Tuesday, March 30, 2010


This is where we start to see our work pay off. If we start paddling with our forward stroke, and get some good forward momentum, we are then free to start integrating other strokes into that movement. From a forward stroke instead of pulling your paddle out of the water at our hip, we can then add a sweep to the end.

This is how:

When The paddle blade is at your left hip, instead of removing it from the water, straighten your right arm, and rotate further until your blade is at the back of the boat. You are adding a sweep to the end of your forward stroke, and it should turn the boats nose to the right. Then immediatley continue with your forward stroke, by planting the right paddle blade in the water, and fluidly slide back into the rythm of your forward stroke. All of this should be fluid and smooth. If it isn't, practice will cure that.

With the concept of practice in mind, think about this: If you go for a paddle on sunday morning, and the weather is beautiful, and the water is calm, you may decided to paddle for 4 hours. In those four hours you will complete about 15,000 paddle strokes. After 15,000 it should start to look and feel fluid. Start, being the key phrase. As I said in the beginning, the forward stroke is very counter intuitive. It takes time.

In this lesson I am just illustrating the concept of integrating the forward stroke with the sweep, which is very useful. But later, when we learn other strokes, we will add them to our repetoir of integrated strokes, and at some point we will also add edging, and leaning. there is a lot to learn, but we must go slowly.

integration from Paddling Otaku on Vimeo.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

sweep 1.0

The most basic turning stroke we will do is the sweep stroke. Like the forward stroke its key is body rotation. Without moving your hands on the paddle shaft, reach forward as far as you can with your right hand and plant the blade in the water near your right foot. Your right arm should be straight, your left hand should be in front of your chest.Your Body rotated to the left to maximize your reach. Then, sweep the paddle in a half circle from the front of the boat to the rear of the boat. Your arms shouldn't move, just your body rotates, remembering from the contact post, your head is up, and your back is straight. This sweep should be a wide arc, reaching as far as you can away from the boat -without leaning - until you come to the end of the arc at the stern of the boat. If you watched someone doing a sweep stroke from above, you could divide it into three thirds. the first third is at the bow of the boat. the final third is at the stern of the boat. The middle third is the area near your cockpit. The first and third section are when you are actually turning the boat. The middle third is pushing the boat forward. For this reason a lot of people will only do one third of the sweep stroke, the first or the last. Once you have completed a full arc then you can do it in reverse - a reverse sweep - the other direction. Start by reaching as far back towards the stern of the boat as you can and completing the arc in reverse. It will bring your boat back to near where it started. You can link a forward sweep with a reverse sweep on the other side to turn the boat all the way around.

As you think of the sweep stroke from above, and think your thinking about the three thirds that the stroke breaks into, keep in mind that the boat turns in reaction to your pushing with the paddle blade. There is a push and a movement. An action and a reaction. A positive and a negative. A cause, and an effect. For me it is a beautiful illustration of Karma. Karma doesn't have to be good or bad - though it may be - it is just a result from an action.

Something else to think about. If the amount of force that you projected with the paddle while sweeping didn't meet any resistance, the boat would move much more than it does. But the hull of your kayak creates resistance, and a big part of that resistance is your bow. Your bow is designed to cut through water, not slide over it. It fights your efforts to turn the boat. Later on we will work on ways to limit how much the bow can fight your efforts.
Combining the forward stroke, with the sweep stroke can create many beautiful, controllable movements. It is the begining of stroke integration. Once we start integrating strokes together we have unlimited options. And that is our next lesson. Integration.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010


The paddle stroke we are going to do most frequently, is the forward stroke. It is also, when done correctly, one of the more difficult things we will do in a kayak. Well, dificult may be too strong of a word. How about counterintuitive. It goes against everything we think we should be doing when we are in our boat. Starting with the previous lesson, we know that we are sitting in the cockpit correctly. we are going to grasp our paddle a little bit more than shoulder width apart with the paddle parallel to our bodies, and our arms completing a square, or box. If we are going to start by dipping the left paddle blade in the water, first we must slightly rotate our body to the right. this will give us a slightly longer reach. Drop your left hand so the paddle blade enters the water. Then push with your right hand, and at the same time rotate your body to the left. When the paddle blade is near your hip, lift it out of the water. This will put the right blade in the water, and your body slightly rotated to the left. You are now in a perfect position to repeat the movements on the other side. When The right paddle blade is near your hip, raise it out of the water. You have just completed a paddle stroke. If we rotate correctly the paddle shaft will almost always be parallel to our body. And our arms will always be forming a box with our body and paddle shaft. The single most important things we can remember is to rotate, and push. So this is the basis for the most rudimentary of paddle strokes. It is important to remember that everything we do in a kayak begins and ends with a forward stroke. With just a few exceptions every stroke we do will leave us in a good position to do a forward stroke. The reason for this is we are the most stable when paddling forward. We will come back to the forward stroke many times, giving greater emphasis to some things, and adding many additional 'tweaks' to further perfect it. On every stroke we rotate left, and right at our core.

For now this will do.

forward from Paddling Otaku on Vimeo.

Next we will add the ability to do some turning.

Thursday, March 18, 2010


There are a lot of little pieces to a correct paddle stroke. So many little pieces it can be infuriating. Just when you think you have one section down perfectly you will realize that there is something else to add or tweak or perfect. This same observation was made in the book Zen in the art of Archery by Eugene Herrigal. He wrote, and I am paraphrasing:

The zen archer doesn't focus on the bullseye. In fact he never looks at the bullseye. His focus is on his breathing. He focuses on drawing the bow correctly, and notching the arrow correctly. He concentrates on his stance, and his balance. When it is time for the arrow to fly, he doesn't think about releasing it. It releases by itself. He should be surprised by it's release. If all of these things occur correctly a bullseye will just happen.

if we do all the little things in our stroke correctly a fluid, natural, powerful paddle stroke will just happen.

But unfortunately we have to begin with something that is painfully boring. Sitting. In order for anything we do in a kayak to work the way it is supposed to, we have to be sitting correctly. And that is where we will start.


We sit in our kayak. Our bottom is in the seat. The balls of our feet rest on the foot rests (or rudder pedals if you have them) our knees are bent, and are pressed firmly against the thigh braces inside the cockpit. Our back is straight. Our head is up. Imagine a thread coming out of the center of your head, pulling your head and spine straight up into the sky. If our back is straight our lungs can expand the way they are designed to, we get a good breath when we need it. Our shoulders are relaxed, our arms are relaxed. In fact our whole body is relaxed. We contact the boat in at least five places - bottom, feet, knees - but we also connect to the boat at the small of our back where the seat back touches us. Depending on the type of Kayak we are in we may even be pressed gently, but firmly to the sides of the cockpit at our hips. We should be snug, but not tight. The reason we are going to put this much attention into the fit of our boat, is so that our body and our boat are one. When we lean to the left, the boat will go with us. when we push with our feet, the boat will respond. when our boat is lifted by wind or water, we will feel it occur, and respond naturally. Our body and our boat are one. That is a very important concept. This is why we don't name our kayaks. because when we are on the water our kayak is an extension of ourselves. Our body, and our boat are one. think about that.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010


First an explanation. What is an Otaku? According to wikipedia, Otaku is defined as ' a Japanese term used to refer to people with obsessive interests' and while it traditionally refers to Japanese anime, or manga, it can really be applied to any interest.

My obsessive interest is paddling sea kayaks. I have studied the masters, gone to school for it, become an insturctor of it, and yet I still find myself fine tuning, perfecting, and researching ways to make a kayak go, roll, turn, spin, or edge more efficiently, and more gracefully. I watch other people paddle, obsessively. Be it in person or via video. Always applying what I see to what I do. I can watch someone paddle and know in a few strokes the things they could be doing better, more efficiently. I see many similarities between the zen world, martial arts - which I study as well - and paddling. I work to bring these differing vocabularies together, as they share so many similar dynamics. Movement, balance, posture, and relaxation are key to all three.

Most people don't put this much thought into the way they paddle. Or the effects that a small change will make when paddling. That is what makes this my Otaku.

My goal is to give you a gift. A gift that starts very simply. This blog will give lessons. Lessons in how to move a kayak more efficiently. There will be simple lessons, that will lead to more advanced lessons, but all of them will apply to every kind of paddler. There will also be less spoken, underlying lessons. Lessons in zen, lessons in buddhism, that will relate directly to paddling, and indirectly to life. If you have ever gotten into a kayak you will benefit from what I have to say, but you have to be open to try the lessons I give. You have to be willing to receive a gift.

When I watch people paddle, fully ninety percent of the people I see don't have the first clue as to the proper way to make a kayak move. The beauty of kayaking is that anyone can go to a store, buy a kayak, a pfd, and a paddle. Put the boat in the water, and have a wonderful time for an hour or two. Most never seek out instruction. most never even read a book. That is the beauty of kayaking, that this is possible. It is also the curse. Because it is so easy to get a boat on the water and just go, many scoff at the idea of instruction. Some realize that it is more work than they think it should be, and they begin to question what they are doing. That is the first step, wondering if there is a better way. There is.

Here are some simple questions:

after paddling for a few hours are your arms tired?
do you get callousus on your hands from paddling?
when the wind picks up does the boat act like it has a mind of it's own?

if you answered yes to any of these questions, we have work to do. Let's begin.

A note: If you are an experienced paddler, I ask you to read this famous Zen Koan, or story.

Nan-in, a Japanese master during the Meiji era (1868-1912), received a university professor who came to inquire about Zen.
Nan-in served tea.
He poured his visitor's cup full, and then kept on pouring.
The professor watched the overflow until he no longer could restrain himself.
"It is overfull. No more will go in!"
"Like this cup," Nan-in said, "you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?"

Even though you may have been paddling for a long time, I am sure I still have something to offer you, an insight into a better way to do something, on a daily basis I learn from novices ways to make myself a better paddler, we all have something to teach. So I ask you to join me, but first, empty your cup.