Showing posts with label skills. Show all posts
Showing posts with label skills. Show all posts

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Forward Momentum; Cutting the Brake Lines

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. 

Happy paddling! 
Kay-Yoga Jo

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Finding Stability in a Sea of Chaos

As we indulge the sounds of life, a mosaic of diverse vibrations, notes, and beats play upon our ears at times orchestrated with purpose, other times randomly.   With the experience of life, we perceive these sounds and wire our minds to react to them in thoughtful predictable ways.   The sea is not unlike our terrestrial world.  As we watch the ocean, we see another type of concert manifested in the waves with rhythmic vibrations, harmonics and beats similar to the sounds we surf with our ears.  As kayakers, we are afforded the unique opportunity to become part of the music of the sea.  Where every other water going vessel passively opposes the sea's forces, the kayak alone is able to interpret and play upon each wave with elegance and precision, realizing remarkable stability for watercraft of such narrow proportions.  Last year I faced faced a situation of hostile conditions far out at sea for more than 10 hours (see "50 miles at sea") and learned in course of the trip, rather than futilely react to each wave, there was a opportunity to assimilate with the rhythms of the sea and feel stable in the midst of chaos using my paddle as an instrument, and my cadence as a verse.

But the waves and motions of the sea are even more complex and diverse than a symphony orchestra.  Waves originate from many sources and many directions, close by from boats to storms and winds hundreds and thousands of miles away, and even reflect from rocks and shorelines and move in opposite directions making the water very confused and difficult for kayaks.  A paddler unfamiliar with such conditions, like a person encountering a loud strange and unanticipated sound will react defensively with a thoughtless opposing reaction.  As we gain knowledge of unfamiliar sounds, we respond with a predictable and well thought out action.  Similarly, as kayakers, we will encounter difficult conditions many times and must develop ways to handle these situations.  Especially in a long trip where we may face difficult conditions for hours and days at a time, we do not have the luxury to react to each wave.

Large cruise ships use sophisticated stabilization systems with bracing fins that work exactly in the same manner as a kayaker braces with a paddle to provide remarkable stability in rough seas.  As its complex computer algorithms interpret the sea's motions and rhythms, so do our minds in an even more eloquent way with the the ability to anticipate the conditions and instinctually apply the proper stabilizing actions.

The kayak itself has little innate stability.  Although wider beam kayaks for the novice possess a higher degree of primary stability,  nothing comes close to the skills of a skillful paddler.  In wavy conditions, primary stability works against the paddler and shows its weakness inherent in every other craft as it characteristically applies a righting force to bring the kayak level to the surface of the water.  If that surface is on the slope of a wave, the kayak's primary stability will actually attempt to right the kayak more sideways which can be seriously destabilizing in the moving motion of the waves.  In challenging conditions, lower primary stability is more desirable as the paddler assumes the responsibility for providing the stability.  But every kayak still has some primary stability, and the paddler will be pressed to mitigate the affects of the waves on that primary stability in addition to the other effects by applying a brace to each stroke.

Applying a brace to the stroke is a simple matter slightly angling the blade downward during the stroke.   Angling the blade will add a downward force component in addition to a forward thrust.  Adjusting the downward angle of the paddle can be done very quickly.  Often times the paddler will need to try a number of angle settings to find just the right bracing strength.  But once the right angle is found, its normally good for the wave set and should be noted for similar reoccurring sets of waves.  If more bracing force is required to cross over a sharply pointed wave or through a whitecap break, a downward pry can be added to the stroke by pushing straight down on the braced blade during a stroke.  The pry can be used only when a brace is applied to the stroke.  Otherwise, the blade will knife downward and possibly compromise stability.  If a wave hitting the kayak requires a pry on a brace, the paddler should be ready to brace quickly on the other side to address a possible abnormally harsh transition to the downward slope with a temporary shift to a fast cadence.   As I paddled long hours in rough conditions, I was periodically hit by isolated waves which posed a problem, requiring a fast cadence until the wave passed.  On a couple of occasions  a wave broke over my bow, causing the kayak to spin off course like a compass needle.  The fast cadence possibly averted a capsize far from shore.    

As waves travel through the ocean they combine and cancel each other out.  Over a distance, the resulting set of waves normalize into a consistant procession known as a "wave train".  The waves further congregate into groups like harmonics from a string instrument, which  called "sets".  The kayaker will notice groups of similar size waves passing in cycles as wave sets come and go.  The paddler will need to adjust to changing wave sets by altering the brace angle and cadence to match the oncoming set of waves and make fine adjustments.  Through a number of cycles the paddler will notice a pattern which can be anticipated and formulated into a strategy to be used at any time in the future.  As we learn to anticipate the notes of songs we hear many times, paddlers on longer trips will have the ability to predict when wave sets will arrive and structure tasks around the arrival of specific sets of waves.
As a padder moves through a rough conditions with the wave train at the beam, the kayak will transition between the upward and downward slopes of each wave.   With a normalized wave train, the waves are spaced consistency.   The paddler may use this to an advantage, by matching their stroke cadence to the consistant period of the wave train.  A slower cadence is used for longer wave periods.  A faster cadence is used for more confused conditions with sharp pointed waves.  When in doubt, I always start with a faster cadence and adjust downward to empirically match the conditions.  The transition between braces should match the crest and the trough where the slope changes.  After a while I was able to develop an instinct to match my cadence to the wave train and develop a strategy for a number of conditions and realize a feeling of stability and confidence in a sea of chaos as these motions became more instinctual.

As kayakers, the chorus of the sea summons our skills and intuition to artfully ply confused waters with uncommon grace and dexterity while bearing witness to its every nuance like no other craft.  As a musician contributes to a song, the kayaker flows with the beats and rhythms of the sea, wielding their paddle in a special art of seamanship as a small contributor in the greatest composition.

Copyright 2012 Lyman A Copps

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Lessons Learned from Surfing


There's probably nothing more fun (to some of us adrenaline junkies) than surfing the perfect wave.

That said, and after a surf day that was chock full of lessons learned from observation, I'd like to share these pointers.  Please feel free to add your own comments and knowledge!

·        Assess the waves when you arrive first.  Are they dumping?  What is the timing between them?  What are the conditions?
·        Assess the beach –
a.      Piers? Jetties? Obstacles?
b.      Crowded with people?  Is it safe for them if you surf?
·        Assess the weather
a.      Wind – which direction and where will you get blown
b.      Rip current formed by strong wind?
c.      T-storm likely?
·        Assess your kayak surf group
a.      Skills
b.      Safety
c.      Courtesy
·        Rules
a.      No ‘parking’ down wave of another kayak
b.      No rescues in the surf impact zone
c.      After riding a wave, turn and make a loop out of the ‘flight pattern’ of other kayakers
d.      Be alert for swimmers and surfers on the wave, and do not snake their wave
·        Surf  exit
a.      Stand ocean side of the kayak
·        Getting dumped in the surf
a.      Get on the ocean side of your kayak, not the beach side
b.      Do not put fingers in the toggle loop
c.      Let the kayak go  – you’ll dislocate or injure your shoulder or hand attempting to hang onto it
d.      Do not attempt a ‘pole roll’ near the beach…another good way to injure a shoulder
·        Rescues in swells or at sea
  1. Be Careful!

Monday, November 5, 2012

Fall brings Falling temps = Hypothermia Risk

Each year, needless deaths occur from hypothermia.  The ACA states that 70% of drownings could have been avoided if the victim was wearing a PFD.  This doesn't reflect the number who may not have died of cold shock or hypothermia had they been properly dressed for immersion.

So here's my general rule:  If you do not wish to swim in the water as you are dressed, then you should not be kayaking (or SUP) in the water....doesn't matter how experienced you are.

Capsizes happen... kayaking is a wet sport... if you are not dressed for the water temps, you are risking your life.  Hypothermia robs your body of heat, mental acuity and physical dexterity.

Try this test.  plunge your hand into a bucket of ice water for up to 5 minutes and see if you can still pick up a penny....sounds so simple, right?  Most heat loss occurs from head, neck, hands and torso.  Know the H.E.L.P position.... better yet... don't put yourself at risk.

Options to wear based on water temperature :
• Drysuit
• Wetsuit
• Paddling Jacket or Drytop
• Neoprene hood, gloves, socks
• Heavy neoprene boots
• Fleece undergarment for Drysuit
• Warm paddling hat
• Rashguard or wicking under layer

You may also wish to carry a cag, bivvy bag, or shelter, matches or lighter, thermos of hot tea, and warm change of clothing.  Knowing how to help someone else who is showing symptoms of hypothermia may help save their life.

Need more information?  Almost every kayaking website like ours, has informaton devoted to cold weather.  You'll find a helpful temperature chart and compelling video on the above link.  Feel free to post references to share!