Peel Outs Part 2
This is for those who are familiar with the basic concepts behind the Peel Out, including Angle, Speed, and Edge; otherwise try reading part one first. There are a couple of goals to consider when peeling out; stability being the first issue that most paddlers are concerned with, and later some degree of control as the boat begins to turn downstream. While most beginners learn to deal with the stability factor relatively quickly, having control over their kayak once they enter the current usually takes a bit longer. Let's look at taking your peel out to a bit higher level...
Before going into much further detail, we must start with our vision, as this will be a major factor in everything else we do. Imagine the choice to peel out with a blindfold on or with your eyes open... now we're on the same page as to how important your vision is. Since we know that the boat will begin to turn downstream once we cross the eddy line, we also know that at that moment we'll want to turn our body downstream so that as the kayak turns we can see what's coming. If we cannot see what is coming clearly, then we can make no adjustments or fine tune our peel out in any way.
UNDERSTANDING CURRENT LOAD:
If you've ever watched the river pile up on the upstream side of a rock or bridge pilling, then you've been able to observe "Current Loading", and if you've ever flipped over during a peel out, then you've probably felt "Current Loading". One of our goals in the Peel Out is to achieve "Neutral Speed", and "unload" our kayak of the river's force. Neutral speed is when the kayak is flowing at or near current speed.
The term "Neutral Speed" is important to note, as it indicates that there is no "impact" or force being delivered to our kayak by the river; when our boat is near the speed of the river we are more stable, can turn our boat more easily, and in general have an easier time controlling the boat. It should be noted that this gets right at a core philosophy of "going with the flow"; many beginners are caught up in trying to fight against their inheirent fear of being overtaken by the force of the current, while the expert embraces the fact that they will be able to control the boat ONLY when it is moving in harmony WITH the force of the current. Depending on all variables, it may take up to a few seconds for the kayak to achieve "Neutral Speed" on any peel out.
It's helpful to pay attention to the feel of the current interacting with the kayak, as you can feel the current loading up and unloading on your boat quite clearly. This "Current Load" is the only reason that we must shift our weight from edge to edge, and thus if the "Load" is light then the edging need only be subtle, and a boat that has reached "Neutral Speed" needs no edge regardless of ALL other circumstances. Conversely, when there is a substantial amount of force of current against our boat producing a heavy load, you will need a substantial amount of edge in order to keep that load on the hull of the kayak and off the deck. If at ANY time the current loads up substantially enough to pile up on top of the deck, you will have to overcome a substantial weight on one side of the kayak... possible, but more likely to turn into a flip.
ANGLE AND CURRENT LOAD:
One of the main reason that Angle is so important is due to the major relationship that the kayak's angle has on current loading. Think about the impact of the current on two boats that have just entered the current; one that is sideways, perpendicular to the current and the other that is parallel to the current. Obviously the more perpendicular to the current your kayak is, the more surface area it presents to the current, and if your kayak is not at "Neutral Speed", then that will produce a loading on your kayak.
During the Peel Out, our boat will gradually begin moving downstream with the current, gradually catching up to Neutral Speed. While our boat is not at Neutral Speed, we can minimize the current load on our boat, by minimizing our angle to the current. In other words, if we can keep the boat from turning too quickly, then by the time that our boat reaches an angle that is more susceptible to current loading up in it, there will not be much of a difference in speed between us and the current, and therefore much less pressure loading up our kayak. Another way that I often phrase this is: that by making a gradually drawn out turn, bit by bit, you are able to absorb the force of the current gradually, bit by bit.
This concept of trying to draw a wider, more gradual turn, brings up one very good use for our paddle strokes. Most of the time you'll find it very helpful to plant the downstream paddle blade into the water just across the eddy line; giving you the ability to have some control over the turning of your kayak. On one level its very simple to visualize that with each stroke that we take on the upriver side of the boat, we will in essence exacerbate the force of the current to turn our boat more quickly downstream; and with each stroke that we take on the downriver side, we are able to counteract the river's turning effect somewhat. Timing your paddle strokes here can really pay off, as the moment of contact with the rivers current is a critical time to have a paddle stroke in the water to control your boat... miss this moment and you'll likely not be able to regain the same level of control.
On a deeper level, you'll have lots of options about exactly how you use that paddle during the peel out (and countless opinions about which is "the best" choice). I think that the important thing is to consider how each strategy might help or hinder your specific strategy for that particular peel out. In general:
-Forward strokes are great for adding, or maintaining speed.
-Sweep Strokes, and Stern draws can help to widen the turn out.
-Bow draws, and Duffek strokes, are great for making quicker and sharper turns. This can be helpful sometimes, but can also be detrimental... depending on the turn.
-All strokes help with stability, particularly the forward stroke, bow and stern draw.
So with all of the plusses in mind, which strokes are the best? ALL OF THEM!!! Since the river will present you with all sorts of challenges, it is important to build a large repertoire of strategies and techniques to deal with those challenges. Ideally try each and every one of them, feel out what works best for you in various scenarios. Most importantly of all, this article is meant to point out that even with a "simple" or "basic" move, there is ALWAYS more to learn...