Written by Jason Bates
Body Language is the most fundamental key to successful kayaking. The title is not an accidental metaphor; body language has similar effects on our kayaking efforts as it does on our social efforts. Using the correct body language can go a long way to making our efforts rewarded; using the wrong body language can confound all of our other efforts, and limit our success greatly. To get the most bang for your buck you will want to make sure that your kayak is properly trimmed, fit, and adjusted; this will go a long ways to making sure that all of your body language transmits into a direct response from your kayak. (Check out Boat Fit - How to Make Your Kayak Perform Better for more info.)
The most basic form of body language is posture; this tends to mirror our attitude and confidence. In kayaking, good posture is the foundation on which all other body language comes from; bad posture will lead to shortcomings in all other areas. To achieve good posture sit in your kayak with the boats fittings adjusted snug, pushing your tail bone back in the seat while pushing your belly button forward should give you a slight forward tilt of the pelvis. Allow this slight tilt of the pelvis to follow through the rest of your spine, bringing your shoulders slightly forward of your hips, and aligning all of your vertebrae straight in line. You may find that after adjusting your posture your fittings may also need to be slightly tightened. With your posture straight and upright you should have excellent and secure purchase with your knees in their braces, as well as an enhanced level of inherent balance.
With good posture you will find that you’ll have better balance, and therefore, better edge control. A good test to check your posture is to test your stability and edge control levels; try shifting from edge to edge from two or three different posture positions (including the “Lay-Z-Boy” recliner position, leaning back against the rear deck). You should notice a great difference in your level of balance and edge control; with good upright posture you will find your edge control and stability are much stronger.
The ability to have strong and balanced edge control is another fundamental aspect of body language. Edging is a necessary aspect of kayaking; the stability of our kayaks is entirely dependant on our ability to adjust and conform our boat and body to whatever “terrain” we meet. We provide the shock absorbers for our vehicle here. With our posture in the upright position visualize bending your spine slightly to one side while shifting a significant portion of your weight to the opposite butt cheek. You can tilt your kayak to a more extreme edge by lifting up on the knee that you are bending towards. To better visualize this position lets assume that you want to shift to a left edge: putting your weight on your left butt cheek and lifting up with your right knee, you should be moving the center of your rib cage towards your left hip while moving your head and shoulders towards your right hip. This position is also called a “C” position, referring to the curvature of the spine. To be able to curve your body from one side to the other is the foundation for rolling and bracing. This motion is known as a “C to C” motion, and this is where the term “C to C” roll comes from.
Be sure to work on your edging on both sides, and particularly work on the ability to shift from one edge to another. A great drill to perfect this is to Velcro (or duct tape) a cup of water to the deck of your kayak and try paddling around holding one edge and shifting to another. The goals are to be able to hold a steady edge, as well as transfer smoothly to another edge without spilling water from the cup. To make this even harder you can try different amounts of water in the cup, and then work on trying to tilt the boat to get the water as close to the lip of the cup without spilling (this will really work on your steady edges, as well as working a wide range of edges from low to high). It is important to remember that the steadiness of your edging is far more important than the degree of edge that you can attain (a wobble in your edging can often translate into a flip in whitewater).
Torso rotation is where we are able to build real power behind our strokes and utilize maximum efficiency of motion. Once again this motion, like all other forms of body language, requires proper posture to maximize it’s potential. Try sitting upright in your boat and slowly rotating so that your torso is oriented at a significant angle to your kayak, this angle will of coarse vary depending on your flexibility. Focus on where your belly button is facing rather than where your shoulders are facing; in order to move our belly button we must involve our whole torso. Many people fool themselves into thinking that they are getting good torso rotation because they are moving their shoulders a lot, but moving our shoulders doesn’t necessarily involve much of our torso. Obviously the more that we utilize this torso rotation, the more flexible we become and the stronger our paddle strokes will be.
These three ranges of motion: posture, c to c, and torso rotation; are the main forms of Body Language that we will want to hone to become better paddlers. With these skills you will: roll less, roll better and more consistently, make moves with less strokes, miss fewer eddies, catch more waves, surf smoother and longer, and in general paddle more solidly…