.
When practising the support stroke on the water there is one last element to bring in. As soon as the blade comes into contact with the water aggressively flick your hips away from the blade effectively weighting the opposite buttock. At the same time curl your torso and tilt your head toward the blade. This allows the kayak to return to a flat position whilst keeping your head over the centre of balance.
If you don't change the side of torso curl and tip your head towards the blade then you will pull the kayak back on top of yourself. If you do you are effectively pushing it away and thus flattening it out.
Once again break it down into manageable parts, if you have the opportunity to use the local pool, lucky you. If not there'll be an added incentive to mastering it fairly quickly. Good luck.