One of the greatest assets of a kayak over other forms of human powered vessels is the kayaks' efficiency in the water. The human that is paddling the kayak however, needs to be proficient in forward momentum skills and corrective steering maneuvers in order for the kayak to work in the manner in which it was created 4,000 years ago. It was created to be a fast, stealthy, efficient hunting machine. Oh, don't be fooled, we still hunt from our kayaks, some of us are hunting certain bird species, the elusive river otter or beaver, or chasing other forms of wildlife. Perhaps we are hunting MONSTER fish, or we are hunting that amazing sunset, sunrise, or special get away place where we feel complete peace or maybe that isolated campsite that you can only reach by water. Yes, we still hunt from them for sure, the targets may be just a bit different now.
We all aspire to work on our efficiency and endurance, which allows us to go farther therefore experiencing more. When teaching new paddlers or even veteran paddlers from time to time, helping them learn to master efficient forward momentum is one of the most challenging tasks I encounter. Some paddlers tend to consistently revert back to "putting on the brakes" to turn their boats, which forces the paddler to "re-start their engine" to get going again in forward motion. This takes a lot of energy. This morning after taking my son to basketball camp for the day, I was driving in "rush hour traffic" and noticed that as I accelerated and decelerated over and over, driving is much like paddling. When we press hard on the gas in our cars and then hit the brakes to slow down then hit the gas again, those are the actions that suck the gas right out of our gas tanks. It is the most inefficient driving time. We get the best gas mileage when out on the open road, cruise control on, at a steady pace. If you want to waste gas, we all know how to do that, stomp the gas pedal and accelerate quickly and then slam on the brakes so you can do it all over again. As we mature in our driving, we learn to drive at a more relaxed, even pace, saving energy with our cars as well as our state of mind. It's the same with sea kayaking or flat water kayaking. If we are fighting the water and trying to accelerate too quickly, using bad form (i.e. allowing the paddle to exit past our hips), and then slam on the brakes to turn the bow of our boats (putting the paddle blade down into the water behind you to slow your boat), then we are greatly sucking the energy out of our gas tanks, our energy reserves, our muscles, and diminishing the joy of kayaking overall! Our goal should be to learn how to keep forward momentum at all times, NEVER using slowing maneuvers unless you need to stop or avoid hitting something. By utilizing skill and simple maneuvers, anyone can master maximum forward momentum. Personally, as we mature in our paddling, I believe it's something we will always be working on, always honing and perfecting.
It is SO FUN to watch students whom I've given the "secret tips" to and all of a sudden the woman who started the class saying "this boat will not go straight no matter what I do", to paddling not only in a straight line in her 10.5 hybrid kayak, but with efficiency and a smile on her face at her unexpected success. So, CUT THOSE BRAKE LINES and be sure to work on efficient forward momentum, resist the urge to use any slowing maneuvers to turn your boat. I won't give away all the secrets, you need to master the basics before moving on the the next maneuvers anyhow, but I will give you just a couple of starter tips here to have fun working on:
1. Make sure you are showing the judges on your left your name and your number with EVERY STROKE.This ensures you are using your CORE, not your upper body. It's like a 4 cylinder vs. an 8 cylinder engine. Your CORE is the 8 cylinder engine, your arms and shoulders are the 4 cylinder and prone to sputtering or breakdowns!
2. Be sure you are exiting the paddle at your hip, going past your hip turns your boat which causes you to exert more energy to turn your boat back on track. We would never stop our cars every time we needed to turn the wheels to make a curve, if we stopped every time we needed to steer we'd never get anywhere!
3. Keep your eyes on your target (where you are going). Not on your bow or your paddle. You will go where you are looking and you can make quick corrective strokes/maneuvers as soon as you get off track.Keep your bow lined up with your target while looking at the target. When you were in drivers ed, remember looking just over the hood trying to look at the pavement directly in front of the car? That didn't go too well did it? You had to look BEYOND the hood and out and up. Same with paddling.
3. Use your forward sweep on the move stroke to correct your direction. Resolve to ONLY use forward maneuvers to keep forward momentum.
4. Constantly edge your boat while continuing your forward paddling motion, the more you practice this the easier it gets. It gets downright FUN to edge while you are accelerating! Be sure to keep your eyes up while edging and on your target. You can certainly pair your edging with a forward on the move sweep stroke if you need a big correction in steering.
5. Foot pedal your feet. When your blade catches at your feet into the water, press hard on that same foot peg. Then the same on the other side. This gives you maximum bracing and helps with forward momentum.
6. Push/pull with your hands. The blade that is in the air, push with your top hand, and then vice versa on the other side. Keep your eyes on your target. Resist the urge to look at your hands. We tend to look at whatever skill we are focusing on but train yourself to use these skills while keeping your eyes on your target.
7. Make sure you have warmed up and stretched before hitting the water, especially spinal twists, hip looseners, and shoulder stretches!
I hope these tips help you with forward momentum and cutting those brake lines! It's also always a good idea to pair up with an instructor or skilled paddler and ask them to observe your skill set to give you feedback. They may be able to see how you can perform the skills even better.