Friday, April 30, 2010


It is time to ruffle some feathers. I am a pretty easy going guy. I think if something works for you, great, do it. But something doesn't work for me. There is a technique for getting into your kayak from a beach that troubles me greatly.

I apologize that I can't find a video to show you the technique that troubles me, they are out there, but I don't want to draw attention to any one person or organization. But the technique is some variation on this:

Standing next to your kayak, place the shaft of your paddle behind your back. Squat down, and grasp the paddle shaft and the back of the cockpit coaming at the same time, with the same hand. Sit on the paddle shaft, and slide towards your kayak, balancing your weight on the blade of the paddle and the kayak itself. when you are over the kayak, slide your legs into the kayak. With your legs in the cockpit, slide forward until you can place your bottom on the seat. Put on your spray skirt, retrieve your paddle, using your paddle blade and your fist, push yourself into the water.

The majority of injuries in kayaks occur in the 'surf zone'. With the surf zone defined as anywhere that water interacts with land. Even if the waves are 6 inches high, that is enough to push around a kayak. The technique as described above - in my opinion - extends the amount of time that we are in the surf zone. The reason that it extends the amount of time that we are in the surf zone, is that it is exceedingly unnatural. It is placing our center of balance behind us on the shaft of our paddle. It is taking away our ability to use our arms, which help us with balance, and also removes our ability to adjust to an ever changing environment, like the surf zone.

Speaking of the paddle shaft, it is putting forces on the shaft of our paddle in a way that they are not intended to take them. I paddle with a very expensive, very light, carbon fiber paddle. The only time I am going to sit on the shaft with my weight resting on the two blades is, never. ( yes, some pressure is put on the shaft of my paddle when I do a paddle float re-entry, but that is another topic.)

So, how do I enter a kayak? Naturally. I straddle the kayak, I place my bottom in the seat, I put my legs in the cockpit, I am paddling. I can put my spray skirt on at any number of places in the process. I may hold the cockpit coaming with my hands. I may not. It depends on the conditions.

I have two amazing kayak teachers, My Sifu (Sensei) and my Master:

My Sifu, is quiet on the subject of entry into the kayak. My Master agrees with me, but doesn't want me to straddle the kayak, she wants me to stand on one side. With the idea being that if a wave washes out the kayak, there is a 50/50 chance it wont wash me out as well, whereas if I am straddling the cockpit one of my legs is going with the boat. With all due respect Master, my way feels more natural, and I will continue to do it, until one of my legs gets washed out with the kayak by a wave.

Fortunately both Master and Sifu are currently paddling in British Columbia, and wont see this.

But PO, what if my legs are too long to enter the kayak that way, you ask? My friend who attended the east coast kayaking festival - he is six foot five - entered his kayaks the same way I do, with the exception being he sits on the back of the cockpit first, gets his legs in, then slides forward and down into the seat.

I mean no disrespect to the many kayaked who enter their kayaks in the way I describe, but I think it may be dangerous. I want to spend as little time in the surf zone as possible.

There is a saying attributed to Antoine St. Exupery - Perfection is attained, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away. When something is stripped to its nakedness. I will translate that to Keep it simple st@#&! and there is nothing simple about the method I described in the first paragraph. To take it a step further, as I like to relate things to the martial arts, again I will bring up Bruce Lee, whose fighting system Jeet Kun Do was all about removing anything extraneous from the art. If it wasn't necessary it wasn't kept.

I do apologize for two things. I only have video of myself entering my kayak on lakes, not much of a surf zone. But the process is just about the same. And starting today I am paddling the coast and will be away from my computer until Monday. If I get any flaming emails or comments regarding the outlined method that I disapprove of I will respond on Monday.

entry from Paddling Otaku on Vimeo.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010


As I am prepping for a paddling trip on the coast, I thought it would be a nice time to look at the gear I pack. I am fortunate enough to occasionally work for a very respected outdoor skills and leadership school, and this has taught me a system that works for me, and I have perfected it over many years and many trips. There is very little variation in what I pack, and even though this trip is just three days, and the courses I work are a month, the kit will be very much the same. (I hope I am using the term 'kit' correctly as I have picked it up from the many wonderful UK/Scottish sea kayaking blogs I am reading)

The person I am doing this trip with has never done an overnight trip from a kayak, so it should be an interesting experience, though he is an experienced cyclist and his gear from that should transition well.

So here is what I pack, and as I said this is for a three day trip, The gear selection is not very different for 30 days.

A quick note. I don't want this blog to be about 'gear'. So I will mention very few brand names. But if you have questions don't hesitate to ask.

20 liter dry bag - weather gear. Drysuit, dry top and pants, Rain shell. hats. gloves.
20 liter dry bag - regular clothes. synthetic long underwear top and bottom, thin pants, quick dry T shirt, Quick dry long sleeve shirt, light fleece pants. two pairs of wool socks. Fleece jacket.

10 liter dry bag - miscellaneous personal items. head lamp, book, toothbrush. batteries. sunscreen, stuff like that.

gym size duffel - with heavy duty liner for food - food is a whole other list.

synthetic sleeping bag in compression stuff sack with heavy duty liner
self inflating sleeping pad

mesh bag with cook kit, and white gas stove. stove repair kit. seal able bowl, insulated mug, knife, cutting board.

10 liter dromedary for water - this trip I am packing four gallons of water as there is no water available to us once we put in.

15 liter dry bag with first aid kit - as a former paramedic I carry a large first aid kit. This also insures I never need it.

pelican case with VHF radio - primarily for weather, but good to have.

Tent and tarp in stuff bags with sand anchors.

On my boat is a bilge pump, and paddle float. I don't do any sort of paddling without these two items, and they are visible in all my videos. On this trip I will also have a throw bag, and a deck compass

In my PFS - 1.8 liter hydration system. Knife. 8' long static tow. Whistle. GPS. chemical light stick.

All of my gear will fit into a large duffel - sometimes a large 115 liter dry bag with backpack straps - to get my gear to and from the boat. when I land on a beach this duffel will be the first thing out, and I will fill it with gear. When I move the boats to the water to start packing, It will be the last thing into the boat.

On this trip I am not packing a repair kit, or a spare paddle - though I may change my mind on that - due to the shortness of the trip and the relative shelter of the route.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Unlocking the bow

I have discussed Edging of your kayak a number of times already, but today I am going to go into more detail as to how and why it makes the changes that it does.

The shape of your boat will determine how much effect the edging will have. Today I am going to talk about my kayak, and certain parts of the hull - the hull is the bottom half of the kayak, and deck is the upper half.

First, the shape of my kayak. On my kayak as you will see in the video, the bottom of the hull is angled, or has 'rocker' like the bottom of a rocking chair. Which means that the end of the bow and stern are higher than the center of the hull. If you were to draw an imaginary line down the center of the kayak from bow to stern, that line would be the 'keel'.

The bow and stern of my kayak are sharp, like a knife. But then as you move towards the center of the boat, that sharp edge flares, and then flattens out.

In the center of my kayak, the side of the kayak is vertical, and where it meets the hull it makes almost a right angle. Where the hull and the side meet is called a 'chine', and in the center it is a hard chine - because the angle is sharp. As you move towards the bow and stern, the angle becomes softer, and smoother. This is called a soft chine.

So, putting this new vocabulary together, you have a hull that has some rocker, with hard chines in the middle and soft chines on the end, and a hard bow and stern.

The bow and stern are shaped the way they are to help the boat slice through the water, and the hard chine in the center of the boat, makes it easier to 'hold the boat on edge'. These two pieces are what we are going to focus on today.

To put the boat on edge, as we have discussed, we are going to lift with our right knee - to raise the right side - and push down with the left side of our bottom, While keeping our head and torso centered over the boat. That hard chine is going to give us a stable platform to balance that edge. But it accomplishes something else that is very important. It pulls the hard, sharp bow out of the water - or raises it, depending on how much edge we use - lessening its ability to slice through the water. So instead of the boat lying flat on its hull, it is balanced on its edge. Without that sharp bow slicing through the water, we have 'unlocked' it. making the boat much easier to turn. Just a gentle push with the paddle will make the boat turn. Much easier than when the bow is slicing through the water and holding the bow in one place.

But there is more. If the hull of our kayak has rocker, even a little, when we put the boat on edge it will turn a bit by itself. So edging becomes a powerful tool in course correcting.

The shape of your kayak is going to effect how well it will edge, and how much it will turn when edged. If your kayak doesn't have any rocker, it wont turn much - if at all - when on edge, without your help. Most people edge to the outside of the turn, but some edge into the turn - like an airplane. The direction you edge will be dictated in part by your comfort level, but mostly by the shape of your kayak. You must get into your kayak, and play with the edge, and turning strokes to see the effects it has on your kayak. This is the only way to see what has positive effects on your kayak, and what you are comfortable with. This is also where good contact with your boat becomes paramount. Without a good fit in the cockpit, good edging control is very difficult.

We are starting to get into movements and actions that have the potential for rolling your kayak. The counter to an edge going to far and becoming a roll is of course a brace stroke. A low brace if you catch it early, and a high brace if you catch it late. Be patient. Good edging technique is difficult, but will open doors for you in terms of controlling your kayak.

parts from Paddling Otaku on Vimeo.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Conclusion of the first round

The basics are done. We have talked about our connection with the boat, and how it reacts to our movements. We have started to work with our forward stroke - we are never really done with that. We have done the low and high brace, the draw and skulling draw. We have started to play with the edge, and how it controls our kayak. We have discussed integration, and how one thing flows to the next.

Now is when we start taking this process to the next level. We will expand on each of these movements, and add to them. We will begin to look at more advanced strokes, and linking all of them together. But the underlying lesson must be the fluidity that we strive for. One movement linking into the next as naturally as walking and talking.

The first in this process will be getting more comfortable with the edge and combining it with the forward stroke. The forward stroke is used - unsurprisingly- to propel the kayak forward. We have seen that by adding a slight sweep to the end we can correct our course. And while this is an effective tool, for small corrections we can accomplish this with just an edge adjustment. This way our forward stroke can do what it was designed to do, propel us forward. This can only come from practice. From the repetition of working both edges WHILE working with our forward stroke. The key to this is good contact with the kayak, and confidence and comfort while the boat is on it's edge.

You can see how all these individual things that we talk about are really, slowly, merging into one thing. Everything comes back to the forward stroke, but we will slide into an edge and a sweep. Then a draw then back into the forward. If we Practice them enough they will flow, from one to the other.

When I learned to spar, I knew individual techniques. A reverse punch. A front snap kick. A round kick. A downward block. I could do these when drilling them repeatedly with ease. But to flow from a downward block to a round kick to a reverse punch with no extra movement was a challenge, and only through repeatedly sparring with different opponents did I develop this skill. This is exactly what we must do in our kayak. And just like sparring which is a movement, followed by a counter movement, in a kayak we are responding and reacting to the wind and the water. We must remove the extra movements, it must be fluid and natural.

In this video - which I called integration 2 because it is really a continuation of that lesson- we see a turn initiated by edging. then fluid movement between alternating sweep strokes with an edge to enhance the sweeps , and finally a skulling brace with an edge, fluidly into a forward stroke.

integration 2 from Paddling Otaku on Vimeo.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

This past weekend

I travelled with a friend to the East Coast Canoe and Kayak Festival in Charleston, South Carolina. I first went to this event two years ago in search of a kayak that had to fit a particular list of criteria. It had to be able to hold a months worth of gear and food. It had to fit my rather narrow hips, it had to be fun to paddle, and it had to be affordable. Being a zen/Buddhist paddling instructor isn't the windfall of income you might expect. This last criteria ruled out a number of classic expedition boats. The NDK's were out, The Current designs and Seawards were out. The P&H's were out. Well. The P&H's and NDK's made of plastic were on the table, to a degree. I paddled a lot of boats two years ago. And the very last boat I paddled was so wonderful I knew it was the boat immediately.

Feng shui is the Chinese art of arranging things in your surroundings to promote the flow of CHI (sometimes spelled QI) energy. You may scoff at this concept, but the Chinese don't. The city of Hong Kong was built using the strict principles of Feng Shui. One of the first lessons I learned in Feng Shui was this. Have you ever walked into a room and thought, this room just doesn't 'feel' right? That is bad Feng Shui. Another lesson was, when choosing a piece of fruit, let your hand wander over the options, allow your instincts to select the fruit, and undoubtedly you will choose the perfect piece.

I got into this boat, and it was just 'right'. I knew it was the boat. It met my criteria. To save cost and weight it was thermoformed plastic instead of fiberglass. It was a load monster, more than big enough. And the sport model fit my hips perfectly. Best of all it was fun to paddle. The manufacturer wasn't represented at the Symposium, I found an owner who let me paddle his boat. After doing some research on the boat, and the relatively 'new fangled' material, I took the plunge and purchased my Delta Seventeen sport. It is the boat in all my videos. I later found out that The Owner of Delta kayaks is a gentleman names Mark Hall, who had formerly been with Seaward kayaks. I had a lot of experience in Seaward Kayaks, as they were used by a school I teach for, and I enjoyed the way they paddled.

This year, I was going for very different reasons. A friend who is an avid whitewater paddler, is thinking about moving into the sea kayak realm. He is the antithesis of my body type. His concern was a boat that would fit his 6'6" frame, and still perform well. He is after all used to paddling a seven foot, nimble whitewater kayak. He paddled a number of boats. P&H's, NDK's, Current Designs. A few others. Then, as we were walking down the waterfront looking at vendors, we realized that Delta kayaks was represented. They Offer an Eighteen (actually 18'5 feet long) version of my boat. My friend tried it and was as impressed by it, as I was by my own boat two years before. As we were looking at the Eighteen, we realized that standing behind us was Mark Hall, designer and one of the owners of Delta Kayaks. The Three of us chatted on and off for two days. Delving further and further into Kayak design, and the whys and hows of the boats before us. He answered every question we had - regardless of how silly or mundane they were - and laughed through the whole thing. He was an absolute joy to meet.

At the end of day two, my friend came to the same conclusion I did. While he liked many of the boats he paddled, he loved the Delta. And while I paddled many beautiful boats - as I was in the 'dreaming phase' what if money was no option - I came to the same conclusion I did two years ago. I love my Delta Kayak. It just feels right.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Wind and practice

I spent this morning playing in the wind. I go to a particular lake when I am alone, unfortunately I live about four hours from the coast. this lake is small but I enjoy paddling there. It has a few secluded coves where I can work on particular skills. This morning it was still pretty early but the wind started coming up. I knew that by the time I left the water the little wind would be whitecapping the water. I paddled across the lake into the wind directly, and decided to stop and watch how it affected my boats drift. I watched the way the wind, water, and boat interacted, and how the wind turned my boat. When I saw that it behaved as I expected I continued on. As I got closer to the other side of the lake, the trees and a small point of land gave me some protection from the little wind, the water got flat, with just a little ripple. I paddled towards the point of land and as I rounded it, there was my little wind again. The corner interacting with the wind intensified it. So I had some small standing waves. I played in this spot for close to an hour. experimenting with different strokes, letting the wind turn my boat, and continuing the turn with paddle, backing into the wind and spinning slightly with it. Seeing the effects of edge on different turns and different strokes. It was a dance between myself, and the wind, and this little section of land. It was unbelievably enjoyable. I finally let the wind carry me off the point, and I steered into a little depression of land so I could shoot some video for the blog, and when I was done, paddled with the wind behind me, back across the lake. Still playing with edges to hold my course so I could just paddle without correction strokes. This to me is my meditation. While I meditate in the traditional sense, it takes me a while to get my mind to quiet down. But in a kayak, where I can focus on just movement, my mind quiets down by itself.

This is my practice. I continue to practice hard, as I am my own task master. I continue to refine strokes, and try new ones. I am continually looking for was to improve my skill, always trying to get more fluid, more relaxed. I think in anything you do you have to work to get better. As I get better and become more skilled, my enjoyment goes up. Everything is easier.

I am not nearly as good a martial artist as I am a paddler. Though I see many similarities between the two. The more I work as a martial artist the more fluid I become, the more competent I become, and the easier it gets. It is still hard work. And going to class is sometimes not where I want to be going, though after class I am almost always glad I did. You have to get in your boat and do more than paddle. You have to challenge yourself and push your skills. the payoff is beyond words.

Today's video is simple. A view of how a slight wind effects the direction of a boat at rest. This may seem a bit like watching paint dry, but it will only take 40 seconds. The video starts just as I have stopped paddling. Watch the background move behind me. Watch, towards the end, the difference in the surface of the water on the left and right side of my boat. This is a little wind. Imagine a lot of wind. Then imagine a lot of wind and having to perform an assisted rescue.

I should also point out that this is wind only, no current. Wind and current effect our boats very differently. For now, watch the wind.

wind from Paddling Otaku on Vimeo.

Friday, April 16, 2010

This weekend.

This weekend (saturday) I am headed to the East Coast Canoe and Kayak festival in Charleston, South Carolina. If you see me there please say Hello. I will be wearing a beaten up, old and faded NOLS Alaska ball cap.

Extended sweep stroke

Many people deride this stroke, but I truly love it. I love it's simplicity, its usability. Its effectiveness. It is the sweep stroke 'strengthened' by the power of leverage.

The setup. From your neutral position with paddle in front of you, slide the paddle all the way to the left. You can go as far as you like, and I like to go pretty far. I don't stop until my right hand is holding the end of the paddle blade. my left hand ends up somewhere near the center of the shaft. Then extend the left side of the paddle as far as you can reach towards your feet, planting it just to the left side of the bow. Your left arm should be straight, with your right hand close to your chest holding the right blade. Then, as always, rotate your torso until the left blade completes an arc and is at the back of the boat. Remember to push with your left foot, just like in the regular sweep, to engage those core muscles. Because you have greatly increased the reach of the paddle by extending you are increasing the amount of leverage that you have. Thereby turning the boat faster. And by adding a little edge control, You can unlock the bow and turn the boat even faster. More on 'unlocking the bow' later.

I love this stroke for when I want to turn 180 degrees quickly. If someone behind you has rolled and is asking for help there is no faster way to turn a long boat around. People don't like this stroke, because they say it takes away your chance to move quickly into your forward stroke. But as you will see in the video, you can quickly move between the two.

extended sweep from Paddling Otaku on Vimeo.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Forward and Relaxation

We have talked about the forward stroke a couple of times already. We have put together a handful of pieces, and are starting to get somewhere. We know we are locked into our cockpit with five points of contact. We rotate with our belly button moving from 10 o'clock to 2 o'clock on every stroke. We are pushing with our feet to help generate maximum power from our torso. Now it is time to add the most important factor.

Relaxation. Starting with our hands, we must be relaxed. On each PUSH with our hands it is a good idea to open your fingers. cradling the paddle shaft in the crook of our thumbs. If we open our hands like this it will actually force us to push. Early on I mentioned how counterintuitive the forward stroke is, the biggest reason is that people instinctively want to pull the paddle back through the water. Some instructors teach that it is a push-pull. I strongly disagree with this. While there is a little pull on the bottom hand, I think to say that it should be there is to emphasize it too much. We must focus on just the push, merely guiding with our lower hand.

Frequently I talk to people who tell me that they need gloves when they paddle because they are getting blisters. If you are getting blisters while paddling it is for one simple reason, you are gripping the paddle too tightly.

We want to be relaxed in our hands and our neck and our shoulders. Power will come from freedom of movement. Relaxation is difficult because there are so many things going on all at once. Is my posture right? are my hands right? Am I pushing not pulling? All of these things make us tense which is then visible in our paddling. We must be relaxed.

Once while teaching I saw the muscles in a students forearms tensing with each stroke. We were moving at the same speed, on calm water. Just working on forward strokes. I told her she was working too hard, and that I was using no more effort on my paddle than that of lifting a glass of tea.

Power does not mean speed. If you paddle correctly it takes less effort to go faster. The zen archer knows that the arrow will just fly when the time is right. That is how your stroke must be. It has to happen automatically. It must become as relaxed and without thought as walking. Do you think about the process for walking? Of course you don't, you are thinking of everything but the process to move form one point to another. This is where our stroke must be, and there is really only one way to get there. practice.

I am going to quote Bruce Lee, and before you laugh that I am quoting a martial arts movie star, know that he was first and foremost a teacher, and not just of martial arts. In one of the opening scenes of Enter the Dragon he is teaching a young pupil a lesson in Buddhism - hidden in a lesson about concentration and focus.

Mr. Lee was famous for a quote about water:

Empty your mind, be formless. Shapeless, like water. If you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle and it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot it becomes the teapot. Now, water can flow or it can crash. Be water my friend.

And this is how you must be in your kayak. You must be relaxed enough to adjust to the movements of your boat, but at the same time focused enough to control your boat. Water can flow or it can crash, we must be prepared to do both. Movements will become fluid over time, with practice, and with relaxed focus. Be water.

And because I generally give you a video, here is that Bruce Lee Buddhism clip. There is one particular line that is 'very Buddhist'. Let me know if you know which one.

Monday, April 12, 2010

The draw stroke

This stroke requires some flexibiltiy at the midsection. In it's simplest form it can be used to move your boat sideways towards a dock, or rafted paddlers. I rarely if ever use the stroke this way. I am going to illustrate the standard draw, then the skulling draw. I find the the skulling draw more useful than the standard draw, but what the standard draw does is set you up for more advanced versions - The hanging draw in particular which is a great way to turn your boat while moving. But first the standard and skulling.

Standard. Turn your body as for to the left side as you can, with a goal of 90º. Place the blade in the water with the paddle as vertical as you can - a note for the video, I have short arms and I am not great at gettng the paddle vertical, maybe this is why I prefer the skulling draw -with the power face towards you. Your left hand is low and your right hand is high. Your right hand should be open as it is just acting as a lever for your bottom hand. Flick your wrist, so the blade in the water is no longer facing you, but angled away at 90º and slice the blade away from you. When the blade is as far away from you as possible, flick your wrist back and draw the paddle to your boat. If you can edge to the right side, this will free the boat to move easier towards the blade. When the Blade is back to the side of your boat repeat.

Skulling. The skulling draw is my preferrd static draw. This one works better with a slight angle in the shaft instead of pure vertical. Instead of drawing the paddle towards you, you are going to start with the paddle extended, lock your arms and draw the paddle side to side with body rotation. Like smearing peanut butter on a slice of bread. The blade should be angled somewhere between flat to the boat, and perpendicular to the boat. The greater the angle the more effort it will take, but you will also generate more movement. At the end of each rotation you have to flick the angle the other direction.

Sorry about the fog on the lens.

the draw from Paddling Otaku on Vimeo.

Friday, April 9, 2010


We are going to go back to our three first lessons, with a different kind of view. I decided to place my camera inside the cockpit of my kayak looking back towards the seat. I was so happy with the results I have decided to do this post as well as some in the future with this view. It gives a good view of good contact with the kayak itself, as well as what my feet are doing when I forward stroke and sweep. I have yet to tak about what is going on below decks, and honestly I think it is one of the most important parts of the various paddle strokes.

Contact. Remember a good set up is key to everything we do in the boat. Five points of contact. Feet, thighs, bottom. these are areas where we can influence the movement of our boat. We saw that illustrated well in EDGING. Where we are lifting with one knee, and pushing with one side of our bottom down into the seat.

Forward. With each forward stroke, when I push with the high hand, I am also pushing with the corresponding foot. This helps engage the core muscles - which are being used when you rotate. This will kick the power level of your stroke up massively. When a martial artist throws a punch, the power comes from torso rotation, and it is grounded in the floor. Our forward stroke comes from torso rotation, but it is grounded into our feet pressing into the pedals or braces. In the video you will see the entire foot pedal mechanism flex as I push.

Sweep. With the sweep stroke, the same rules apply. I am pushing with the opposite foot of my intended motion. Forward sweep/right side, I am pushing with my right foot. reverse sweep/right side I am pushing with my left foot. - and just for clarity sake forward sweep/left side push with your left foot, reverse sweep/left side push with right foot. - This drives the boat around the paddle blade. Is it a a coincidence that this is opposite? No. Remember the yin yang. opposites work together.

inside from Paddling Otaku on Vimeo.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Out of the comfort zone

I wanted to take a few moments to talk about the value of stepping outside your comfort zone. About a month ago I was asked by some friends to join them on a cycling trip. It would be a trail ride, with camping gear on the bikes, and around an 80 mile round trip. To say I had never done anything like this would be an understatement. I ride a bike most days to work, but I don't consider myself a cyclist, I consider myself a commuter. My round trip to work is 6 miles, most weeks I ride 18 to 20 miles, as there are some days I will drive. This trip was outside of my comfort zone.

Just recently, an acquaintance came to me and said 'myself and a friend are thinking about doing a kayak camping trip, where should we go?' I thought about it and came up with two suggestions, one on a lake, with camping on an island. The other further away on the coast, we have world class barrier island kayaking. The coast option is more - to steal a phrase from climbing parlance - 'on the sharp end' meaning it held greater risk. We discussed those risks, and towards the end of the conversation I asked him if he wanted a third on the trip, meaning, could I go as well?

A gentleman that I paddle with on occasion is an outstanding paddler. In fact, he is a better paddler than he thinks he is. He emailed myself and another friend who paddles to ask about our experience paddling to a particular island a couple of miles from shore. He wanted to know details about currents, and timing, and weather. All excellent questions. The other paddler and myself answered his questions and assured him that this day trip with an open water crossing was well within his skill level as long as the weather was good.

These are three examples of people pushing their comfort zone. The sort of thing that makes your palms sweat, and your hair bristle. But it does other things too. Other amazing things. It heightens our senses, and it makes us better at what we do. It builds skill and confidence. Yes it's scary. The unexpected always is. But the payoff is amazing. If you want to progress at anything, you have to push your skill level, you have to travel into the uncharted waters to see how you do. And yes, from time to time you will fail. You will fail miserably. But other times you will wont. They are both equally important. Failure and success are two sides of the same coin and they both serve invaluable purposes.

So, how did these three situations turn out? The Gentleman is still thinking about it. He will make that trip to the island when he is ready, and that is a time that only he can determine. When he is ready he will have my support in any way that I can offer it.

The acquaintance, chose the trip to the coast, and his friend was excited to have me along, as this would be his first trip on this scale, and he knows I have done the same trip a number of times. His confidence is bolstered by knowing I am joining him, which is very flattering. The trip is next month and I will post with the outcome.

I did the cycling trip, and it was amazing. More difficult than I imagined, my legs - and bottom - were sore for days. While it was similar to camping out of a kayak, it was also very different. There are no hills when kayaking! I enjoyed it, but I don't know if I would do it again. For now I am happy to be a commuter. Below is the video I made on the trip.

Pedal from Brett Friedman on Vimeo.

Monday, April 5, 2010


There is a key difference between someone who gets in a kayak and paddles, and a paddler with a desire to learn. No where in paddling is this more visible than in edging your kayak. When I see someone edging - even ineffectively - I know that they are trying to push themselves to be better paddlers and that is admirable, even if unsuccessful. Edging is the topic of todays lesson.

Edging serves many purposes. It can be a quick correction in direction, it can make a sweep more effective - actually it makes many strokes more effective. The important thing to remember is that edging, is not leaning. They are two very different things.

First, what edging does. When we say edging, we are referring to rolling the boat onto its side, how much depends on you and your boat. By putting the boat on it's side we are changing the effect that water will have on the hull. If you look at your boat upside down with the keel straight up, you can imagine where the water line is. Now roll your boat so the angle between side of boat, and bottom of the boat - this angle is called a chine - is straight up. That chine is now the keel giving the boat very different characteristics. It is as if we can momentarily change the shape our hull. This can give dramatic results.

The shape of your boat will also effect what effect putting your boat on edge will have. A boat with a good amount of rocker - which is a bend in the keel from bow to stern, like the bottom of a rocking chair - will turn more sharply when on edge than a boat with no rocker.

In order to get the boat on it's edge we need to go back to the 'contact' lesson. We need to be in good contact with the cockpit because we are going to effect this chage with our legs. If the cockpit is loose around us, we wont be able to make these adjustments, or if we do they wont feel comfortable.

So let's make it happen. In a neutral position with our paddle in front of us, Thighs in the thigh braces, and feet on the foot pegs or rudder pedals (though if you have a rudder you will want it stowed for this, as you will want the pedals to be firm against your pressure.) You need to lift your right knee, and push down with the left side of your bottom. You can also push with your left foot. On flat water that is all you will need. You can brace your self with a low brace if you start to go to far and become unstable. That will raise the right side of the cockpit. Try that a few times, adjust the height of the right side, and see how long, and how smoothly you can hold it. When it starts to feel comfortable, try it on the left side. It is important that your head stay over the center of the boat. if your head moves out over the side of the boat you are no longer edging, you are leaning. And while there are times when a lean is the appropriate movement, today, focus on keeping your head over the boat.

Some of the early videos were difficult for me to do, because instinctively I wanted to edge the boat, but as I hadn't showed you that particular skill yet I felt I shouldn't edge the boat. You can see edges sneak in to a few of the early videos. It becomes a fluid part of the movement and over time it will become natural. Get comfortable with the movement and in a later lesson we will apply it to specific skills. In this postings video you will see the edge first correct a course against a current. I am edging the boat, but by looking at the background behind me you will see very little movement, I am using the edge to go straight when the boat otherwise will want to turn, then you will see me illustrate putting the boat one edge, and then finally using the edge to complete a turn.

We will look more into edging and integrating the edge movement into the sweep stroke soon. But for now focus on just getting comfortable with the edge, then we will get comfortable combining strokes with the edge. We do them separately because when combining the sweep (or any number of strokes) with the edge, it can effect balance and have some negative consequences.

Friday, April 2, 2010


The brace - low and high

The brace stroke is a recovery stroke. designed for unexpected moments of instability. A wave comes from behind you, at an angle. You are focusing on your forward stroke. It hits you from behind, without you seeing it, until you feel the push, like amassive hand. The boats stern pushes out, your head and torso start to go forward and to the left over the water. If you do nothing, the boat will roll, sending you face first into the water. The correction is very simple. A low brace. It will smack against the water, reversing the momentum - because everything we do is action and reaction - and at the same time set you up for your next forward stroke, because forward strokes are where you are most stable. Everything (almost) leads to the forward stroke.

You start in the neutral position, hands just more than shoulder width apart and relaxed, paddle parallel to your body. When it is time to initiate the low brace, roll your knuckles forward and draw the shaft of the paddle to your belly button. This will force your elbows out into right angles above the paddle shaft. then, assuming you want to brace on the left side, slide your hands, and the paddle to the left, so your right hand is in front of your belly button. Slap the non power face of the paddle onto the surface of the water, it will make a good slap noise. That will stop your forward momentum, but it wont correct the lean of your body that the wave may have created. To do that we need a hip snap.

At the same time that the blade slaps the water, arch your back to the left and push down with the left side of your bottom, and push with your left leg as well. When you are back, upright and stable, straighten your spine back to your neutral position, and commence a forward stroke. This is the low brace.

There is another version of the brace stroke, called the high brace. and it works exactly the same as the low brace with the exception being instead of rolling your knuckles over and pulling the paddle back to your stomach, roll your knuckles up, and pull your hands back towards your neck. Then when you slap the water it will be with the power face of the paddle. This is most effective bracing against a wave that is crashing into your boat. A wave that is high enough that there is water at shoulder height.

As important as the high brace is, it is most often used as a training tool. The high brace and hip snap, when understood, are the foundation for the eskimo roll. Probably the single most mystical, and awe inspiring move in all of kayaking. We will talk about 'the roll' much later. But we will talk about it.

Earlier in this post I presented a situation where a wave came unseen from behind, and forced us to use a low brace to prevent our kayak from rolling. I want to touch on an even more important subject than the low brace, and that is preventing a situation like that from happening. Awareness. When we are paddling our kayaks, and sitting practically at the water line, we don't have great visibilty, and more importantly we aren't particularly visible. For this reason I tend to choose bright colored boats and clothing. To counteract this inherent invisibility we must at all times be aware of our sorroundings. Fighter pilots call it situational awareness.

I had a martial arts instructor who would make us do the majority of a particular class with our eyes closed. He would then call out our name, and we would have to point to where we thought he was. It tought us to be aware of our sorroundings when we couldn't see them, with sight being our most trusted asset, it would force us to use our other senses to be aware of what was happening around us. I would encourage paddling with your eyes closed when the conditions are safe enough. this will do two things. First, it will tell you how even your forward stroke is. without your eyes to help you make minute corrections, you will almost invariable end up off course. this is good as it will illustrate how even your stroke is in terms of power and rotation. But secondly it will force you to listen to your environment. Listen to the sound of the water as your paddle is pulled out. Listen to the sound your kayak makes. Listen to the wind. Feel the wind on your face. Which direction is it coming from? Be attuned to your environment.

When you have your eyes open - which should really be most of the time - are you watching the weather? boat traffic? Your paddling partners? I like the concept of keeping 'your head on a swivel' to see all around you. Dangers don't just come from the front. Weather approaches from behind, as do large yachts that should, but rarely do, yield the right of way.

In addition, when setting your boat up to paddle, things should always be stowed in the same places. So when something does happen, instinct will drive you to them. For myself, a paddle float, and a bilge pump are on the deck in front of my cockpit, under deck bungies on the left side. Always. I set up this way despite the fact that I have a solid roll. I shouldn't need them, but if I do, I know where they are without having to think about it. In fact they are on the left side because that is where my mentor told me to put them. I am left handed and tend to roll in that direction. But if I miss my roll, and end up in the water, it puts the paddle float on the far side of the cockpit from where I will most likely end up. But I don't move them, because for ten years that is where they have been. I can reach slightly further for them when I need them, because that is better that reaching for them where they wont be. And on some unspoken level, I know they are on the left side.

Be consistant, in your paddling, and your gear.

bracing from Paddling Otaku on Vimeo.

In the video above you are seeing both high and low bracing followed by integrating the low brace into a forward stroke. What you don't see is a good right angle in my elbows, because I have done a few hundred thousand of these, and your strokes will start to morph into your own form. All the essentials are still there. knuckles are rolled under. paddle is slapping nicely. But notice my head position, it is always centered over the boat. This will become important when we talk about edging.