Club Tips… [56]

By Larry Gray

Too little is said about the advantages of the low action paddle style. A low paddling style allows high-speed access to an enormous range of support, rudder, conversion and many bracing strokes necessary for ease of control. It has a quick effect on both high and low braces. While the higher racing style of paddling is a quicker way of getting about in flat to moderate conditions, it offers far less maneuverability and has no advantage in strong wind. Thus the paddler has far less control in more turbulent conditions. Because one end of the paddle blade is high in the air and catching wind and the other is vertically in the water offering little support, the racing style is far less effective for rudderless or serious off-shore kayaking. The ocean is fluid and ever changing; you need to be too. With the low hand’s style, the blade is less vertical in the water and closer to the action. Horses for courses, they say. Well show jumping is different to cross-country. Mountain biking different to road racing techniques. The same goes for sea kayaking when compared with slalom or flat-water racing.

Here are a few useful techniques.

Conversion strokes.

A conversion stroke is one that changes from one function into another with simple movement. A slight twist of the wrist will convert a forward stroke into a support at any point while the blade passes through the water. The top hand drops only slightly lower than your nose through out the journey of the stroke. The paddle rotation speed is hardly affected; the support stroke itself is not visible, as it maybe only slight and performed completely under water.

Another conversion stroke that’s simple to practice is the flat paddle support. At the end of a stroke, the paddle surfaces behind the paddler with the back of the blade gliding on the surface to one side. The range of support can vary anywhere within 45 degrees from the kayak tail depending on the support needed. Top hand grips firm, lower hand grip is relaxed. The paddler is only slightly leaning on the blade depending on how sensitive one is to the conditions. The paddle shaft lies flat on the cockpit adding support and a reference point, while a stable forward glide is maintained. There are just as many conversion techniques as there are rolling ways, too numerous to detail in one article.

Shortening The Paddle.

When paddling on the beam of a very strong wind or gale, try shortening the blade to the wind. Even one hand length to the blade will take the sting out of the wind gusts and give the paddler more power to deal with surprises that can catch a paddler off guard. Remember to lean hard into the wind Shortening the paddle to control a sea kayak in the surf is very important in fast powerful dumpers. It means the paddler has a stronger command to restrict excessive arm & shoulder movement.

Extended Paddle Techniques

The clear advantage of the extended paddle is creating a leverage advantage for maneuverability. The paddle can reach further to ether the bow or stern to maximise the effect of a maneuver. The other great advantage is that the paddle takes much longer to sink under weight out wide, therefore a brace or roll has more time to be effective.

Blocking Strokes to Re-channel Energy ( Advanced Rudderless)

After some time in a paddler;s life, sea patterns become obvious. As a familiar swell chop whips up in a quarter aft sea condition, It has an effect on the kayak. First the tail will glide slightly then realign followed by the bow a second or so later. To convert that energy into forward motion, block the tail just before the swell makes contact at the rear, lean forward and see what happens!! Best applied in steep chop while moving fast. You may well ask why break my rhythm of paddling? To make it all worthwhile, the time most advantageous is when a chop or wave is possible to ride. As the tail is about to swing, The paddle is held stationary in a Three-Quarter-rudder support pulling against the gunwhale.(final stage of a J stroke). When it works it’s very rewarding and energy saving !!

The paddle should be seen as a variable tool. This is easily the most important lesson I’ve learned from the Greenlanders. Anything else is a limitation. The lower style of paddling is suited to a broad range of sea conditions. This is the style a serious sea kayaker must master and rely on. If a paddler thinks it is possible to simply adapt to a low hands technique only when necessary, this may not be the case. When conditions turn really nasty and a paddler is scared and tired he or she will revert to the most familiar style. If most of a paddlers practice is for maximising a forward stroke (racing) he or she may never get to experience the full benefits of the more important and broader open water paddling style.