By Brett Barton
A great boof–one that flows and feels like "you nailed it"–is all about timing. A strong paddle stroke is important, but a good boof requires a lot more than that. Let's break it down and learn why.
Timing is critical to a good boof. A well-timed stroke combined with proper body mechanics are the first steps to sailing off the lip of a pour-over or across a nasty hydraulic, but this technique can be practiced in Class II and III wave trains. Think about pulling that last stroke just as your boat's bow reaches the top of the wave. Ideal timing happens when the wave is giving maximum lift to the front of your boat timed with a solid, powerful stroke that will send the boat straight downstream, not making it spin out one way or the other upon landing. Learning this spit second of timing takes time. For the up-and-coming boofer, it may be easier and less intimidating practicing in wave trains rather than going to the local park-and-huck.
It's also all about the stroke. A well-timed stroke placed at the lip is pretty helpful, especially if you aren't going very fast. We'll get to speed in a minute, but first practice this. Envision yourself paddling to the lip and identifying the location where you're going to take that last stroke. As you pull back with your paddle and fly off, spot your landing. While falling, watch your boat land and notice the angle: Are you flat or 45in' it? Or did you go too slow and grind out at the lip, penciling into the water below? Rinse and repeat!
Good body mechanics equals good boofing. What happens to your body when you boof? Tucking the knees up and leaning forward as you drop are two important body mechanics to work on. This is what gets the bow up and keeps it there. The longer you hold it, the flatter you'll land. Combine that tuck with a powerful stroke, and you'll begin to feel the timing aspect flow into the boof.
Though it may sound counterintuitive to aspiring creekboaters, playboating downriver is a great way to practice and develop the body mechanics for boofing as well as other important river knowledge. Running rapids in a play boat will put you that much more in touch with the current and how you move with it. The same stroke you take for a boof can easily be a stroke for a blunt or pan am. It all comes down to how you leverage (and time) the brief surge the river gives you.
River levels are pretty important once you have timing down as they can affect how your boat travels off a wave or a rocky ledge. Two things come into play with levels: speed and braking. When the river is high, it's moving fast downstream; moving fast is important in that it helps you get and keep that bow up. When it's low, the ledge might be shallow or the wave might not be as tall. A low level means you'll have to paddle harder to achieve the same speed going off that ledge so the bow doesn't drop prematurely. Low levels usually expose more rock as well and you run the risk of grinding out at the lip and plugging in, instead of boofing out. Even if the features has a little kicker and auto-boofs, you still have to be going fast and pull those knees up (all the way down).
Other things to consider are the shape of the lip and what part of the lip you'll be paddling off. Does it have enough water, or will you lose your momentum hitting the rock? Will you be paddling straight downstream or cross-grain? What's the hole like at the bottom, is there anything to watch out for like an undercut wall or bad pothole? Will you be able to muster enough speed to boof successfully?
If you're boofing, you gotta have that roll dialed. We're all between swims and it's nothing to dwell on. Everybody swims. But what is important to focus on is slowing things down a little when you're in a tough spot. I know when I get into an uncomfortable situation (we all do), I want to hurry up and get it over with. Instead, try slowing it down a little and get back into the experience at hand (rolling/boofing) rather than the anticipation and feelings associated with having to roll or missing a boof. It's okay to grumble once in a while when upside down, but it's generally good practice to avoid kayaking in places that induce panic attacks.
Rolling, timing, body mechanics, river running skills and boofing–they all flow together and take patience to learn. So give your kayaking the time it takes to get it dialed. And make sure you're having fun while you do it!
—Brett Barton is a member of the Jackson Kayak team.
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