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Braces and the Body; what's the connection?

This is one 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 cover what the body does. Next we'll cover using the paddle in the low and high brace positions.

What you'll discover is that your BODY rights the boat. The PADDLE centers your body over the righted boat. In a bomber brace, these two actions occur simultaneously. Because it's difficult to learn more than one counter-Intuitive motion at a time, first learn the action of the body to right the boat effortlessly.

Believe it or not, the head bone's connected to the hip bone, the hip bone's connected to the knee bone, and the knee bone's connected to your boat! Therefore, it is what you do with your head that is the overriding factor in whether the brace you're doing is effortless and effective.


  • Sit on the floor as though you are in your kayak. Tilt your "boat" on edge by lifting one cheek off the floor.
  • Balance yourself by keeping your hands in the air below and in front of your shoulders on either side of your body.

Notice that your spine curves toward the high hip/knee in an effort to counterbalance. When the river puts you in this position the instinctive response is to keep the head as far above the water as possible. This however, only serves to pull up harder on the knee that's already too high for balance. This negative spiral continues until, despite all efforts with the paddle, your head succeeds in pulling your boat far enough off balance that it causes you to flip. The river provided the initial instability, your head caused your flip!

To right an over-edged boat, the knee that's going underwater must pull up to level things out. Knowing that the head bone is circuitously connected to the hip/knee bones, you can switch the direction that the head moves to succeed in pulling up on the correct knee!

What? Drop your head into the fall?
Yep, by dropping your head toward the water you:

1. lower your center of gravity
2. disengage the knee that's pulling the boat over and
3. ENGAGE the knee that rights the boat.

The hinge point of this motion is at the waist - laterally. Another way to get full use of this righting motion Is to drive the rib-cage-under-you're-armpit, inward toward the spine. Remember though, the head and knee are the "ends" of this hinge so to get the fullest range of motion use the head to pull the knee up.

Practice doing this with a slight edge in your living room river right now.

  • Get into the position described in the second paragraph. We call this "riding the rail" when it occurs on the river. You now have nanoseconds in which to respond correctly!
  • Drop your head toward and pull up on the lower hip/knee simultaneously. The "boat" responds, your cheeks flatten evenly on the floor, your balance is regained. Wa-hoo! You now know the secret to an effortless brace.

Take this drill to flatwater. Notice that a flat boat is stable. This is called primary stability and we'll give it a rating of 0 on the tilt scale.

  • Now without a paddle, hold your hands as described above.
  • Rock your hips underneath you while keeping your head upright and over the boat.
  • Stop rocking.
  • Shift your rib cage toward one side of the boat until it settles comfortably into a stable tilt. There's no wobble here, the boat is solid and it's not tilted very far. This is called the boats point of secondary stability. We'll call this a 2 on the tilt scale.
  • From a 1 or 2 degree tilt, practice dropping your head toward the water as described above. You might also think about driving the rib cage Inward. Remember to pull up simultaneously on the lower hip/knee. Notice that dropping your head laterally allows the lower knee to flatten the boat.

This motion is also known as a head dink, or dinking. The saying goes, " better to dink than get dunked!" Practice this body motion from the 1 - 2 tilt setting until it is smooth and fluid. Your muscles need to be ingrained with the new habit in order to override your heads natural instinct to stay up.

If this motion causes your neck to feel sore, or you feel a crick in your neck, or you have a bad neck, there is a gentler "dink" for you. Rather than dropping your head laterally into the dink, turn your face toward the water.


With a setting of 3-4 degrees you may find yourself upside-down, so use your nose plugs and practice this with a buddy. Better yet, keep your tilt In the 2-3 tilt range. Realize that once the boat nears the point of no return, only a paddle in conjunction with the dink results in the most reliable brace. With this body motion, good paddlers can brace up in the most unlikely situations; upstream or downstream, and never feel a tweak on the shoulder. Check out Braces and the Body; High Brace! to see how the paddle can assist the body in doing a safe and bombproof brace.

Is posture an issue for you? Do you find yourself flipping while others remain upright? Click here to find information, drills and tips that will help you improve your posture.

Click here to go back to the index of techinique tips.

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