Cartwheeling is one of the primary building blocks of playboating, and it is super fun to boot. It is a multidimensional move that teaches you a number of key elements to boat control. In order to successfully cartwheel you will need to sit on your boat, keep your eyes on the sweet spot, and you will need to keep your bodies rotation ahead of the rotation of the boat. These same principals that allow you to cartwheel are the same that allow you to do a flat spin. The only difference is that we need to elevate the boat on edge. Lets practice them first in the flat spin.
Sitting on the boat requires us to keep our weight balanced on the hull of the boat regardless of it orientation. No matter if the boat is on edge, the bow, or the stern focus your weight on the boat. The most common pitfall is to reach way out to the side with your paddle and to lean on that. Your brain is telling you that the tripod that is formed by the bow, stern, and the paddle blade is more stable. Do not listen! Keep that weight focused on the boat and learn to let your hips roll with whatever the water is throwing at the boat. If you lean on that blade it will get stuck under the water and will slow down your body rotation, and that will become worse as we transition from the spin to the cartwheel. You can tell if you are leaning on your paddle too much if you continually roll towards that blade. Keeping your eyes on the sweet spot is key for a number of reasons. First it is the best way to keep your boat moving towards the most retentive spot in any given feature. This is especially important as you are learning since it will often help you save a bobble and keep you in the feature so that you can try again without having to paddle back up to the feature and wait for your next turn. I subscribe to the figure skater method on this topic. What that means is that you keep your eyes on the sweet spot for as long as possible. This will really require you to separate your head from your torso in the way they move. Always keep your torso rotating but your eyes will linger on the sweet spot for as long as possible and when you can no longer keep them on the sweet spot, snap your head around and look over your shoulder as fast as possible. This will allow you to reacquire the sweet spot as fast as possible and will keep your eyes on it for the maximum amount of time. This technique will also help you not get dizzy once you are linking up countless ends. Body rotation is how we keep your body’s potential energy wound up to help keep the boat rotating. We are looking to get as much rotation as possible. The reason is that as you wind up the boat wants to unwind to release that potential energy that is built up. With the addition of the energy that the water is adding to this equation you really do not need your paddle! This is how folks can clean cartwheel (no paddle) for lots of ends. That requires great balance (sitting on the boat) and a bit of practice.
Now that we have ground rules to get the boat properly completing the 360-degree rotation it is time to get it on edge and start to transition into the cartwheel. I like to use the energy of the water whenever possible and this is no exception. Imagine the feature has a clock face over it and the center is just at the sweet spot. Upstream is 12 and downstream is 6. This is relative to the flow of the water and not the riverbed. If we want to throw a right cartwheel we want to look at initiating our bow at 10. You may be asking why would we not start at noon. We do want to end up at 12 because when the boat is at 90 deg of edging that is where we have the least amount of resistance. Getting the boat there take a bit of work and it is best to work into things. By initiating your bow at 10 the deck will grab a bit of the falling green water and help provide the energy to draw the bow down. Get the boat on edge and think about the paddle blade and the end of the boat like two parts of a pair of scissors. Close the scissors by pulling your legs to the paddle. Do not lean on the blade and try to push with it! If you do you will fall right on your face with a 90-degree pirouette. When properly executed this will bring your bow to 12 and will get you set up for the second end and beyond. Don’t worry too much about getting it vertical at first. Just work on linking up the mechanics of the process and be happy with 30 – 50 degrees of elevation. Once you can get that going around for 3-4 ends start to work on rolling the boat up to a more vertical edge. At this point is it all about practice and fine-tuning the situation. Make sure to continually work on both sides so that you are ambidextrous. Try not to build in a dominant side and you will save a lot of work later on. Getting your consistency from 2 to 3 ends is a normal pitfall. Typically this is where body rotation really comes into play. Your body gets behind the boat and then the third end falls flat and does not engage the green water. Make sure to stay wound up. Now go out there and have a blast with the learning curve. This is the fun part!