Braces and the Body; what's the connection?
This is the third article of a three part series designed to transform your brace into a bombproof skill that will work in most river situations and never hurt your shoulder. First we covered what the body does in Braces and the Body; what's the connection?. Next we covered using the paddle in the high brace position in Braces and the Body; High Brace! Now we'll cover the strongest brace.
There are two body positions that increase your stability when bracing; upright and forward.
- Sit upright and slightly forward by arching your back while pushing your navel toward the front of your cockpit.
- Feel your pelvis roll forward, your knees and thighs press up under the deck, and your spine grow taller. This aggressive paddling posture gives you the best position of balance.
Watch your local hole guru at play and you will notice that the brace most often used is the low brace. Hmmm, what's at play here (besides the guru)?
First, there are two ways to use any brace - to recover when unbalanced and to move around while staying balanced. The low brace is the strongest one both for moving around in a hole and staying balanced in most any situation. If I were allowed to use only one kind of brace, this would be my choice.
Practice a recovering low brace on flatwater.
- With your paddle shaft held horizontally in front of your body, roll your shaft forward and down as you raise your elbows up. This places the backside of the blade flat on the surface of the water. The higher the elbows, the more the shoulders move forward and over the shaft. This safe and strong position enhances the aggressive posture described above, giving you the greatest degree of stability.
- Now, tilt your boat 2 degrees. Remember that to drop your head toward and pull up on the lower hip/knee simultaneously is key to righting the boat.
- Concurrent to this dinking motion, slide your low brace slightly forward and inward. At the end clear the blade from the water by rolling your knuckles back to slice the blade free.
The higher the elbows, the flatter the bracing blade sits on the surface, and the more pure support is achieved. Conversely, the lower the elbows, the more vertical the blade becomes relative to the surface, and the less supportive the blade is. However, this beveled blade can now be anchored to push the boat backward. When playing in a hole the degree of "elbows up" varies. The more pure support required, the higher the elbows; the more movement of the boat attempted, the lower the elbows.
If this is such a solid and versatile brace why then is it often the second choice of many learning kayakers?
The number one reason could be overcompensation to flipping upstream. Not only does the kayaker learn to edge downstream, he learns to over-edge. This results in needing to rely on the blade for support. One can lean on a low brace only with the elbows in the highest position to maintain the flattest and most stable blade. In this position the paddler can't free up the paddle to move around. Essentially, he has put down the kickstand and is now "stuck" in the hole. If an attempt is made to back out, the beveled blade cannot support the over-edged boat and a downstream flip occurs.
The second reason flips occur with the low brace is when the elbows "get lazy". The unsuspecting kayaker now relies for support on a beveled blade and slowly falls downstream.
A third type of flip occurs when the kayaker is moving backward in the hole. Feeling the solid support of the flat blade, he pushes the boat backward so aggressively that the upstream knee drops and bam! Window-shaded!
What to do? First, practice in small friendly holes. Keep the brace in front of the body for stability and safety. Keep the blade in close to the boat to prevent over-edging. Maintain a firm minimal level of edge with the upstream knee. And be sure that the elbows stay up. If you could hear me barking encouragement from the eddy, I'd most likely be saying, "Elbows up! Lean forward!".