10 Paddling Skills Every Paddler Should Know!


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Paddling Skill 1: Execute a J-stroke

This paddling skill will save your shoulder from having to do extra work. Don’t rudder while your partner pulls you along from the bow. Take the advice of former ACA Director of Safety and Instruction Gordon Black: “As the forward stroke finishes twist your torso toward the paddle. Let the paddle blade travel behind you then twist your top hand down and away from you. Lever the paddle by pulling the top hand toward the center of the boat, and pull the shaft hand out away from the boat. The same face of the paddle pushes against the water throughout the stroke, and you finish by letting the blade come up out of the water, ready for recovery.”


Paddling Skill 2: Read Water

Read the water ahead of you like a book by looking for inconsistencies in the current. Riffles mean shallows, horizon lines spell rapids, and an abrupt rise means watch out for a buried rock. Get as high a vantage point as you can to see downstream, and when in doubt look for the V showing the deepest, safest passage. On turns, avoid getting swept downstream with the fast water. If it’s ripping against the far bank, stay to the inside of the turn. Hint: study the current from a variety of angles.

Paddling Skill 3: Execute a Roll

It’s not as hard as it looks – especially if you follow tips from Kent Ford’s new ebook “The Kayak Roll Ebook” (www.performancevideo.com). “A quality set-up is the foundation,” he says. “It orients and protects you, and gets your body and paddle in position.” A few pointers: Hip snap: practice by holding a friend’s hands, and pretend that your fingertips are resting on eggs that will break if you push too hard. Set-up: Tuck your head to outside your thigh, put your forearms on the side of the boat with the blade flat on the surface and your hands loose. Paddle: Keep it parallel to the side of the boat. “To get there,” says Ford, “modify the tuck. Tuck your face to your knee. Don’t tuck forward — that makes it harder to get your hands and blade into position above the surface. Instead, tuck your head to outside your thigh.” Once you’re in position, sweep the paddle in an arc out away from the boat, and snap your hips (pulling up with the knee corresponding to the sweeping hand). Keep your head down, and your arms in front of your shoulders. Voila! You’re back in the land of the upright.

Paddling Skill 4: Put on a Spray Skirt

Nothing tells your paddlemates that you might be in a bit over your head than needing help to get your spray skirt on. Hint1: start at the back, not the front, reaching behind with both hands and then pulling the skirt rand around toward your hips. Clamp the secured portion down at the hips with your elbows, and then pull the rand over the front. Hint2: Wet the skirt beforehand if it’s giving you trouble. Also, make sure the front toggle or strap remains outside and isn’t trapped below deck.

Paddling Skill 5: Swim a River (We’re all Between Swims)

Even Michael Phelps needs to follow proper protocol on a river. The universal swim position is on your back with feet out in front to ward off rocks (as guides say, “Pretend you’re in a La-Z-Boy”). Use arm circles to propel yourself where you want to go. And don’t stand up until the water’s only knee deep to avoid potential foot entrapment. See How to Drink a Bootie Beer.

Paddling Skill 6: Highside

Be it in a canoe or raft, the highsiding paddling skill can save your hide on a river. Like its name implies, jump to the “high” side of the craft whenever it’s stuck on a rock or in a reversal. This will redistribute the weight so the upstream edge doesn’t catch and flip and send you to Atlantis. If you find yourself wrapped around a rock, move the weight (i.e. people) around so it’s off the obstacle and then have everyone bounce while you reef on the oars or paddle.

Paddling Skill 7: Enter/Exit from Kayak from Shore

To prevent the wobbly-woos, put your paddle behind your back and extend it to shore. Grab both the shaft and cockpit rim behind your back with your hand farthest away from shore to create an outrigger for added stability.Then ease yourself out one foot at a time. Don’t let go of the cockpit rim until safely ashore.

Paddling Skill 8: Rig a Deadman Anchor

If you need to tie a boat to shore and there are no trees, rocks or other anchors, it’s time for paddling skill #8: the Deadman. Here’s how: 1) Dig a 2-foot-deep hole and bury a paddle or chunk of driftwood with a loop of webbing attached and extending up out of the hole; 2) Cover with packed-down, wet sand and tie off to new anchor (the deeper the hole the stronger the anchor).

Paddling Skill 9: Take Your Turn at a Play Wave

For this we went straight to the master, 2009 Women’s World Freestyle Champion Emily Jackson: “The way an eddy system works for a playspot requires you to follow the same person in a continuous line. If that person gets out, follow the person who was ahead of them. If there’s an eddy on both sides then you should alternate – but only if the eddies are about equal size. Should one eddy only hold one or two people and the other many more, follow the original rule of going after the same person each time. Different locations have different rules, but generally always being polite and asking where you are in line if you’re confused will keep the eddy moving and everyone happy. Taking the high road will always get you more rides than cutting.”

Pour, then drink (photo courtesy www.cksblog.com).

Paddling Skill 10: Pour/Drink a Bootie Beer

There’s an unsung rule amongst raft guides and kayakers that if you swim, you have to drink a beer out of your wetsuit bootie (hey, at least it’s yours, not someone else’s). To pour, fill it as you would any fine stein: tilt the ankle opening slightly to avoid foam. When drinking, hold toe outward, purse lips around ankle lip and enjoy (just beware the “bubble” of beer that inevitably gets released from the toe, as with drinking a glass boot).


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