Basic kayaking skills – preparing yourself for the kayak season

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The kayaking season is upon us and that means it is time to refresh our foundational skills!

Why is it essential to have a robust set of necessary kayak skills?

If you trust yourself, you can relax and enjoy the scenery. If you are uncomfortable, then it is tough to pay any attention to anything other than your lack of security.

Is it hard to learn and maintain a basic set of essential kayak skills?

No, not at all. During an NPF Grunnkurs and Introkurs, you will go over all the skills necessary to keep yourself safe out on the water (depending on conditions). Also, how to prepare for the trip (weather and packing) and making sure you are paddling in an environment suited to your level (learning good judgment). The key is to keep these skills sharp after you have completed the course! – plus, you get a våttkort!

Wet exit (sea & river kayaking)

The wet exit seems like a no-brainer right? Just tip over and pull your tag. Yeah, well, in theory, this is correct, but there is a little bit more to the picture. If you are afraid to go upside-down, then when you do (which inevitably happens) you will most probably stress out a little bit, or in the worst case scenario, panic! This quality of mind will then affect the following rescue, which will be much harder if you are not calm. So, keep practising your wet exit, no matter how good you are.

Self-rescues (sea kayaking)

The crawl rescue (a.k.a cowboy) is a fast and efficient rescue that can be used in both calm and rough conditions. You also have the cow-girl and the paddle-float rescue, which some find easier to perform. The most important steps to keep well practised are when you have to empty the kayak, and then the balance required to get back in. Of course, remember to stay with your kayak and hold onto your paddle at all times during the rescues.

Assisted rescues aka buddy rescues (sea & river kayaking)

It is essential to be able to perform rescues in the conditions you are operating. For instance, if you can achieve an assisted rescue on flat/calm water, it doesn’t necessarily mean you will be able to when it is windy and wavy. Remember that these are the conditions you will be tipping over in, so best to have a rescue that works. I find the “ladder rescue” works best in the swell, and the “H-rescue” works best on calmer water. The “T-rescue”, “paddle rescue” and “hand-of-god” rescues work well in any condition, as long as you can get to the victim fast enough.

Body position (sea & river kayaking)

Body position/posture is something even the most experienced paddler needs to be conscious about. It is really easy to slouch in your boat, especially when you get tired. Slouching will not only give you bad technique; it is also not good for your body. Try sitting on your sitting bones (Ischial Tuberosity), keep your sternum lifted, and activate your core muscles to keep you in an upright position. Doing this will not only help your posture, but it will also allow you more reach and power in your strokes and more balance sitting in your kayak.

Basic paddle strokes (sea & river kayaking)

Sweep stroke (turning stroke) – it is always good to be able to quickly and efficiently change direction. Remember three things when practising this stroke: 1. eyes on your paddle (helps to incorporate your core muscles) 2. draw a half circle, starting from your toes and finishing behind your seat 3. Get space away from your kayak with the stroke; this will generate a lot more turning force.

Forward stroke – you want to have a healthy low and high paddling style for when you are paddling in different conditions. Remember your power source is coming from your core, hips, and legs – keep that torso rotating!

Edging & Bracing (sea & river kayaking)

Edging and bracing can be in one category, as by practising your brace (support stroke) you are automatically drilling your edge (i.e. balance). The more you can balance your kayak on its side, the more you can get out of your strokes, plus you will tip over less often. Edging also allows you to transition more control to your hips, meaning you will use less energy than if you are only adjusting your direction with paddle strokes. One quick thing about bracing: please don’t try and brace with straight arms; you are asking for a shoulder injury!

Swimming (sea & river kayaking)

Ideally, you are keeping up a regular swimming practice as a kayaker. I like to go to my local swimming pool once a week to keep my skills and fitness to a good standard. Once the season hits, I recommended finding a nice wee rapid and swimming down it. Doing so will give you a chance to practice your white-water float position, forward crawl stroke and eddy turns. Plus it just gets you comfortable being back in the flow. Kayaking is a head game. The more you can relax the more you can perform – and have fun!

Throw-bagging (river kayaking)

I cannot stress how important it is to keep your throw-bagging skills strong! Imagine if you have one chance to save your buddy from an unpleasant swim, but because you hadn’t practised, you missed. Wouldn’t feel right for either of you, right? Throwbagging needs to be drilled every time you go paddling. I like to throw my bag after every trip since I want to loop it up to dry anyway, this works very well. Find a target and shiiibaangg, hit it!

Towing (sea & river kayaking)

Sea kayaking – get your towline out and re-familiarise yourself with the system (check the karabiner and knots). Then clip into your buddy’s kayak and do a quick test tow. Remember you only need to clip into one bowline when pulling one kayak. If you are towing two people, then pass the line through one kayak (not the victim), and clip into the bowline of the victim’s boat. River kayaking – in river kayaking we use a cows-tail for towing. Again, check that your karabiner and the quick-release system is functional. You can now practice pulling an upside-down kayak. Give it a go at an indoor pool session, at a lake, or on a slow-moving river.

Rolling (sea & river kayaking)

After a winter off from paddling, it is a good idea to oil up your rusted techniques. We have a pretty cool video on how to roll from scratch and some tips if you find yourself stick(see below). Rolling is something that needs constant sharpening. Commit to roll every time you go out on the water!

Have fun – no matter what you are doing!

Oh yeah, almost forgot! Kayaking is in essence meant to be fun. I mean isn’t that why most of us partake in this beautiful sport? Try to take a few seconds just to soak up the sun, feel the water underneath your boat and appreciate the present moment. The more comfortable you are, the more fun you will have so if you need a refresher to boost your confidence (and polish some skills!) then please do consider signing up for an NPF-certified kayak course. You won’t regret it! And in the meantime check out our video tutorials here:

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