|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
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
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!