Mats Bengtsson kayaking and kayak techniques

Useful bracing for beginners losing balance

Mats Bengtsson mib over the years

Am I good enough to help with bracing?

In fact, the opposite, I am still bad enough, thus I have fresh experience and remember the problems. I have looked at a number of videos. I have read a number of instructions, I have attended a number of courses, I have talked with a number of the good ones. And they do help on how bracing is done. And they do show how to do it, and how to avoid some pitfalls. And they explain when to use different kinds of braces. I have paddled about a full year. I do know how to do some kinds of braces including the eskimo roll, and I do practice them frequently (so on calm water when I am prepared, I can use them, hopefully also on less calm water and as an instinctive reaction, so far this year, I hav enot been out past 14 meter per second and a little more than one meter waves).

In the beginning I used to do a lot of turns using bracing when turning. This was done in order not to lose balance while turning. However, the most important thing after learning the two main braces (the low brace and the high brace), is to learn when not to use them, and how to do instead. That is what this part is about.

You can use unpure bracing to learn not to brace

This is the key to it all. Using bracing skills in order not to need to use bracing. Sounds complicated? Confused? Well, let me assure you, it is simple, and it will become clear in just a few moments. Basically, it is about avoiding using the good clean bracing technique until you really are falling, and instead using a not so good version of the not so good bracing technique until then, in order to keep your speed up and lower the power needed to get where you want.The low brace is the best brace to learn, and easiest brace to learn, and very useful for turning when waves are coming from the back. Thus this is the main brace to avoid using as a precaution, saving it until it really is needed.

The technique for the low brace is simple and defined in detail in many other places. The included video shows it performed, and also illustrates how easy it is. Basically, place the backside of the paddle almost flat on the water with the forward edge of the paddle just a little higher than the backward edge, which is important since you normally have forward speed and do not want the paddle to dig down in the water due to that forward speed. Then push on it while rotating the hip to bring the kayak back up. Let the head stay low to the side until completed.

In the very beginning, it is actually hard to do even the low brace. After only a little practice, it quickly becomes quite easy. However, main trick is not to use the low brace as a precaution even though it is a good brace and easy to use. The reason for this is that the brace slows you down and also prevents you from learning to paddle well in wavy water. (I will later define one situation where it should be used, other usages should be when you have already started to fall, that is using it late, not as a precaution).

The second best brace is the high brace. It is harder to learn, and as defined in theory, it is used in trickier situations, thus used more seldom. This is in fact what you instead should be using often, but not in the textbook sence, but in an unpure way. Let me explain that later, but let use first define the high brace. The high brace is when the power side of the blade is pressed against the water in order to regain balance of the kayak. Once again, the definition and the method is defined in many places, but to give a short description, one good way of getting to that position is to lower your elbows along your side, and place your hands holding the paddle in about shoulder hight, pressed close to your breast. Doing that, the power side of the blade is now pointing downwards towards the water.

Move towards using the unpure high brace instead of a low brace

How often do you really use, or want to use, a high brace considering the description above? The paddle front side is pointing down to the water. What you need to do is to lean the kayak some more than 45 degrees to any side, and you will have an apportunity to perform a high brace (that is, basically after having fallen down quite a lot). Or you could wait for a wave hitting your kayak from the side, along the long side of the kayak, and being so high that the tip of the wave is higher than your shoulder when you are still riding the wave and so close to the wave that its side is less than 50 centimers from your side (so the paddle reaches into the wave).

In the first case we are talking about a serious situation, where the kayak is almost lying down on the side, and in the second case about a situation where you are in breaking waves with the steep part being at least 70 centimeters or so (since your kayak has rosen with the wave as it rises). Such waves are likely to be at least 1.5 meters, and when you are riding them successfully, you are likely to know not only bracing, but also you are likely to be interested in learning the eskimo roll.

Make unpure high braces by paddling forward

So what do I then mean by using the high brace often? Well, use it as a precaution, in an unpure way, instead of as a salvation in a clean way. Use it while paddling forwards. Time your paddling in such a way that every time you are hit by a serious high wave, independent of if it comes from the side, the front, or the rear, your are just starting on your next paddling stroke, with the paddle a bit from the top of the wave. That is all you need to do, and through that you will be a lot more stable. Doing like that is in fact doing an unclean high brace (look at the paddle grip you have halfway through the stroke, if you just bend your elbows and place your hands closer to the body, it becomes the high brace position). The stroke itself will keep you supported enough to stay upright., and it will keep your paddling speed relatively high. And it will cost a lot less muscle power than doing true braces now and then and then restarting the paddling. In fact, a good thing with the unpure paddling stroke is that it makes it a lot easier to learn to allow the kayak to roll with the waves, while keeping your upper body point of gravity inside the kayak.

Example of unpure bracing through forward paddling

Let us take an example. Waves are coming from the side (always tricky, let us assume from your left to be able to explain the example). The first part of the high wave is starting to lift you, and starting to roll your kayak a little. You could if the wave is reasonably low use a low brace against the front of the wave. Or if the wave truly is high, a high brace. In the first case, do not. In the second case, if the wave is so high, you can not make a forward paddling stroke against it, do it, but only if it is so high, or if it is no longer a green wave but actually breaking on top of you and your kayak. But assuming the last is not the case, what you should do is simply to take a forward paddling stroke. Take it against the wave on your left side, and if possible in the rising part of the wave on the kayak side of the wave top, or if needed , including the wave top and a little more.

If you do not keep your paddle almost vertical, which you would not if you are using the touring paddling style, and if you do not keep you paddle blade fully vertical, what you now have is a brace towards the wave more specifically towards the wave part with built in lifting power. You have it with the powerside of the blade, why it is most similar to a high brace. But you do not use it as a brace instead of keeping speed. You do not use it with the breaking force of a true brace built in. Instead you have a weaker brace, but a brace which is used before you need a true brace, and which is used to keep balance rather than restore balance.

If it is really a high wave, you will soon find it passing your kayak below you by lifting you high into the air. Your left side paddle (the first unclean brace used) is getting closer to the bottom of the wave. It is either going to be too far above the wave (if the wave is high), or it will be at the end of your paddling stroke, in both cases it is no longer very useful. But your next stroke is likely to be possible to be timed with the wave that just passed under you, giving you a new unclean brace using a paddling stroke on the right of the kayak against the top of the wave. And after that, you are either so deep between waves that you see time for a normal paddle stroke, or you can time your next left side stroke to be placed close to the top of the next wave. Thus, all you do is go on paddling. You might need to (in fact, you would be very lucky if you would not need to) adjust your padlding speed to the speed of the waves, but you are paddling. This is a lot better than stopping the paddling in order to take braces. If at any time, one of the waves turn out to be breaking on you, or in any other way such that you can not keep balance using a forward paddle stroke, then you are already in the perfect setup for converting the planned stroke to a high brace. Just lean into the wave, lift the edge of the kayak on the opposite side the wave is coming from, and keep the paddle stuck in the middle of the planned low forward stroke, and you are in fact riding the wave using a high brace.

It is the very same if waves are coming from behind you, or from front of you. Except, instead of aiming a little to the side of the wave top, you aim to plant your paddle a little in front of the wave top. Again, this gives you a brace at the same time as a forward paddling movement. Also, after a while you will get good at judging the wave tops coming from behind you.

Turning in waves from the back

Turning in waves is a technique which will be improved over time. In fact, there are different methods to use depending on if you are going with waves in the back, or aiming to turn up into the wind, or away from the wind, ...

If we focus only on the situation when waves are coming from the back, that is when the rudder technique is working well. If you use the backside of the blade, pushing it out from the kayak in the back, that is where the low brace remains a useful technique long before using it to stop a fall. You can make very good turns in that way, in high waves, while having a good support from falling. It will slow you down, but if the turn is to be sharp, you will not lose much from that slowing. If you use the paddle less as a low brace to lean on, and more as a rudder, it will not slow you down as much, but it will also support you a little less. So how much of the blade that is angled for a low brace and how much that is angled as a rudder, is a question on how stable you feel.

An addition based on the paddling technique for bracing is worth mentioning. As you become better at judging waves, you will find yourself better and better at paddling with the paddle planted sligthly before the top of the wave which is passing from behind you. This actually leads to you being on the top of the wave while taking a paddle stroke. This can be used to turn the kayak, at the same time as using the paddling stroke as a high brace. Not the best way to turn a lot (low brace turn is better at that), but a very good way to make smaller turns, specially if we talk about small turns designed to keep you going with the waves without becoming turned up with your longside against the waves.

All of the above will lead you to paddling safer, with less use of power, and allowing separation between lower body and upper body movements.


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