The Secrets to Calm, Confident Whitewater Kayaking

Want to feel more stable and confident in your kayak in whitewater? Try sinking your weight down into your butt. I know it sounds weird, but it works!

Placing your focus on your kayak and hips gets your attention away from doing too much with your paddle. Too much paddling actually leads to instability. That’s why when you watch really good paddlers they take fewer, yet more powerful and timed strokes. When we focus on feeling ‘grounded’ in our kayaks we create stability and confidence. Here are examples of what I mean.

In this first video, Sandra, a newer paddler wobbles ever so slightly on her edges as she enters a slide. This leads to a feeling of uncertainty and stress. She has a good line off the drop, AND we can also see how her stability as she enters and turns the corner could be refined for greater effortlessness, stability and confidence.

Sandra was telling me that when she watches more experienced paddlers they look very calm and steady in their kayaks. That’s because they feel grounded – they don’t let every movement of their boat throw them off.

Let’s watch Adriene Levknecht’s run through Gorilla during Green Race 2018. She is the first woman to wear bib #1 and start first! There are plenty of times in this run where she could get knocked off balance, but she is so grounded in her kayak that she never loses stability. Her strokes are powerful, well timed and well placed.

Obviously this stability and grounding come with experience in your kayak, AND there are some things you can practice to cultivate steadiness and confidence. Here are my top 4 tips for cultivating stability and calm when whitewater kayaking:

Ferry with your Eyes Closed

I love to have my students practice this technique! They look at me like I’m crazy at first, but once they start they really get the benefit. Closing our eyes forces us to pay attention to what the water is doing to our kayaks and how that feels. Too many boaters intellectualize river reading and paddling. It’s just as important to get a good feel for how your boat and your body respond to the water. Ferrying with your eyes closed gets you in touch with the movement of your boat and promotes greater confidence and stability.

Take as Few Strokes as Possible

Challenge yourself to take as few strokes as possible when you’re running a rapid, boofing, ferrying and practicing ‘s’ turns. Focus on your timing rather than speed and see what happens. Chances are you’ll feel more powerful, stable and confident in your boat.

Hit Rocks

Stop being afraid of rocks and practice running into them, boofing them, shanking off of them and getting stuck on them! The more you practice loving rocks and having fun with them, the more stability and response ability you create.

5 Points of Contact

This may seem too obvious, but outfitting your kayak so that you fit snugly with 5 points of contact is very important for stability. These 5 points are feet, hips, butt, knees/thighs and back band. I’ve had several students over the years show up without a bulkhead or footpegs for their feet. If you don’t have anything to press your feet with then you have less power. I’ve seen too much hip padding and too little, and back bands that are used as back rests instead of back support. Kayak outfitting has come a long way from when I started paddling in the 90s! Take advantage of the ease of use and quick set up. It’s worth it in stability and confidence.

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Meet Anna Levesque

Anna Levesque is the leading expert on paddling instruction for women and yoga for paddling, including SUP Yoga. Named one of the most inspirational paddlers alive by Canoe and Kayak Magazine, Anna’s twenty-plus years of experience as an accomplished international competitor, instructor, coach and author has landed her in mainstream publications such as TIME, SHAPE and SELF.

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