White Water Tips ‘n’ Tricks #2
The next in the series to get you looking slicker on the river…
I see many beginner white water paddlers making mistakes because they’re not committing to the moves that they plan, either physically or mentally. The places where it happens the most are:
- Breaking in
- Moving through features
- Selecting eddies
Over time, I’ve come up with the perfect recipe for being wobbly on eddy lines:
Dithering + Staring at bow + No paddle blade in water = Wet hair
I like to think of it in the same way as merging on to a motorway. There’s usually a short slip road, to help you build enough speed to join the rest of the traffic. The same is true with white water. Sat in the eddy, you’re in a pool of still water. The main flow, however, is moving rapidly downstream. You wouldn’t join a motorway at 10 miles an hour. Or at least, you wouldn’t do it twice!
If you cautiously nudge the nose of your boat out in to the flow with no forwards speed, the bow is going to whip back round towards the eddy line, faster than you can deal with it. If you’re not looking where you’re going to set your edge, with an active blade in the water, you may begin your riverbed survey.
So what’s the solution?
Driving your boat over the eddy line with good forwards speed.
You don’t need to charge like a person possessed. White water kayaks are never going to be fast creatures and 3-4 decent paddle strokes should see your boat up to top speed. What you’re aiming to do, is to reach over the eddy line and place your last stroke in to the flow on the downstream side, to drag your boat out in to the river.
Why the downstream side? To counter the turning force of the current, helping you to hold your boat angle, as well as giving support for your edge.
So, count back 3-4 strokes from where that last stroke will be. Drive your boat over the eddy line and on to where you’re going next.
It’s natural that a white water beginner may feel nervous and move slowly, in an attempt to shy away from the main flow. Once they work out that a little forwards momentum is actually their friend, you’ll find that their stability will increase no end. A good tip when coaching the break in, is to start on slower water, allowing the student to get a feel for the movements, before moving on to faster water.
Moving through features:
Much like breaking in, I often see people shying away from waves and holes – they stop paddling and wait to see what happens to them. Some people tend to lean back naturally in to a defensive position and others will take their paddle out of the water, to do a perfect “Burning Man” impression:
The trouble with leaning back is that the force of the water will try to push you back anyway. Once you’re on your back deck, it can be hard to recover in time and often ends in a capsize.
As for having your paddle out of the water…
Imagine yourself sat still on a bike, with both feet off the ground. If somebody were to push you from the side, it’s more than likely that you’re going to fall over. Having your paddle in the water at the right time, is the equivalent of being on that bike, but with one foot on the ground. Far more stable.
Being decisive and proactive in our paddling is the key to being stable on the river and putting the boat where we want it to go.
If we know that the water is going to hit our body hard when we paddle through a stopper for example, we can pre-empt that and plan ahead to deal with it. Again, forwards momentum is our friend – drive the boat forwards on entry to keep it on line, rather than allowing the river to push you around. Instead of leaning back, lean forwards slightly from the hips into an aggressive paddling position. Reaching over the foam pile to grab water with the paddle and pulling ourselves through the feature will also help with stability and keeping the boat moving forwards.
Being indecisive over where to break out will often mean that you miss the eddy completely.
Whilst you’re sitting in an eddy, take a look down stream and pick out the eddy that you’re going to make and plan the moves back that it will take to get in to it. If you’re picking an eddy on the fly, you need to plan early and start building your lateral momentum across the current to get in to it. The “wait and see” approach will often leave you skidding down eddy lines.
If you’re leading a group of beginners on white water, you can make their lives easier by catching the eddy first and calling them down, or leaving a bigger gap between you and the paddler behind. This will give them more time to see the eddy and set up for the move.
Plan early and commit. Being decisive and moving with a purpose will get you much further than wind-milling your arms and hoping for the best!