By Stephen Wright
As with any skill in life, all freestyle kayaking can be broken down into small, fun patterns of body movement. I think about all freestyle kayaking based on 3 FUNDAMENTAL SKILLS, which combine to do everything including enders, stern squirts, loops, air blunts, and even more advanced moves like helixes and phonix monkeys! You will find that you can learn anything in playboating much more quickly if you can dial-in these 3 fundamental skills, and learn to incoorperate them in your kayaking. It’s just like learning any other skill: if you want to be a better golfer, you practice your swing; if you want to become a concert pianist, you practice scales (for HOURS and hours until you wish for death…lol); If you want to become a better skateboarder, you practice ollying and balance; if you want to become a better climber, you practice leg-work. The 3 fundamental skills of freestyle are vertical force, balance (edge control), and torso rotation (strokes).
EDGE CONTROL AND BALANCE is your ability to control your kayak on it’s long (rolling) axis without needing to brace. This fundamental skill will greatly improve your all-around kayaking in addition to your freestyle. If you can’t put your boat on edge without falling over, you’ll have trouble with curlers and waves downriver, surfing, double pumps, cartwheels, blunts, and LOTS of other moves. The key to edge control is knowing how to practice it, and knowing which body movements will make your kayak do what you want. The part of your body that’s ready to tilt your boat on edge is your knee or thigh in the thigh-hook. Think about lifting one knee or the other every time you do an edge control drill. You also want to get used to pushing edging drills as far as possible, which is until you have to brace or fall over. Know this: YOU HAVEN’T PUT YOUR KAYAK TO MAXIMUM EDGE UNTIL THE COCKPIT RIM HITS YOU IN THE SIDE. That’s the only physical barrier to keep you from going farther on edge.
The quick way to get used to edging your boat is easy: sit leaning slightly forward in the flatwater, and simply lift one knee as far as possible before you have to fall over. Here’s how to practice in a way that will actually help you: start by forcing your head to rock slightly towards the water on the right, and with your face looking down into the water around your right knee. Hold your right paddle blade out above the water ready to brace. Never lean back, because that will cause your hips to lock-up (and it’ll generally cause you to fall over). SLOWLY lift that left knee and learn to hold your kayak slightly on edge for 10 seconds–if you have to touch the water with your paddle, or flop to the back deck to brace, start over. Next try it again with a little more edge. Keep pushing it until you can consistantly hold it with the left cockpit rim touching your side (max edge) without falling over. SWEET! Now do the same thing on the other side. The reason for the forward body position, and face looking down is that most play moves will require you to be body forward, AND looking up and away tends to make us fall over.
VERTICAL FORCE AND EDGE CONTROL COMBINED: ROCKING THE BOAT WITHOUT A PADDLE
This is the quickest way to learn to get your double pump, or to make it much more efficient. It’s also a great skill that will eventually help with cartwheels, blunts, back blunts, and several other tricks. We’re combining the first freestyle fundamental (vertical force) with edge control. Here’s how to do it: sit in the slightly forward body position with your head rocked right and looking over your right knee into the water. Hold your right blade out above the water, ready to brace. Lift that left knee just a bit, then focus on slaming the bow, then stern and get the boat rocking slightly. DON’T flail back and forth with your body, instead focus on pushing down in the feet and crunching the bow up with your knees. If you have to brace, try again with less edge–OR if you feel your head rocking up and away OR if you find yourself leaning back–try again with less edge. You should be able to do 3 or 4 bow+stern rocks without bracing without much edge–this will acheive lifting your bow and stern 6" to a foot out of the water. Now add some edge and keep going. Work it until you can go to maximum edge without needing to brace–you should be able to lift your bow and stern to almost 45 degrees with some practice! COOL! Now work the other side (which should feel really wrong at first) until you’re equally skilled on both sides. A little secret is to focus most of your energy on slamming the bow down with your feet, rather than lifting it up on the stern–it feels much more natural to pull the bow up, so much more force is required to slam. See Freestyle Fundamentals, part 1: Vertical Force for more detail on smashing the bow and stern.
Ultimately, try holding your boat to maximum edge while paddling forward, in circles, and in every other way you can think of to prepare you for anything you could ever need to do on the river
Enjoy the photos of Clay at Rock Island Lake with his right knee up!
Live from Reno, NV,