10 Commandments of Seakayaking

Paddling Delaware and the eastern shore of Maryland and Virginia

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Ten Commandments of Sea Kayaking

from Mitch Mitchell at Coastal Kayaks with help from Bob Foot and Karen Knight

·        Maintain Good Posture: Listen to your mother “sit up straight”. Good posture is essential to good paddling. Properly aligned posture offers greater balance, range of motion, strength, safety and efficiency. Too much forward lean restricts torso muscles, inhibits breathing, and reduces lower body control of the boat. To be more aligned try equally distributing the weight on your buttocks to create a strong pelvic base, and then align/stack your hip, shoulder and earlobe over each other.

·        Keep Your Nose Over Your Tailbone for Better Balance: Leaning your head beyond the centerline of your kayak is a sure way to tip over. Whether you kayak on flatwater or whitewater, if you remember to keep your nose aligned over your tailbone and to sit up straight with your weight centered over the boat, you will maintain better boat control, stability and balance.

·        Separation of Upper & Lower Body: “Loose hips prevent flips.” The lower body (knees & hips) moves independently beneath the upright torso – similar to separation of upper and lower body in skiing. To practice this – heel the kayak by shifting your weight via raising and lowering alternate knees (pressing down with one & pulling up with the other one) and then try turning your torso side to side. The idea is to maintain a steady boat heel, while the torso rotates.

·        Torso Rotation for Power and Safety: Instead of using your small arm muscles to provide all your power in your strokes, try incorporating the larger and stronger muscles of your torso. By using torso rotation (movement of the shoulders, abdomen and back around a central axis – the spine), your power will be maximized and shoulder safety maintained. Many sports, golf, tennis, swimming, etc., require that we use our torso and paddling is no exception. 

·        Stay in the Paddler’s Box: “Face your work.” Keep arms and hands in front of the shoulder plane throughout all phases of the stroke to create a “paddler’s box.” By using torso rotation to maintain this position during strokes, power is maximized and shoulder safety is maintained.

·        Quiet Boat: To paddle straight ahead further, faster and with less effort, requires that you avoid yaw (the side to side movement of the bow”) and rocking the boat from side to side. To minimize yaw, stop the power phase of your forward stroke at your hip. A stroke that is too long will cause the boat to veer off course. Also maintain equal pressure on both sits bones to avoid rocking your boat, which can cause your boat to go off course as well.

·        Quiet Your Paddle Stroke: You want your strokes to be quiet, smooth and efficient. If you find that your paddle is creating a lot of noise, bubbles or splash, you might be pulling on the paddle too soon or fast or pushing down or lifting up water. To avoid these inefficiencies try the following: Slow your stroke down, insert the paddle into the water (like inserting a knife into a sheath), pause for a millisecond to allow the paddle to “stick,” then apply pressure.

·        Move the Boat to the Paddle: A common fallacy in paddling is that we pull the blade through the water. In actuality if you think of moving the boat up to the paddle during a stroke you will be more effective and efficient in your paddling. One way to understand this concept is to imagine yourself on a sled – poised at the top of a snowy hill. To push down the slope you reach forward ahead of the sled and plant your hands in the snow. As you pull back with your upper body, the sled slides forward past your hands. A planted paddle works in a similar way. So, next time you do a forward stroke – remember to plant your blade firmly in the water and pull hour hips to the paddle.

·        Breathe: Don’t hold your breath – let it go. Awareness of your breathing will help minimize tension, enhance the flow of your strokes and improve balance. Inhale during the catch phase of your stroke and envision yourself becoming taller and more open and then exhale during the power phase, imagining the torso twist wringing the air out of your body. Sort of like you’re wringing out a wet towel.

·        Less is Usually More: Go for quality not quantity. Practice maneuvers, strokes, heeling and transitions slowly and precisely and then build up speed. “It is the journey, not the destination.” And “only those who have the patience to do simple things perfectly ever acquire the skill to do difficult things easily.”   Johann C. Schiller

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Last modified: 07/17/15