Anna Levesque was on the fast track to law school when she discovered kayaking. Soon the self-described bookworm was vagabonding around the world, following whitewater and representing her native Canada on the freestyle circuit. After a podium finish at the 2001 world championships, she turned her talents toward her driving passion: giving women the skill and confidence to enjoy kayaking.
Now, instead of cramming for a bar exam, the Asheville, North Carolina-based guru crams her days giving workshops in North Carolina and Jacomulco, Mexico, and running her multi-faceted business, Girls at Play. In March she released her fifth instructional DVD, Recreational Kayaking for Women (watergirlsatplay.com). Levesque's holistic approach may focus on yoga, meditation, and occasional trips to a traditional Aztec sweat lodge to strengthen her students' mental foundations.
But when it comes to outer balance, every paddler's on-water foundation starts with edge control.
Levesque stresses these skills for paddlers of all levels, whether their craft of choice is a rec boat, a sleek touring kayak, or a whitewater playboat. “If you never practice strokes and edging in flatwater,” she says, “you won't use them when it really counts.”
Get cheeky. Weighting a butt cheek is your most basic form of edge control. Start with a butt-cheek drop/side crunch in flatwater. Without paddling, sink your weight into your left butt cheek, side crunch on your right side and hold for five seconds. Even if it's a tiny angle, maintain the edge without dropping it back down. Then alternate sides.
Get some more. Once you can hold an edge on each side for 10 seconds, increase the tilt angle. You'll need thigh braces for this because as you weight that left cheek and crunch harder on the right, you're thinking about raising that right knee against the brace. On the last level, you want your cockpit rim tucked into your armpit where you can reach that side's arm around to touch the middle of the hull. And don't cheat with a paddle brace--really work.
Add strokes. Incorporate paddling for the first couple of smaller-degree edge levels. In flatwater, take five or 10 strokes while holding an edge, and then switch sides. Don't let the boat flatten out! The first step is developing those muscles.
Carve the turn. Turning a kayak is just like turning on skis. You've got to engage your edges. Start with a few strokes to get forward momentum. To make a left turn, take an outside (right) stroke before you engage your left edge. Then, while maintaining that left edge, keep paddling evenly on both sides until you complete a circle. This is also an exercise to balance out your stroke technique.
Peel out. The next step is maintaining edge and even strokes in moving water. Find a large eddy, raise your upstream edge and peel out into the current. Keep paddling evenly as your boat carves a half circle back to the eddy.