Wild water boats are long with no rocker and turns must be initiated early, thus you’re vision is focused farther downstream. Bends in a river also tend to be navigated on the inside of the turn, just outside the eddy and just inside any waves. The strong currents here tend to really accelerate the boat.

At times this puts the paddler uncomfortably close to shoreline branches. As you round a bend you may find yourself moving extremely fast heading straight for a dead fall in a boat that doesn’t turn for… — well you know. That 2 inch wide branch just above the surface that you hoped would pass under the boat 6 feet ago is poised against your bow, ready to snap back with enough force to knock you into next week.

Now for the tip — bow your head, extend your chest, sink your shoulders and get ready to be clothes lined. With any luck you’ll catch it in the thickest part of your PFD. Don’t worry, that ugly welt should vanish in a few weeks.

Dave Ward adds:

I too have been initiated into the fine art of wild water paddling. What Kevin describes is very similar to an experience I had.

One of the hardest things for me was learning (which I am still trying to do) the stroke that is most productive for wild water kayak racing. It is more of a side to side (torso twist) stroke that requires you to not raise your wrists above your head. The image used when teaching this stroke is to visualize yourself looking at your watch at the end of each stroke (as your arm passes in front of your face). It is not wise to actually check the time as only a few seconds will have passed since you last saw the watch and as Kevin has pointed out… “stuff” really comes up quick!

At any rate… this stroke is very important and is the only way that a “wing” paddle can be used. If you have not seen a wing paddle, it is basically a paddle whose blade is an elongated over-emphasized spoon. This spoon shape is designed to “push” the blade up out of the water as it passes the paddler. Trying to force such a blade deep (by using a large angle on the shaft in relation to the boat) will decrease the repetition rate and be MOST inefficient.

I was in a development camp at the NOC where we paddled the “course” a number of times. The focus was on stroke and lines. There is a split where going right is long with not so deep water; and going left is shallow but shorter. When doing shallow water you must increase your stroke rate or the boat will “bog” down.

I took the left and the instructor followed (he had indicated it was the quicker line). After the run he said that he had gone next to shore towards the end of this channel and that it was deeper and faster and probably had gained 10 seconds on me there. I vowed to remember this and use that line in our race.

When the race came; this was the line I used. Unfortunately at this point I was quite winded from really stroking through the shallow part and my stroke got quite sloppy. All of a sudden I found that I was upside down being dragged through rocks. My arms felt about 2 inches longer and I was surprised that I still had a paddle.

I didn’t have to punch out as I was half out of my boat already. I had let my paddle go above my head (substantially) and as luck would have it, I had stuck my paddle into a Y branch. Trust me when I say that most of those trees next to the shore are well rooted!

Tip: Don’t test the stability of said trees with your paddle… it really does hurt and doesn’t impress those watching from shore (but it does get you noticed!!).

by Kevin Kelsey
From The Eddy Line, February 1998