Articles - How To Master Brace Strokes - Whitewater Kayak Skills

Whitewater Kayaker Ed Smith Low Bracing in a Hole
Whitewater Kayaker Ed Smith Low Bracing in a Hole
Ed Smith - Posted on 24 Jun 2010
CKUK.CO.UK's resident freestyle fiend and steep creek addict Ed Smith gets back to basics as he takes us through the essential skills for safe and fun river running.

Pre-requisites:
In order to kick off practicing your braces on flat water you only need to have basic understanding of correct body posture in a kayak and how to hold a paddle. If you’re new to braces I would suggest you practice in warm weather or in a swimming pool as you’re destined for a good rinsing!

Before moving on to using braces in a hole it is essential that you have them dialed on flat water and are comfortable on grade 3 whitewater. Kitting out a boat to fit you snuggly will also make things a lot easier and more enjoyable.

On the flat:Whitewater basic skills - Low Brace on the flat
  • Low Brace – used when slightly over balancing: When I was first learning the low brace I was given a great piece of advice from a crazy French man - “hold your paddle like a monkey” - Seems stupid but its true when you think about it. Sit upright in your kayak holding your paddle normally. From here keep your hands down at cockpit level and lift your elbows up almost level with your shoulders. Doing this correctly means that the paddle blade nearest your gripping hand will be face up with the back of the blade to the water… And you’ll vaguely look like a monkey.

To gain effective use of this brace it is essential that when practicing it you keep good, slightly forward of centre posture and always keep you head over the boat.

To practice, get in the monkey position then slightly lift the hand on the side you are going do the recovery stroke and keep your opposite hand low at cockpit level. This puts your paddle at an angle so that when you’re off balance and you bring the support stroke down it will provide maximum resistance to the water and maximum support for you. Ideally it will make a satisfying SLAP sound. As you do the recovery stroke flick your hips back to a stable, level position. The hard bit is putting yourself off balance in the first place as it’s not the most pleasant feeling so getting a practice partner to do it for you is best.

  • High Brace – used when severely off balanceA whitewater kayaker Ready to high brace his kayak in a hole
From the correct ‘monkey’ position of the low brace simply keep your elbows in the same high position but rotate them so your hands are now pointing up to the sky, level with your head. The paddle blade nearest your gripping hand will now be face down. Using the face of the paddle blade makes the high brace a much more powerful recovery stroke with a lot more leverage; because of this always keep a bend in your elbow to prevent your shoulders being in a vulnerable position. Like the low brace, keep positive forward posture as if you don’t it will be a lot harder to recover yourself to an upright position.

To start get your paddle in position, then while keeping the recovery stroke hand at head level lower your opposite hand. Like the low brace this puts your paddle at an angle to give you maximum resistance and support. Once again it’s easiest if a practice partner can tip you off balance especially as you need to be severely off balance (on your side) to practice this brace. When they do so we’re looking for that satisfying slap from the paddle blade again as we flick our hips back to a stable, level position.

The key with to a successful high brace is leaving your head behind! That’s right; your head is heavy and has a lot of leverage so trying to bring it up first will result in capsizing. Hips first, which means that your kayak is upright and stable, then you can bring your body and head up. If you’re unsuccessful your practice partner is also there to support you and pull you back upright.

When practicing these braces, quickly try doing them leaning back (incorrect body posture) you’ll notice that they’re incredibly hard. This will point out to you how important keeping good posture is when on a river!

In the hole:A kayaker using a low brace in a hole

When stuck in a hole braces are useful but to quote former World Freestyle Champion, author and coach Ken Whiting, “Your paddle is not a crutch to lean on, it’s there if you need it”. Taking your weight off your boat is the best way to end up out of control in a hole, so to keep on top of things keep your body in a slightly forward of centre position and keep your head over your boat. To prevent an uncalled for upstream power-flip, edge your boat slightly downstream by lifting your upstream knee.

Now you’re ready to take action! Use the paddle blade on your downstream side to do forward or backward strokes depending on which is the easiest way out of the hole. Never put a paddle stroke in on your upstream side in a hole as you will most certainly power-flip and put your shoulders at risk.

Summary:

  • Low brace: Hold your paddle like a monkey, elbows bent and above the paddle.Bad technique - how not top do a high brace
  • Always keep good forward posture. Keep elbows bent to prevent shoulder injury when using high brace. (bottom image shows BAD technique. Brace like this and you put your shoulders at high risk. Don't do it!)
  • Leave your head behind for a successful high brace recovery.
  • Your paddle is not a crutch to lean on!
  • Paddling at this stage should be done under supervision of a qualified coach.

For more HOW TO and basic skills articles check out the 'Starting Out' section, or head to the 'Whitewater' section for river running adventure

Looking for a river to run? Takew a surf to the Places to Paddle section for our comprehensive online river guides

Whitewater kayaker & Canoe & Kayak UK Mag Contributor Ed SmithIf you have any questions for Ed visit www.canoekayak.co.uk/contributors and drop him a line

Ed is supported by Dagger Kayaks, Palm Equipment and H2O Paddles







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