Tip of the Week: Carving is Cool

Jackson Kayak's Clay Wright tells us how to up our whitewater learning curve by mastering the leaning carve

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Jackson Kayak Tip of the Week
By Clay Wright

When I learned to snowboard, I skidded noisily from side to side, throwing snow on every turn. Years later, a friend taught me to edge into my turns, silently using the sidecut of the board to flex into its arc and send me shooting into the opposite direction even faster than I went in. Carving uses less physical effort while allowing you to ride at higher speeds with greater control. It's also: a) hard, b) rewarding, and c) addictive. These days, our kayaks are shaped more like snowboards than ever. The wide, flat hulls slide across the water forwards, then slide sideways every time we stop paddling. They also slide every time you cross an eddy line. Why on earth are we using boats that slide out easier than the round hulls of old? Because like a snowboard, they are designed to carve.

While dropping an edge in a low-edged playboat may be as easy as dropping a 20-degree tilt, the taller creek boats and river-runners of today offer a far blunter sidewall and therefore require more tilt to set the carve. I've found that only by tilting over until the cockpit rim dips into the water do the tallest boats hold the line solidly, but with practice, you can carry your speed around an 180-degree turn nicely.

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So…how do I carve into an eddy without having to paddle myself to a stop? Easy — set a 45-degree downstream angle to the eddy line, edge HARD before you cross and hold it until you stop. Let’s discuss this a bit more.

For starters, if you are ferrying upstream into eddies.. STOP! If you let your boat turn before carrying your speed across the eddyline you might as well have stopped your bike at the bottom of a big hill as it's going to be an uphill paddle to where you meant to go. Think of any eddy more like big hill and a proper turn as allowing our downhill (current) momentum to carry us right up to the top. Cross the eddy line at the top but with your bow angled downstream at a 45-degree angle, aiming deep into the heart of the eddy instead of at the rock. Set your boat at a 45-degree tilt, and as you cross the line, use an inside rudder stroke for balance and to keep the bow from spinning out early…or late. (Your end goal is to not need the rudder at all.) As your boat rises with the change in current direction, pay attention to how it responds. If the proper angle is achieved, the shape of your kayak will carry your momentum through an arc and direct you back to the top of the eddy; you won’t slide any farther downstream. Lean back to set a wider arc, lean forwards to sharpen the turn. By carrying your momentum deep into the eddy and letting the boat carve the turn on its own, you can rest before you get to the eddy rather than paddling hard just to get the break you were looking for.

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Carving Tech Tips:

1. Practice paddling straight with a 45-degree tilt in flatwater for balance, then use gentle but crisp eddy lines to gain confidence and appreciate the natural turn of your boat.

2. Avoid the temptation to drag your paddle to help start the turn. Instead, learn the proper angle of approach that lets the current carve your kayak for you, without having to put the brakes on.

3. Gauge success by how much speed you can carry to the top of the eddy. If you have to paddle to stay in, keep working the edges and angles. If you glide into the downstream side of the rock with a thud, you're a winner!

4. As a test and of your eddyline expertise, let go of the bars for some “no hands” carving and see just how good you can get!

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Once you learn how to use the inherent carving ability of your kayak, you'll be able to use every eddy as the rest stop it was meant to be and also open up the world of carving turns just for fun. Add carving in one side and right out the other side of eddies for an S-turn-shaped challenge mid-rapid.​ Boof the corner of eddies​ and land on your carving edge on steeper runs. Carve across the backwash of holes on bigger water. Once this leaning ​carve becomes second nature, who knows what new moves you'll find on your backyard run. What you won't find is yourself windmilling your paddle while falling out the back of an eddy.

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