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Torso Rotation, Torso Rotation, Torso Rotation
George Sluker
January, 2002

Probably the most neglected and most effective part of proper paddling skills is, you guessed it, torso rotation! Perhaps I should not reveal this little secret, if too many of those young bucks I paddle with catch on, I am going to be working a lot harder to stay at the front of the pack.

When you paddle are your arms and shoulders aching, but your legs and stomach muscles are not? When you hit a stretch of open water you can not keep up with fellow paddlers in the same or much slower boats? Feel you need to pump iron, need massive shoulder and arm muscles to paddle? Think you need an outboard to stay with the pack? Proper technique is the most powerful paddling tool you can use. First, let's make sure you fit properly in your kayak. Sitting in your seat, the baits of your feet should rest on the foot-pegs. YES, foot-pegs! If your kayak does not have a bulkhead or foot-pegs to push against, you will never learn proper boat control. The foot-pegs should be adjusted so that while sitting, your knees are comfortably flexed. By pushing pressure on your feet, you should also be comfortably forcing your thighs against the underside of the deck, or thigh braces. At the same time, your butt should be firmly against the back of the seat while you are sitting upright. The seat back does not need to be huge, a simple back band is as effective (and for reentry and rolling reasons, preferable), but it should fit and give support to the small of your back. You should be able to push hard on the foot-pegs and be held comfortably in place by the back band and thigh braces. Your local Paddle Shack will be happy to help you property outfit your kayak with thigh and hip pads that you might need to help make your boat fit "like a glove"  as it should.

Now, sitting upright correctly, let's properly grasp the paddle. Hold the paddle over your head, elbows out with arms bent, grasp the paddle shaft with your hands comfortably a bit further than shoulder width apart, as if you were doing a pull up Now, extend your arms over your head as if you were hanging from the paddle shaft. Slowly lower the paddle in front of you. Keep your arms straight, DO NOT BEND YOUR ELBOWS!! I The paddle should be comfortably about chest high. Time to learn the secret! Now with your arms comfortable straight out in front of you, twist or ROTATE your body at your waist. Your paddle shaft will align with your shoulders. As you rotate your body to the left, notice how little motion is needed to bring the right hand over the center of the boat. Now rotate your torso to the right, keeping the arms comfortably out in front of you. Again notice how little rotation !S needed to bring the left hand over the center of the kayak.

O.K. Now let's start moving forward. Again with your arms comfortably out In front of you, rotate (twist) your body at the waist to the left until your right hand is about at the center of the boat. Now move your right arm to lower the forward blade into the water. This is the "catch" portion of your stroke. The blade should enter the water near your feet. Blade tip entering edge first so there is no splash. Now slightly placing pressure on your right foot, rotate your body to the right, keeping your arms straight. The left arm  and hand remain at about shoulder level. This is the power portion of your stroke. Think of it as planting your blade and rotating your body to bring your kayak forward. As the right hand reaches your hip, your right elbow will bend slightly. The power part of the stroke is over. Your body is now rotated to the right, your Soft hand is near the center line of the boat. The end of the stroke, the "lift', cleanly slices the right blade up and out of the water. At the same time, the left blade is in the "catch" position starting a stroke on your left side.

Think of yourself as a conductor with a magic wand, gracefully weaving at the waist from side to side. With less effort then you would use to struggle forward with you arms, you will be easily become smiling fluid forward motion. When you catch yourself paddling with your elbows down and at your side, you now know you are not using proper technique. Remember, we don't want any stinky paddlers! Get those elbows up, get air to your arm pits, and you will be moving with the greatest of ease!

When you get tired of waiting for your friends to catch up, you might want to share this little secret with them!

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