I’ve just had one of those days when you fall into bed but no matter how tired you are sleep does come easily as your head is buzzing. After a successful day on the water with students from my school (courtesy of Liquid Logisitics) I shot down to another Venue to meet up with Owen Burson for a short coaching/assessment session on the water going through personal skills and rescue/self-rescues.

I spend a lot of time on the Sea paddling but very little of that time is spent practising isolated strokes and techniques. Last nights session gave me the opportunity to look in detail at some of the key strokes and skills on flat water under not only the watchful eye of Owen but also Richard Pearsall joint Director of Liquid Logistics, and boy did I pick up a lot in a short period of time.

First off, watching paddler’s with such high levels of technical skill is just fantastic. The ease at which they controlled and moved their boats was staggering whilst at the same time reminding me of just how much I have to learn.

Owen used a nice blend of discovery and guided learning, posing questions and tasks to make me think through individual aspects of each stroke, then discussing my current technique and possible changes before gradually combining these element together to create an improved stroke.

Following the stroke specific work, we concentrated on rescue and self rescue technique with Owen providing text book demonstrations for me to emulate. This produced a couple of surprises for me particularly with the self rescue (see the ‘Action Points’ at the end of this post.

Once all was done, I was able to spend an enjoyable hour or so at a nearby pub with Owen and Rich chatting about all things Sea kayaking before tiredness took a hold and I had to admit defeat and head for home. Probably a good thing, as they were busy discussing plans for a 3 stage paddle around Ireland which had me beginning to work out how to get time off work and domestic duties!

Action Points

In an effort to consolidate the evenings efforts, I sat and jotted down a list of findings and action points to work on in the near future. I thought I would share – please be aware these are ‘rough’ notes and may not make total sense!!

Paddle Length
I’ve just switched from 220 paddle length to 210 paddle length and boy is that a good move – the 220’s have served me well but are just too long for me, particularly doing more technical stroke work.

Edging

At times I am trying to apply too much edge too early in a stroke leading to instability. I need to work on setting up/starting some strokes with less edge so I am in a more stable position, then add more edge or use better trunk rotation to automatically apply more edge during a stroke.

Sweep Strokes (Forward and reverse)

I need to shorten the length of my sweep and add more of a push away from the stern of the kayak – I currently maintain the sweep past the point where it loses efficiency. My current sweeps were producing too much forward or reverse movement so the kayak ends up travelling in a largish circle rather than carving a tight turn or in the case of combined sweeps spin on the spot.

I also need to work on body position, leaning further forward to aid stability and ensure more trunk rotation which aided the amount of edge I was able to apply to the stroke.

Bow Rudder

I tend to use more of a slalom style bow rudder, applying too much angle to the blade and trying to pull the bow around which stalls the turn slightly. Seeing the blade as more of a ‘dagger-board’ and keeping it more aligned with the edge of the kayak allowed me to keep up the momentum of the turn with the kayak edge being responsible for the turn whilst the blade had more of a ‘supporting’ effect on the stroke. I also need to ensure I am looking to future water and adding enough trunk rotation – I am currently tending to look out to about 1 O’Clock rather than 3 O’Clock which means I am not rotating enough.

Self Rescue (Straddle Method)

This is something I do practice and although never elegant, I have yet to fail with however during the session I failed twice before finally managing to clamber onto the back of the boat and into my seat. Initially I was feeling very annoyed not to pull this off more effectively and very concerned. However, two reasons, both kit related became obvious.

Firstly, trying to climb up onto the stern the first time was hindered by wearing the Throwtow system clipped across my chest. Having not tried a self rescue whilst wearing this kit, I was unaware of how much the, albeit quite small, extra bulk on the front of the PFD would affect my ability to get back up on the stern. Releasing the throwtow prior to getting back up on the stern was the key to eliminating this particular problem.

The second issue came when I was straddled across the stern and moving back into the cockpit. I successfully got my backside above the seat, but when I tried to hook my legs in and slide back into the boat I couldn’t do it and became very unstable before capsizing, something that has never happened when I’ve practiced this self rescue before.

Trying this again I became stuck again but this time kept my balance. The culprit was the elastic lines that my newer spraydeck has running across the spray deck for hooking maps and other small items under. These elastics caught both times on the rear day hatch as I straddle over the boat with the deck between my legs. As I slid forward over the cockpit they were pulling the deck taught under my crotch preventing me from sliding far enough forward to get back into the cockpit.

I will certainly be returning to a deck without elastics after this experience or as Richard suggested, hold the release cord of the deck in my teeth so the deck is held up as I climb up onto the stern!

Practice, Practice, Practice

I need to practice specific stroke work more often as well as try out new equipment in safe conditions before venturing out with it. My plan now is to have a regular ‘strokes’ session, using a sheltered launch point close to home as well as increase the frequency with which I practice my self rescue particularly if I am trying out new equipment that could interfere with this.

I am also keen to draw on the services of coaches like Owen and Richard more often. Spending quality time with such a high calibre of coach provided a wealth of useful feedback. Both Owen (Isle of Wight Sea kayaking) and Richard (Liquid Logistics) offer one to one or small group ‘bespoke’ coaching and after last nights session I would seriously recommend both of these guys.

Conclusions

Would the imperfections in my strokes prevent me from paddling in a range of conditions? Obviously not as I am regularly paddling in conditions up to F6, occasionally F7, in a range of sea states. However, would sessions like these and ‘stroke specific’ practice improve my paddling – certainly, particularly as I would like to convert my paddling experience into BCU qualifications.

More important than all of this, for me, is that I found the whole experience really enjoyable stuff. I find the mechanics aspect of the strokes hugely interesting, and seeing how effortlessly a sea kayak can be moved left me with a desire to learn more.

Useful Links

Isle of Wight Sea Kayaking Website
Liquid Logistics Website