Here I try to give an overview of the different techniques and maneuvers you can do in a seakayak.
All the different seakayaking techniques can be put in the following categories:
Basic strokes such as forward stroke, basic turning stroke, moving your kayak sideways, edging and stop.
Braces to prevent capsizing when you loose your balance.
Rudders to efficiently alter your course without loosing too much speed.
Stroke combinations to maneuver accoriding to specific situations, e.g. Turning into the wind.
While out on the sea: never act mechanically to what you learned in a course or from other persons!
Try to learn from the conditions you meet: currents, wind,
waves and just play with your kayak, paddle and body to become better
and more efficient.
By trying out things for yourself on every trip, you will learn fast and get better with every km.
Forward stroke, high
This is the most efficient way to paddle forward with a Euro paddle.
Most kayakers and especially seakayakers chose however the low paddling style which (of course) is less efficient, but due to long hours on the water might be more friedly to your muscles and body in general.
I wanted to apply a 'good' paddling style from the beginning and have trained my shoulder muscles accordingly, so I can paddle with this efficent style for some hours and see no reason why it should not be possible to use this technique in seakayking.
Also note that this is NOT the style you would use with a wing paddle as competition paddlers do. That again is a completely different style.
Start by holding your paddle on top of your head parallel to the ground. Now you should grab the paddle in a way that your elbows each have more or less a 90 degree angle.
In general this will result in a quite wide grip you won't see to often on the water (In fact I would guess that less than 5% of all seakayakers use an efficient forward stroke,..).
How to start
Now stretch out your left arm (together with upper body rotation, left shoulder is more forward than your right) and bring the paddle horizontal on eye level holding your right hand next to your shoulder.
While you bring down your left paddle blade to the water, the right hand stays on eye level next to your right shoulder.
Try to catch the water as far forward as you can reach with extended arm and rotated upper body, but don't lean forward in your hips.
Now rotate your upper body towards neutral position to start the pulling. Only after you initiated the movement by upper body rotation should you use your left arm muscles and bend it.
Your right arm extends on eye level forward.
In addition press with your left leg into your leg rests and relax your right leg.
When the left paddle blade is vertical, which is more or less when your left elbow reaches your hips, you should no longer apply any force as you will more and more pull your kayak down into the water and use less and less force for forward movement.
Of course you don't pull the blade out vertically, but continue your movement until the blade leaves the water.
From neutral the upper body rotates further until the right shoulder is forward to begin the stroke on the right side.
Your left arm moves up to your left shoulder until the paddle again is horizontal on eye level, your right arm extended, upper body twisted and you are ready to begin on the right side.
A good forward stroke used the whole body, including the legs.
Do not underestimate this complex movement and have in mind that even professionals train their forward stroke every week using mirrors and video analysis.
In my forward stroke courses I often use video analysis as well as only few people have good body feeling and know how they are moving.
Often the video analysis is quite surprising for the participants, but points for improvements are often obvious and more acceptable this way (compared to pure oral comments).
I also use dry exercises on land in slow motion and focus on the theoretical idea of the movement first, before I apply some corrections to the personal style of the participants.
Forward stroke, low
The low forward stroke means a forward stroke where you don't lift your arms to shoulder height, often way less.
Compared with a tighter grip, this is way less efficient, but preferable if you feel that this is easier on your body on paddling hours.
Why is the lower stroke less efficient?
Physically the ideal paddle movement would be to lower a symmetrical and straight paddle blade vertically into the water in the middle of your kayak, then pull it backwards in vertical position to the aft end of your kayak and then pull it back up into the air vertically.
This has of couse nothing to do with paddling, but keepin this in mind, it becomes clear why the higher forward stroke is nearer to this ideal than the lower one.
With the lower stroke, the paddle blade is not moving as close to the kayaks centerline as possible and in as vertical position as possible, but makes an archlike movement, almost like a combination between a high forward stroke and a turning stroke.
As you actually use some of your energy to make this half-turning movement, this energy is lost in the forward direction.
The turning stroke is the second most basic stroke and used to change direction.
In contrast to the forward stroke, the turning stroke is performed with the paddle as low as possible across your kayak and horizontal to the water surface.
Start a turn to the right by holding your paddle low on the kayak, left paddle blade as far forward as you can reach (including upper body rotation) and right paddle blade next to your right body, definately lower than shoulder height.
Now start moving your left arm in a big circle until you reach the back end of your kayak. In the beginning you should touch the aft hull of your kayak, but over time you will see that the last part does not contribute too much to the turning and stop a bit earlier.
Your right hand stays close to the body and below shoulder height.
The turning stroke is much more effective, if you support it with edging and your legs!
Try to turn you kayak in a 360 degree circle with alternating turning strokes: one side forward and then the other side from back to front.
With some practice you should be able to do this with 10 strokes or less.
Of course you will adapt this stroke when the kayak has some speed as a fully effective turning stroke will also cost quite some speed.
As always the strokes can be learned by themselves, but are put together and altered when applied during 'real' paddling.
Turning stroke with brace on same side
In difficult situations, you can use this turning stroke to be more safe.
Make a normal turning stroke, e.g. on the left.
When you have passed the strongest part of the stroke (have gone more than 90 degrees), lift the blade out of the water and move it flat over that water towards the front of the kayak in a way that it touches the water lightly.
The upper edge of the blade shall be a bit higher than the lower end to prevent it cutting into the water.
Thus you have a low brace available on the same side than the turning stroke.
Turning stroke with brace on other side
In difficult situations, you can use this turning stroke to be more safe.
Make a normal turning stroke, e.g. on the left.
When you have passed the strongest part of the stroke (have gone more than 90 degrees), lift the blade out of the water and extend your RIGHT paddle blade to the right.
Let it touch the water surface on your right side while the kayak is turning.
Thus you have a low brace available on the opposing side of your turning stroke.
Self-experiment: Turn your kayak
To turn your kayak effortlessly does not only look great, it also saves a lot of energy.
Try these steps with some wind coming from one side to understand your kayak much better!
1 a) Paddle forward, then relax and do nothing.
- You'll notice that you kayak turns into the wind.
1 b) Paddle backwards, then do nothing.
- Same backwards, you kayak turns into the wind.
2 a) Paddle forward, then relax and also lean forward.
- Your kayak turns into the wind better than in 1.
2 b) Paddle backwards, then relax and lean backwards.
- Same backwards, your kayak turns into the wind better than in 1.
3 a) Paddle forward, then relax and edge away from the wind.
- Your kayak turns into the wind better than in 2.
3 b) Paddle backwards, then relax and edge away from the wind.
- Same backwards, your kayak turns into the wind better than in 2.
4 a) Paddle forward, then relax and lean forward and edge away from the wind.
- Your kayak turns into the wind better than in 3.
4 b) Same backwards.
5 a) Paddle forward and use a turning stroke to turn into the wind, then relax, lean forward and edge away from the wind.
- See how it turns!
5 b) Same backwards.
6) Experiment with additional techniques, e.g. bow & stern rudder, cross bow rudder, etc. and stroke combinations!
With some practice you should easily be able to do more then 180 degrees!
And now you really know that a kayak turns into the wind and that it always will be more effort to turn away from it.
Attention: Of course there exist kayaks that are built in the way that they turn away from the wind (Swedish form, e.g. VKV).
They are not very common, but by experimenting with the above you should at least now know if your kayak is such a special one.
Moving sideways, static
To move sideways also is a normal condition, e.g. to land at a pier or beach or come together in a group on the water.
To do this while the kayak is not moving, e.g. to land to the right, you place your left hand on top of your head with your palm facing to the right. The hand stays here during the movement.
Your right hand lifts the right paddle blade out of the water and reaches as far as possible without capsizing to the right catching the water there, pulling the fully submerged blade towards the kayak.
Be cautious to lift the blade out of the water before it hits the kayak. As the kayak is moving sideways and the blade when still in the water acts as an anchor, you might capsize!
Repeat this movement several times to move to the right.
Moving sideways, dynamic (wrigging, sculling)
This looks more cool than the static one, but in my opinion is not more effective. In fact I use both techniques in different situations.
You can also create a kayak movement sideways by moving your fully submerged paddle blade back and forth next to your kayak.
Also here it is most efficient when the blade is vertical, so to place one hand on the top of your head helps a lot.
When moving from bow to stern, have the rear edge of the blade further away from the kayak than the front facing edge, but only slightly.
When moving forward again, the forward facing edge has to be more away from the kayak than the back edge.
You will feel that the paddle 'wants' to move away from your kayak.
By holding it quite close to the kayak, the kayak will turn sideways instead.
Long and slow movements usually work best.
Also here you can apply edging to support this movement.
Stopping a kayak is quite simple, just paddle backwards.
However depending on your speed you have to be careful not to apply too strong strokes as you might capsize overdoing it.
On normal cruise speed you should be able to come to a complete stop with three short backward paddling strokes.
In special circumstances it might be necessary to break even faster, then you have to capsize yourself.
As an example imagine you are surfing on a big wave and another paddler or surfer gets in your way.
As the pointy end of a kayak can cause severy damage you have to prevent an accident. If there is no other alternative, capsizing is one option you should have in mind.
Edging is probably one of the most fundamental techniques within seakayaking, but is unfortunately often neglected!
Edging means pressing one side of your seakayak down into the water and lift the other one, putting your kayak on one 'edge'.
You do this with your hips and thigh pads. Often it helps to stretch one leg and lifting the knee of the other one, but you should still have full contact and thus control over the kayak.
What is edging for?
In general this is 'just' being confortable with your kayak lying on one side.
This can happen to you, e.g. by waves or can be applied by you to increase the effectiveness of your maneuver strokes, braces and rolling.
Some practical applications of edging
Turning while paddling
Paddle in a straight line, make one turning stroke on one side and then see how far you turn.
Now do this again with edging and you'll notice that you turn much better.
In fact edging makes all maneuver strokes more effective, but you have to try for yourself how it works.
In general you have to edge 'away' from the direction you want to go, but be aware that dependent on the design of the kayak it could be necessary to edge the other way!
Ride waves from the side
Turn your kayak so that it lies parallel to the waves (or just wait as doing nothing will eventually turn your kayak this way).
Now use edging actively to balance out the waves.
Over time you will become quite relaxed in your hips and do this automatically. Then waves coming from the side won't bother you any more.
Note that all the different kayak hull design available on the market will react differently on edging.
You should try out for yourself when and how to apply edging for your own kayak to maximize the effectiveness of your strokes.
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