As the paddling season approaches many of you are probably hitting the pool to practice some rolls and get back in the groove before venturing out on the chillier rivers. Pool sessions are a great opportunity to practice your basic strokes. Even though it seems more fun to practice rolls and flatwater moves, basic strokes are the foundation of your paddling technique and your confidence building.
It’s important to practice draw strokes, sweep strokes, stern draws, the forward and the back stroke in flatwater where it’s peaceful and comfortable. That way you can focus your attention on developing powerful, efficient strokes that will put you exactly where you need to be in the rapids or give you a really good workout in flatwater.
Here are three quick tips to improving your basic stroke technique:
1. Sit up straight. If you feel like you’re sliding down in your seat put each hand on either side of your boat behind your hips, press down with your hands and lift your butt out of the seat. Tilt the bottom of your sit bones back so that you feel like you’re sitting up nice and straight and sit back down. This little adjustment is great for re-aligning your posture in your kayak after an hour or so of paddling. Sitting up straight will give you more reach with your forward stroke and more power.
2. Rotate from the core. Those of you who have taken instruction from me have heard this a million times! Torso rotation is the most important component of strong, efficient strokes. If you use your torso instead of your arms as your main source of power your strokes will feel effortless. To start cultivating torso rotation sit in your boat or on the floor in the same position that you would be in your kayak. Place your hands on your belly button and visualize a line going up your body from your belly button. Imagine that your head is fused to that line and can’t move independently. From here rotate to the right starting from your belly button and then to the left. This only works if you concentrate on moving from your belly button. This quick exercise will help you feel what strong torso rotation feels like and where it starts.
3. Watch your shaft angle. When you’re paddling forward your shaft angle should be almost vertical so that your blades are traveling right alongside your boat creating efficient forward momentum. The verticality also allows you to reach forward to get more length and purchase on the water. For turning strokes such as the stern draw and sweep your shaft angle should be horizontal and close to parallel with the water. Being mindful of your shaft angle can make a big difference in stroke performance and efficiency.