There’s a point in every waterfall where the downstream flow falls off the earth and into the atmosphere for a bit on it’s way into the pool below. This transitionary point is called ”the lip” and can also be described as the point at which the water bends sharply downwards on it’s way from horizontal to vertical. Because of the sharp curve or ”corner” in the flow, the lip of a waterfall is the point at which you can most easily change the angle of your boat compared to the flow of the water.
Why you ask? Because when less of your boat is in the water, it’s as if you are balanced perfectly on a pivot point for just a split second before you re-align with the downward flow. Lean back or take a forward stroke and the bow will stay separated from the downward flow, allowing you to hold it closer to horizontal and land flat and shallow. Lean forwards and back paddle and the bow is likely to get ”sucked” down over the corner so fast the stern may separate from the flow and project outwards over your bow into a ‘Pedro’ style ‘pitch-pole’ with probably ejection from the boat.
For paddlers used to boofing smaller drops where keeping the bow as high as possible is the only goal, refocusing on the lip and how to deal with it is key to learning to running taller drops smoothly and safely.
On most drops over 15′ you want to land between 45 and 85 degrees, so focusing your strategy for this turning point in the waterfall is key for getting the exact landing you want no matter how high it is.
It’s true that if you come in hot, paddling fast in fairly deep water, you may generate enough speed to separate from the flow for a relatively flat landing regardless of where you put your paddle, and this is the ‘go to” for many paddlers as they learn to run waterfalls. Unfortunately, this approach fails when you encounter a rounded ”roll-off” lip or a shallow ”flat to vert” situation and will never give you the control to run larger drops where 20 degrees off your goal might shorten your day and your stature.
How to paddle the Lip
1. PLANT a vertical stroke at the point where the water separates from the bedrock, or falls most sharply away. Use this stoke to pull back into the rock should you lose your speed, or hold onto the stroke and use it later, as you roll over the edge, to ‘grab’ onto some down-rushing current before it escapes your grasp.
Plant too early and your stroke is finished while the bow is still falling resulting in a low-control descent.
Plant too late and you might have too much momentum in the rotation and land on your head even if you pull hard.
b. Look for your landing
The best way to plan for landing the drop at the right angle is to be able to see the landing and adjust accordingly, so start by looking down as you roll off the lip. Just by looking downwards at the boil you will soon be landing in your shoulders will naturally rotate with the changing angle of the flow into a more ”aggressive”, slightly forward, shoulder over the knees position. This position allows you great access to the water on your stroke but also lets you brace for impact with the deck of the boat OR tuck your head down for a vertical plunge without the face-slap. It’s impossible to plan your entry into the impact zone unless you look at if first, and knowing exactly when you will hit lets your core best prepare for it.
c. Pull on your stroke.
This will stop the downwards rotation of the boat and allow you to ‘hold’ or add slightly to the the angle you’re at. On large drops you want to melt down, you might skip the pull to make sure you get vertical and to prevent the bow from coming up any higher. On rolling drops with a hole or shallow landing, you might want to pull hard to get your bow back up to 45 degrees but far enough down the lip so you can to hold it there. And don’t assume the ”lip” of the drop is the last point where you will have any control, as long as there is water under your blade you will be able to use it to affect your trajectory. With practice you can make corrections even while you are in free fall. But that’s a whole different chapter.
d) Land, paddle away and fist pump as you look back a celebrate your line
By planting a vertical stroke at the lip, looking for your landing zone, and pulling the stroke as needed to adjust the angle at that point you will not only gain control over your angle of descent but also gain the confidence to run taller or more challenging drops.
The sharper the lip, the harder it’s going to be to ‘roll’ over the edge in control as you’ll likely want to pull a bit early but nice and slow. On more rounded drops you’ll have to wait a lot longer than you might be comfortable with before you can see your landing, but waiting will be key to maintaining some ”pull” on your stroke when you need it part way down. Every drop has it’s own strategies but by FOCUSING on the LIP of the drop and using these 3 steps as you float across it you’ll gain the increased accuracy you’ll need to stay safer, healthier and happier in the alluring realm of vertical kayaking.
Remember it’s all in the timing and a lot of this comes from experiences and practice on smaller falls. Experiment with loads of different take offs and see how it effects your boats take off then have fun as you free fall, fly and land in control.