Whether you are a complete beginner or an internationally regarded expert – people will always share advice with you on how to improve your paddling. I’ve been paddling for 6 years and I could not even begin to list all of the pieces of advice I’ve been given.
Some tips however have really stuck with me as they made such a positive impact on my paddling. These were tips that permanently changed the way I approached an aspect of my paddling and made a clear impact on my overall progression as a paddler. Read on to find out what they were!
1. Sit up and engage your hips
After spending a week in Norway with the wonderful Beth Morgan, there was a noticeable shift in my paddling. This was mainly due to one very simple tip that Beth shared with me. She told me to sit up in my kayak and actually engage my hips when paddling. It made me realise that I had two very bad habits that were holding me back. Firstly I had a tendency to lean back in my kayak and secondly I had my backrest far too tight.
By loosening the backrest in my kayak and forcing myself to engage my hips, I would automatically be in a more upright position. This allowed me to stretch forward more with each paddle stroke and have more power and stability. I now am a lot more conscious of this and force myself to actively sit up before I paddle any rapids. I feel more in control and therefore enjoy myself more as well.
2. Rotate when paddling
At the same time that Beth was getting me to sit upright, the lovely Jamie from Paddle365 was helping me to focus on my forward paddling technique. If you have spent quality time working on your forward paddling, you will be aware that there is a lot to remember if you want to paddle well. If you are paddling purely just by pulling with your arms, this is very inefficient. Unfortunately, I had definitely got into that habit!
A lot of good forward paddling comes down to rotating when you are paddling and using your core to help power you. By rotating you can get your paddle further forward and more vertical. It is also important to use both arms. Focusing on your rotation reminds you to push with the top arm with each stroke and not just pull with your bottom arm.
If I am honest, rotation is still my biggest weakness in my paddling. It is something I have got a lot better at but am still putting a lot of work into to improve. However, I am willing to put in that work as I know how valuable it will be in improving my paddling!
Considering angles when choosing your lines is something that is now so embedded in my paddling that it is hard to remember there was a time when I didn’t think about them. I used to decide I was going to get an eddy on river right and bumble down the right-hand side of the river until I got to that eddy. Inevitably I would wobble as I crossed the eddy line and end up right at the bottom of the eddy. Then I spent a weekend with Ross from New Wave and he completely changed how I thought about moving on a river.
It is far easier to catch an eddy stylishly if you approach that eddy at an angle and with commitment. If I wanted to get an eddy on river right, Ross suggested coming at it from river left. This meant that my boat would be at an angle crossing the eddy line and I could add a big powerstroke as I crossed that line. Suddenly getting an eddy seemed so much easier. It completely changed the way I move myself around the river and affects how I choose my lines.
4. Bum shuffle to get out of a hole
Last Easter I brought a playboat and started to spend a lot of time messing around at my local whitewater course and re-learning some basics of boat control. One of the things I spent time on was basic hole control. I had spent years of big boating and trying very hard to not get stuck in holes. Suddenly I was trying to work on leaving the hole but not enough to flush out, just enough to set up for my next move. It was something that turned out to be far more challenging than I expected!
My good friend Nathan, who happens to be a freestyle ninja, spent a lot of time trying to help me to work on this. He shared one tip with me which was to ‘bum shuffle’ your way out of a hole. By this, he meant to shift your weight from your upstream cheek to your downstream cheek as if you were sliding. This will usually result in a slight dip of your downstream edge which allows you to get out without even needing to use your paddles. It really helped and is something I try to keep in mind whilst in my playboat. Video below is an example of one of these sessions – I would suggest having the sound on!
5. If in doubt, lean forwards
A few years ago I spent a very wet day in South Wales. We were just getting on for a second huge Tawe lap when a local guy called Thomas asked if he could join us. We agreed and all had a lovely lap. By the time we got off, the Tawe was over 1.5 on the gauge and we decided to head to the moors. The rain kept coming and the Moors were certainly going! If you have never paddled the Tawe Moors before, it is awesome but deceptively fast.
We got to the last couple of drops and to say I was feeling nervous was an understatement. Thomas turned to me and said ‘lean forwards and you will be fine!’. So that is what I did and fine I was. The final drop was exhilarating but felt very full on. However, through leaning forwards I felt so much more stable and managed to stay upright, which I was very pleased about. Now when the gradient picks up, leaning slightly more forwards is like a comfort blanket for me.
I hope some of those tips are as useful to you for improving your paddling as they were for me! I am sure you have your own bank of ‘top tips’ as well and I would encourage you to share those with others.
If you were wondering why it has been a while since my last article it is because I have been very busy training for my next challenge. This is a 24 hour paddling challenge for charity and you can read all about it here.