Where the heck is the nose of your kayak? Are you looking at it or are you feeling it? These are questions I constantly ask my sea kayaking students when paddling in strong currents or crossing eddylines.
Sometimes all we need is a little awareness on what is going on downstairs. The most common mistake I see in moving water (tidal races, rips, eddylines, etc.) is a lack of bow control. I see paddlers stick their nose into a wave at an angle or cross an eddyline with the kayak pointed the wrong way and flat to the water. Splash, down they go without knowing what happened. I’m talking mainly about the importance of bow orientation and hull orientation at the same time.
This is vital to whitewater kayakers and rodeo boaters. If you watch a kayaker playing on a wave in the river, you will see all the elements of good body, boat and paddle control in one session. The rodeo boater thinks and paddles on a three dimentional axis with the kayak and uses the four main parts of the body independantly.
Lets break down the importance of the terms:
1. The axis – The position of the kayak in space. It is joined to the unified body parts of feet-legs-hips. This is the main part of the body. In a sea kayak, think of your feet as sensors, your legs as suspension/shocks and your hips as control.
2. The torso – Second part of the body – From the lower back to the neck. Think of your torso as your counter weight/balance, and as a huge spring to store and release energy.
3. The arms – Third part of the body – One complete loop from your shoulders, down your arms, and through the hands to the paddle shaft. Think of your arms as a unified rudder and propeller blade that you can both steer and drive with at the same time.
4. The head – Fourth part of the body – This is the control center/brain. Everything initiates here.
Now that we have that out of the way, let’s talk about bow control and what role the four parts play:
1. Kayak/Lower body – Your feet should be feeling the direction/orientation of the bow and sending this message to the brain. The legs should receive directions from the brain to push in the direction you want the bow to go. The hips should control the edging of your kayak and keep the bottom of the hull presented to the fastest flow of current.
2. Torso – This should be shifting forward and backward to weight and un-weight the bow and stern. It should also twist and drive hard to provide propulsion and power for braces and rudders. (This is the weakest and quietest part of new paddlers. I see most newbies sit stiff as a board.)
3. Arms – Use them to pull, push, steer, brace and rudder. (Quick and strong arms are always an asset to the rough water paddler but they must always live within their boundaries “The Box” to prevent shoulder injury)
4. Head – What are you looking at? The brain is getting millions of signals a second while your sight is only traveling at the speed of light. Your inner ear (which is your balancing function) is the slowest of the three. The head usually follows the eyes, so if you are looking down at the bow, paddles, or water, your head will be down, your balance will be off, and your timing will be delayed. (Watch professional motorcycle racers and see how they hold their head. Notice where they are looking… far ahead.) Your head should be up and looking where you want to go. The brain will figure everything else out.
So how do we train paddlers to have excellent bow control? We teach and apply the above information. I like to take Intermediate Sea Kayakers out to a big safe river (yes river) with a flow between 7 to 10 knots. I make them paddle, ferry, edge, brace, rudder and get aggressive with crossing eddylines. (Break-in/out exercises) The results have been astounding and I have watched so-so paddlers become strong and confident in a very short period of time.
Below is a video (not very good quality) of me showing some students how to make the kayak go where “you want it to” without becoming a victim to current. I lean forward several times to bury the entire kayak in wave of fast current and even fight back when the river tries to grab the bow, just to prove the point that bow control comes from the controller.
Another great example of what I’m talking about can be seen in Justine’s latest release of “This is the Sea 3”. Check out Aled and Nick playing in the “Falls of Lora”.
Enjoy and happy paddling,