Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Technique: 5 Alternative Paddle Strokes

There's a fair amount of information available on how to correctly execute kayak paddling technique. Here's a great video from PaddleTV that shows how to do it:

This post aims to offer some alternate paddling techniques that I use from time to time, and find quite handy in the right situation. I'm not claiming to have invented these paddle strokes, nor am I contending they don't exist under names other than what I call them. That said, here are the 5 alternate paddle strokes I use, and when I use them:

1. The Torque Paddle. So, the standard paddle relies on a mid to wide grip position, and engages your back in the stroke. It's not necessarily a pulling stroke, but the idea is to use a wide array of muscles (in a relaxed manner) to keep from tiring out smaller, individual muscles (forearms, shoulders, etc.). Nevertheless, you can still get tired, and having an alternate to switch to for a while can give you a nice break. I use something I call the "torque paddle". This is where I position my grip narrower than the standard paddle position, tighten the circles traced by my paddle motion, and rely on the leverage of the paddle length (generated by the torque produced from my shorter grip, also moving in a much tighter circle) to apply force to the water. This technique can be remarkably powerful, and works well in confined areas (under tree branches, etc.). You'll have to play with your grip position and the size of the circles you trace, both with your hands and the paddle tips, but try to find the "groove". You'll know it when you feel it. You'll feel yourself generating power at your paddle blades from a compact, smooth hand rotation. This technique does not always work well in heavy chop that may drop out underneath and leave your paddle blade hanging mid-air. It's a nice change of pace to have in your toolkit, though.

2. The Crawl Paddle. Heading straight into the wind is not a fun direction to paddle. It's helped a bit by your smaller profile relative to being sideways to the wind, but you're still an upright wind block, acting like a sail that wants to send you in reverse. Getting your profile even smaller can only help. So, in this scenario, I lean forward with my eyes raised to see where I'm going, and paddle from this bent position. It seems like you'd tire out your lower back, but the resistance of the water helps to brace your body position. You can use either a modified standard paddle here (maybe reach longer in front to engage as much of your back muscles as possible) or a torque paddle a bit more out in front of you. Even if you can only perform this technique intermittently, it will give you a little break from the wind in your chest, and will help to quicken your overall pace. 

3. The Backward Paddle. This paddle technique is not meant for extended use (it's always better to see where you're going). However, it is something you should practice and use in the occasions that call for it. You can use a backward paddle on one side of your kayak, alternated with a forward paddle on the other side to turn your 'yak in a much tighter radius than would be possible using a rudder alone, or another paddle technique. Combine this alternating paddle technique with the correct rudder position (you'll have to switch from side to side to match the paddle stroke), and you can turn even a long touring kayak on a dime. You can also use backward paddling on both sides of the 'yak to radically slow forward progress (say, if you want to avoid a hazard in a hurry), to back out of a tight rock crevice, or to re-position or hold yourself steady in a current. Remember, your shoulders will be doing most of the work, so take it easy - and try to use as much of the paddle blade as possible. I personally use this technique when I'm surfing my waveski, and I want to re-position myself while keeping an eye on incoming waves.

4. The Canoe Paddle. A kayak paddle is designed to take advantage of the efficiency of both paddle blades working to propel the 'yak forward, without having to switch a single blade from side to side. There are times, though, when using a single blade can be the best choice. Changing your orientation by dragging a paddle blade or using a backward paddle technique will slow or kill your momentum. You worked hard to get that momentum going, so slowing it down for anything less than an intentional choice doesn't make sense. If you have a rudder deployed, you can use it to steer your direction in a wide arc (the faster your speed and momentum, the wider the arc). If you don't have a rudder, or if you want to assist your rudder, you can paddle on one side only for a couple or several strokes - depending on how much you want to change your orientation. You won't keep the same speed as two paddles doing the work, but you also won't impact your speed like a dragging a paddle blade or backward paddling will. Try not to pull too much with the paddling hand - try to push with the opposite hand over an imagined shaft point (a fulcrum). This will better approximate paddling with an actual canoe paddle.                                  
5. The Paddle Drag. OK, so this isn't exactly a stroke, but it's not really a brace either. Dragging one blade on one side of your kayak will slow that side down relative to the opposite side - resulting in a turn of direction more to the dragged paddle side. This can be deployed in a spectrum from a feather light touch to a full on paddle plunge, with the affect on your speed and direction relative to the angle and duration of the paddle drag. This is a fun one to play with. Sometimes, giving up a little speed is worth it to learn how effective your paddle blade can be in changing your direction. Plus, getting comfortable with a paddle drag can set you up to learn side bracing and sweep strokes. Try different angles on your blade, different plunge depths, different durations - and see what affect they have. It's also very handy in an emergency stopping situation - it can slow you down quickly and set you up for a backward paddle to reverse direction.  

I hope these alternate paddle strokes are useful for you on the water. There are variations on all of them existing or yet to be discovered. Just make sure to work with your paddle and not against it.

A paddle is another tool, and like all tools we clever monkeys create, can be used well or used poorly. Remember, part of using yours well is to use it paddling waters that engage your mind and sing to your heart - what better use could there be than that?

TB on the Water   


Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Advice: 5 Tips for What to Do With Your Kayaking Off Season

Happy 2018! In 2017, I started this blog, as well as some other online content channels (Facebook, Twitter,), and embarked on the exciting journey of digital publishing. In 2018, I will continue to refine the content I offer, and to add some other options for my readers - stay tuned.

It's been a frigid couple of weeks here in New England, as well as in much of the continental U.S., and the last thing on most people's minds is heading to the water (unless it's some idyllic Caribbean white sand beach 😎). We have been under attack by a dip of the jet stream drawing Arctic air south, and it looks like there is more to come in the near future. This is a time in New England when many paddlers hang their paddles on a rack and instead opt for a set of snowshoes or skis. Some of us just stay inside writing blog posts - hunkered down until the Spring brings us some relief. That said, all is not lost for the kayaker during these months (this is "Cold Water Kayaker" after all 😋), and here are a few suggestions for how to use your down time to improve your paddling experiences:
It was 90F degrees here in August 

1. Fix Your Gear. You inevitably dinged, scratched, tore, or otherwise maligned some piece(s) of equipment over this past paddling season. Why not use the down time to fix what you can? Re-seal hull penetrations, stitch up fabric tears, replace worn-out hardware, put new O-rings on drain plugs - whatever needs doing. When the paddling season starts up again, you'll be ready. Use online videos that show you how, and check out my post Kayak Repairs That Last

2. Research, Research, Research. The winter months can provide a great opportunity to spend that time you can never seem to spare in the warm weather to research where to paddle, what equipment you might want to purchase, what techniques you need to improve upon and how to do that, online resources for advice (like this blog, for instance 😉), paddling groups you might want to join - really anything you didn't get around to investigating during the paddling season. Do your homework now, reap the rewards later. For some suggestions on planning kayaking trips, read my post Where Should I Paddle?.

3. Take Advantage of Off Season Deals. I've mentioned in previous posts and on my ABOUT me page that I don't like to spend a lot of money on gear (at least when I don't have to). I've purchased plenty of used gear, including kayaks from places like Craigslist and hardware from eBay. I've also purchased a kayak from a paddle touring company a season old, used it for several seasons, then sold it again for half of what I paid. People who are selling items when the market is not at it's highest demand for them (snowmobiles in the spring, motorcycles in the fall, etc.) are advertising that they might be flexible with pricing. Otherwise, they'd wait until they had a better chance of getting top dollar. The same can be said for kayaking gear in the winter. If it's on Craigslist in December and January, you should negotiate steadfastly - and maybe pick up a deal. If they won't negotiate, look elsewhere. Also keep an eye out for retailers who are looking to move off season water gear at a discount, if any is left over and they need to liquidate inventory.

4. Exercise. There is nothing that will mimic the exact movement of drawing a paddle through water, bracing, lifting your boat to a car roof, etc. You just have to do it to get better at it, and more fit for it in the process. However, you can still keep up your general fitness to make your return to extended paddle condition quicker when you get back on the water. Keep your grip strong, work on your balance, keep your shoulders and back strong and flexible, and try to work on any nagging areas where an injury has lingered. Eat healthy food and don't put on too many "hibernation" pounds. Use a winter pass time like hiking, snowshoeing, or cross country skiing to keep your endurance. Work on your range of motion. All of these activities will set you on the right path for your return to paddling.

5. Dream. I've heard it said the anticipation of an event or activity can greatly impact the overall enjoyment of it. So, why not let your mind wander to that paddle trip you have planned for a new destination on some sun drenched summer day? Just make sure to actually schedule it, so it doesn't remain only a dream. Let your mind's eye gaze over the places you have only seen on a map, or on a blog, or a paddler's forum. Relish the preparation and talk about it with whomever will accompany you. Then, when it finally arrives, let it unfold like a flower from the seed you planted in your mind, and nurtured until it blossomed in reality. That will surely help keep the winter chill off your mind.

The snow may fall, the wind may blow, and old man winter may knock at your door. Tell him to take a hike - you're busy working on your gear and dreaming about that paddle trip you've meant to do for years. Make 2018 the year .

TB on the Water