As I teach them, paddle strokes are completed. In thirty six posts I have gone from the basics through more advanced strokes. Of all those lessons there are five strokes and skills that I think are the gateway to highly skilled paddling. The Forward stroke, Edging, The sweep, The low and high brace. With these five things there are almost limitless combinations that can effect and control the movement of your kayak. I think of them as a diamond with a stroke in each of the four angles and edging in the middle, as it can effect all of them, and influence all of them.
If you want to get technically proficient you need to be practicing all of these strokes and edging on a regular basis, and you need to be in a kayak that fits you properly and performs well. You have to learn your limits, and push them, while maintaining a satisfactory level of safety.
Which means if you are going to practice low brace turns - which if done improperly will leave you upside down in your kayak - you need to do it in a protected area, with a dry change of clothes in your kayak or in your car. If there is a chance you may end up in the water, on that day you should be paddling with a friend.
Practice is something - if you want to improve - that you have to make time for. How much time? Ten thousand hours should do it. I didn't choose that amount of time at random, there is research that shows that to become great at something invariably takes about ten thousand hours.
You also have to be willing to make mistakes, and instead of getting angry at yourself, relax into it, and figure out what the mistake was.
When I learned how to meditate, focusing on just my breathing, my mind would invariable drift to new thoughts. The instinct is to criticise yourself for not being able to focus, but that in and of itself is another thought. The key is just getting back to what you were trying to do in the first place. This is a skill that we can all use everyday, in any number of situations.
I experienced this when I went to the National Whitewater Center. I wasn't upset that I couldn't really paddle a whitewater kayak all that well, I got upset when my roll, which is very good, didn't want to work or didn't work well. I beat myself up over my failures. Not until I thought to myself just relax, and roll, did the roll come back. And honestly I owe that to the person I was paddling with. He got me to just relax into it. The remainder of my afternoon, as I got more tired, my roll was called on more and more frequently, and when I remembered to not think, to just roll, it worked beautifully.
I thought to not think, which sounds crazy. But is an important concept. Because everything in a kayak comes back to a forward stroke - because that is where we are most stable, every stroke should put us in a position to do a forward stroke, particularly our roll - that is what I will relate this concept too. I have done three posts on the forward stroke. I would like to do three more, but I fear losing an audience, but it is that important. There are many things to consider in the forward stroke. Body position, rotation, loose grip, pushing with the feet. edge to tweak direction, etc. Only when these movements can be learned to the point that they are forgotten, will they work. they must become instinct, they must become reflex.
And to do that, only takes ten thousand hours. Give or take.
I envisioned this blog as a means to get these lessons written, and as a gateway for new paddlers. I have been pleased to see - via sitemeter - a number of visitors who came to my site, and systematically went through it page by page. I can also see - via vimeo statistics - that the same people watched the videos. For me this is a proof of concept. That people will come to learn to paddle, and then Hopefully take those lessons on the water, which is where they truly belong. I never intended for this blog to be read by experienced paddlers, but I have been fortunate enough to get comments and feedback from some paddlers with an amazing amount of kayaking experience. As I stated in the first post, it is intended for the beginner, but if you are an expert I am sure I have something to give, if you 'empty your cup.'
In the following weeks I am going to transition into rescue skills, then some simple navigation. Following that we are going to take a turn. I am planning a trip for next summer with a handful of friends. The blog will become a chronicle of the planning and execution of an Alaskan paddling expedition. It should prove to be interesting.