Eddy Turns and Peel-Outs

Doing an eddy turn or peel-out can be likened to driving a car around a curve in the road. Roads are engineered with the most user-friendly tilt throughout the turn. This slope is called a bank. The tighter the turn, the more banked it must be. When driving at prescribed speeds, the car tracks throughout the banked curve and doesn’t skid to the outside or roll. We want the same experience in the kayak. So at each eddy turn on the river, you become the engineer. By determining the size of your turn and setting the user-friendly tilt, you can carve through the turn in full control.


Experiment in flatwater. Travel in a wide circle while paddling on both sides. Set your boat on edge a little so it travels more readily in an arc. What happens to your edge as you take the outside stroke? Often paddlers wobble. Try this; wet only a third of the outside blade and take a full stroke on the inside. Is it easier now to maintain a steady tilt? Now, increase the amount of edge. It is hard to hold an extreme edge while paddling on both sides, so try paddling on the inside of the turn only. This allows you to hold a steady edge with less effort. Keep your blade close to the boat in your forward stroke. Now, notice what happens to the radius of your arc. The more you edge, the tighter the boat wants to track through the turn. Next, stop paddling and notice how the stern skids out. Skidding in a turn is less stable and results in loss of control. Speed and edge are keys to carving smoothly through your turns.


What does it take to engineer a wide turn versus a tight turn on the river? Let’s look at the factors required to accomplish either and the benefit and challenge of each.


The angle at which you enter the new current helps determine the size of the arc of your turn. This is a factor in how quickly you need to edge. The wider the arc, the more time you have to ease into and out of the maximum boat tilt. Another benefit of a wide turn is that very little of the side of the boat is exposed to the oncoming current at the moment when your boat crosses the eddy line. This is good because minimal edge is needed to stay balanced at that critical time. This forgiving approach results in a gentle transition. Here’s the strategy for a wide turn. As you approach the eddy line, set an angle that points more upstream when leaving and more downstream when entering. This turn is great for doing wide-open peel-outs and catching large eddies.


What do you do when the eddy is small and there’s not enough room to do a wide arcing turn? You need to engineer a sharp turn with a hard bank–right off the bat! To initiate this tight turn, set your approach angle more perpendicular to the eddy line. The challenge of this approach is that the side of your boat is exposed to the new current immediately. The key is to edge hard and paddle only on the inside! Unlike driving a car, in paddling it is almost impossible to carry too much speed into the turn. It is much more common to edge too little. To prevent skidding or rolling, carry lots of speed into the turn and edge a few degrees more than you think necessary. This strategy will give you control through any turn.


With practice, you’ll find yourself adjusting your approach angle to give you the kind of turn you want. You’ll become comfortable paddling on both sides of the boat as you execute arcing turns into and out of eddies. Through the tight turns you’ll hold a steady, hard edge by paddling only on the inside. The joy of kayaking is being able to do whatever it takes to get where you’re going. This practice and new awareness will help you get there.


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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