To increase the control of your boat and efficiency of your strokes, use your feet! Obviously, it takes more than just wiggling your toes to make moves on the river. So harden those stomach muscles and be a superstar on the river. We use our stomach and core muscles to move our feet and essentially the bow of the boat to or from an anchor. To see and feel this, sit in a swivel chair with your legs straight out in front of you. Hold on to a counter with one hand (your anchor), and move your feet and legs from side to side. It is all about rotation! Rotation is often thought of for the upper body; now we are going to add the lower body to the picture.
With all strokes, we ultimately plant the blade and want the boat to move toward or away from the paddle. By focusing on moving the feet, you make use of the best mechanical advantage. Think about how little control you would have over your kayak if you had no legs! The feet are the body part farthest away from the pivot point (generally near the bum), therefore providing the best leverage. For example, to do an effective sweep stroke, you plant the blade in the water and the boat moves away from the paddle. The pivot point is near the bum, the anchor is the paddle blade in the water, and your feet provide the best leverage for moving the bow.
To achieve this, first the upper body must wind up, and then the stomach muscles can rotate the lower body away from the anchor. With the core muscles wound up with good upper-body rotation, the body is in the optimal position to put the most energy and power through our legs to move the boat. If we think about unwinding the upper body, energy will be lost. Moving water, the paddle, or the upper body will not make your kayak go where you want it to; it will only waste your power. Moving the boat, specifically the bow, is what gives a paddler success in making moves.
This concept is especially important for doing all the latest, greatest playboating moves. Let’s look at a successful back stab. A back stab is when the boat is brought vertical from a back-surfing position. The maneuver is very fast, and the successful finish position is front-surfing. A lot of energy must be transferred into moving the bow upstream. Winding up the torso and then letting the lower body unwind rapidly while the boat is on edge does this. Remember, the best leverage you have to move the bow is to put that energy from rotation into your feet! Have fun playing!
Jodee Dixon is a whitewater kayak instructor and instructor trainer, a river-safety instructor, a member of the 1999 and 2000 Canadian Freestyle Team, and a member of the 1996 Canadian Slalom Team.