While most creeks have tons of 2-5′ ‘drive-off the rock’ style boofs that just kick your boat up and out, or shoulder boofs where you disconnect from the water to land in the eddy, more and more places we want to paddle feature waterfalls over ten feet, rolling lips to vertical, or even vertical drops that reconnect onto a slide – where a hard landing can ruin your day. Luckily, modern boat design makes it possible to ‘pull the trigger’ on a boof stroke even AFTER you can see your landing zone, which really comes in handy when trying to set a precise angle for the impact. Why? Because only when you can see your landing can you most effectively plan for it.
First of all you need a nice solid boof stroke: vertical paddle shaft, blade deep in the water past the lip, and the ability to ‘pull through to the stern’ for maximum bow lift or just give a subtle ‘tug’ at the hip before you slice the blade out of action and prepare for impact. The greater your ability to pull your bow up REALLY hard the longer you can wait to decide to, but without the ability to ‘let it ride’ to vertical when your angle is perfect, you probably shouldn’t run stuff you can’t handle pancaking. Gaining control on your falling angle is the only safe way to start planning for bigger and bigger hits. And this simple trick makes it easier than ever.
Look for your landing before you pull the trigger. I’ll say this again – LOOK for the boil / pool / or shelf your kayak will be landing on before you try and set the angle for the impact. While it’s true that until you are vertical your bow will be in the way, and on rollers the water in front of you will block the view from the point where your kayak will actually impact, but just seeing the pool or general angle of the shelf you are aiming for while FEELING the rate at which your bow is falling gives you a much better chance of timing how hard to pull in order to hit it correctly. Add to this the fact that your boat is now MUCH closer to the desired angle you want to impact the plunge-pool or angled shelf we are hitting … it’s as if we have taken 45 degrees or so OUT of the equation and given ourselves the chance to STOP the stern-over-bow rotation instead of just slowing it down and hoping it drops enough (but not too much) by the time we hit.
Next time you are checking blogs or videos of people running really big stuff, check out how far forwards some of them are leaning right as the go over the edge, and how long it takes them before they actually finish that last stroke… You’ll see many holding the paddle vertical as they roll off the lip and then gently relaxing it to a rudder as the full plunge starts. On reconnectors, leaning forwards not only makes a ‘fulcrum’ out of your body position to absorb impact but also lets you ‘see’ over the edge to the landing quicker. By keeping your paddle in the water as you roll off the lip, you’ve got some control over how to angle your boat in other ways as well – right to left, right hip or left hip up – depending on the patch of rock you’ll encounter.
Think about this stuff the next time you are driving to the river, then find a deep-landing drop to practice LOOKING for the landing before you pull on the paddle and attempting to land at different angles each time you go off. Like anything advanced technique you will have to practice a lot before you gain much control and yes, you will land on your head a few times along the road to mastery! In the end you’ll discover that it’s a whole lot easier to a prepare for an impact when you can see coming, and you’ll generate softer landings on the drops you’ve been running. Then just maybe you’ll feel like stepping up to some bigger ones.
May your free-fall seem endless and your landings a fluffy white blur…