Wednesday, September 06, 2006


Common Kayak Paddling Mistakes

Some kayaking skills are counter-intuitive. Training is needed to avoid these mistakes and to learn the skills needed for success in whitewater kayaking and sea kayaking.

1. Paddle hugging. Beginners tend to hold their paddles too close to their bodies. These "paddle huggers" then propel their layaks with elbow bending. Kayakers need to extend their arms straight and maintain a good strong paddler's box as they paddle. Hold the paddle as far from your body as you can through all of your paddling strokes.

2. Lack of torso rotation. Beginners tend to lock their torso and shoulders in the forward position. Kayakers need to power the paddle with straight arms and torso rotation to get the benefits of their big, strong, high endurance torso muscles. This is also critical for avoiding injuries to arms and shoulders while paddling.

3. Air bracing. Beginners tend to hold their paddles too high in the air and often raise their paddles even higher when the river grabs their boats and starts tossing them around. Air bracing means no support from bracing on the water, a high center of gravity, and often quickly results in a flipped boat and a swim. Kayakers need to keep their paddler's box down low on the decks of their kayaks, except when raising one hand at a time for a vertical stroke like the forward paddle.

4. Paralysis. Beginners often freeze up and stop paddling when the whitewater action starts to overwhelm them (i.e. sensory overload). In many cases all they need to do is maintain aggressive paddling to get through the rapid. Of course, when heading into a serious hazard a course correction is needed and then more aggressive forward paddling to avoid the hazard.

5. Leaning back. Beginners often lean back when big waves threatens to crash in their faces or over their heads. This is a natural reflex for many, but doesn't serve us well on the river. Maintain your upright posture and aggressive forward lean at all times. At that last second when it is too late to avoid the wave leaning back only makes it more likely that the wave will knock you over backwards. Often you can punch through these waves by maintaining your rhythm of aggressive forward paddling. Or you might stab the wave in the gut, use your paddle as a momentary brace, let the wave crash over your head and very quickly resume forward paddling.

6. Leaning upstream. Most beginners experience most of their flipped boats when they shift their body weight to the upstream side of their boat (e.g. during an eddy turn) and/or drop the upstream edge of their boat. It happens so fast that beginners are repeatedly slammed down before they realize what is happening to them. Many experienced boaters can see what is happening and are already paddling out for the rescue before the beginner's head hits the water. Successful kayakers must maintain weight control, edge control and paddle bracing on the downstream side of their boats.

More about: Kayaking Techniques.

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