Patience, Grasshopper


Going straight isn’t simply about paddling forward. The novice knows that when he paddles forward, the boat does just about everything but go straight. There are several variables that cause the bow to veer into an unwanted turn, including wind, current, and boat design. Zigzagging is inevitable. The key to traveling in a straight path is learning how to turn the boat. Look at it this way: the forward stroke is the gas pedal, and the turning strokes are the steering wheel. Many folks try to correct their course by paddling harder on one side of the boat. These forward strokes give speed to the present course you want to correct. It requires a steering stroke to change that course.


It is more rewarding to be able to turn the kayak back on line without losing all forward speed. If done with good form, none of these steering-wheel strokes will stop the boat. The steering wheel includes the rudder (August 2000, August 2001), the stern draw (May 2003), the forward sweep, and the bow steering strokes, including the C-stroke (March 2003). Review these articles for efficient stroke technique.


Here are several suggestions to decrease undesired veers. Practice on a lake or in very mild current. Choose a landmark and keep your vision there. When paddling forward, keep the strokes short and the blade very close to the side of the kayak. This minimizes the turning effect the stroke has on the whitewater boat’s hull. Use good technique in every steering stroke you practice. With these tips in mind, here are several drills to ingrain the turning strokes into your muscles. Each drill requires that you pick a distant landmark and paddle forward.


First, allow the boat to veer 25 degrees off-course. Execute a perfect rudder. How far can you glide with a rudder on one side of the boat while keeping your bow in line with your landmark? Practice this on both sides as you glide toward your destination. Next, correct from a veer that is 90 degrees off your mark. What happens to your speed?


An inexperienced paddler will often have to execute a more powerful stroke to get back on line. The rudder can correct huge veers with minimal effort. Unless the technique is precise, though, the boat will come to a stop. This can be frustrating. I recommend having a rudder in your stroke repertoire, but don’t rely on it. Better to use the stern draw more often, as it corrects large veers without negatively affecting the hull speed.


In this drill, allow the boat to veer 90 degrees. To correct, execute a stern draw slowly and completely on the inside of the turn. Be aware that it has a delayed response, so stick with it. To prevent overcorrecting, quickly follow up with a forward stroke on the opposite side. Practice this on both sides. You will make your way to your destination in a controlled zigzag.


A forward sweep can do the job if one is paying attention and notices the veer early on. As you develop visual sensitivity to the movement of the bow, you’ll be able to do this. To practice, let your boat veer 25 degrees. Use only as much of a forward sweep as you need to point back on line. The slower you are to recognize the veer, the more degrees off line you’ll become. Hence, the more you’ll need to complete the sweep.


The bow draw is more effective in maintaining a course than in correcting. To use the bow steering strokes effectively, vigilant anticipation is required to discern a veer before it happens. Paddle forward. With your nose only one degree off line, use a bow draw to pull the bow into alignment. This might appear as subtly as a forward stroke with the blade angled toward the bow, or a C-stroke into a forward.


Going straight requires keeping your eyes on a destination. This allows you to anticipate an unwanted veer and choose a steering stroke. Once your muscles have memorized these steering options, you can count on your instincts to help you stay on line, whether cruising the flatwater or acing the rapids! In the next article we’ll review the most effective technique for the forward sweep and stern draw.


Mary DeRiemer is an ACA-certified ITE. Her Web site features useful information about trips and lessons. Log on to adventurekayaking.com.

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