A question about Paddle Grip and Hand Width from “Bill”
You have been so gracious to give me advice in the past and I thank you very much for that. I have another question for you. I now have a wing paddle and I have moved up to a surf ski. It has been great fun but very challenging. One of the things I am struggling with right now is keeping my hands in the right position on the paddle. They tend to move around a lot and it seems like I am constantly adjusting to the right position. I have tried putting tape on the handle but I still seem to move up the handle. I have notice in your video when you are demonstrating with your wing paddle you have some type of orange handle grips with a raised ring or stop that may prevent your hands from moving up the paddle handle. Can I buy some type of grip that would assist me in keeping my hands in the right spot? And if so where can I order it? And as far as proper hand position, holding my paddle horizontal above my head I am placing my hands at the spots where my elbows are at 90 degrees. Is this correct? Thanks again for your help and your video is great…I look at it often. Regards, Bill
Bill, in an effort to share this knowledge with everyone, I've choosen to post Your Question - and My Answer to my site:
Bill: I typically “customize” all my paddle shafts by adding a very thin piece of “paddle-grip” material to increase the circumference ever so slightly. I subscribe to the analogy of tennis players using a larger grip to help avoid tendonitis issues. This is an Old Theory, but one that has worked over the years for me. Hand Size of course is key in this debate. The material I like to use will vary with the diameter of the shaft. However I have had good success with The Purple Grip material that I THINK came from Salamander…However, I’m not sure anymore, as these company keeping being bought-up and product mix changes…Regardless, the material is as thin as I can find. The other KEY customization I make is to COVER up this Grip Tape Surface with High-Grade Vinyl Electrical Tape. In my humble opinion, The Surface-Area of ALL of the grip tapes out there, are WAY TOO AGGRESSIVE. For paddlers who even do modest mileage, the stock-surface will tear your water-logged hands to shreds if you don’t cover it with something more slick which allows the shaft to rotate freely. (I am not a fan of gloves...) Also, I typically wrap the grip-tape from the Paddle-End toward The Center, thereby utilizing the thin edges of each ½ inch tape edge to keep my hands from slipping toward the center of the shaft by mistake. Lastly, I like to measure the exact distance from the center of the shaft where the INSIDE of my hands will rest (see note below). Then I simply use Additional Electrical Tape to "raise" this area so I can "Feel" when my hands may be "cheating toward center"...Got it?
Regarding your Hand Position: You need to go a bit NARROWER than you are describing. You should grip the paddle in a fashion where your Upper Arm and Lower Arm are at 90 degrees to one-another, but then MOVE YOUR HAND INWARD ABOUT ½ - 1 hand’s width. Your Upper and Lower Arms will now be at a slightly ACUTE angle vs. 90 Degrees. Hope this helps Bill, brent
The Five Immutable Rules of the Kayak Forward Stroke
Focusing on Wildwater's most often-used stroke translates to seconds saved on the race course
Efficiency is one of the primary keys to winning Wildwater races. And the way to develop efficiency and be fast on race day comes from four primary areas: the aerobic component, strength, mental toughness and technique.
Strength, aerobic capacity and mental apects of racing can take years to develop. But changes in your technique can happen today. So why not spend a relatively short period of time to realize significant performance gains? It only makes sense to tackle the one that you can deal with the quickest, and the others will come with proper training and race experience.
During my years of informal coaching with the U.S. Wildwater Team and instruction in my kayak school, I have focused on five primary areas where most developing racers need improvement to build efficiency. They are rotation, a proper elbow lift with the top arm, the catch, pushing with a bent elbow through the power phase, and the exit.
Rotation is the single most important component to building a powerful and efficient stroke, but is the one that is most underutilized by paddlers. The concept is to use the large muscle groups of the back and abdomen to power the boat forward rather than the small muscle groups such as the biceps and triceps.
People who have heard that rotation is important may feel like they have taken steps to use good rotation, but are still usually only rotating their upper torso rather than twisting from the base of the spine. One way to overcome this is to try to exaggerate your rotation on dry land.
Try to imagine a steel rod that runs through the top of your head to the base of the spine. Sitting on dry land in an upright position, try rotating back and forth along the length of your spine with your paddle resting on your shoulders. You should feel that same pull at the base of your spine when you are paddling. This is the only way you will employ the larger muscle groups during the stroke. You must be able to power the boat from the rotation of the hips as well as the back! It will also give you an idea of some of the muscle groups that are important to address when stretching before and after a workout.
Try to exaggerate rotation, and reach with a relaxed front shoulder and arm. Feel the potential energy getting ready to explode from the abdomen. Note how the back arm is already in line with the wrist and shoulder (the chicken wing described below).
When you are learning to rotate, watch out for an exaggerated side-to-side rocking motion in your boat, which actually slows you down by making the boat bob up and down. If this is happening, you need to "quiet" your lower body.
The Elbow lift (chicken wing)
With your top arm, raise the elbow and wrist up as one horizontal unit, rather than leading with the wrist and letting the elbow following at a lower plane. Imagine a chicken raising a wing as a single unit. The key to the "chicken wing" is to align the joints of the shoulder, elbow and wrist so that they are ergonomically sound, as well as to lock in and transmit the rotational power from the torso to the paddle blade.
Imagine throwing a punch. To knock down the other guy, you would line up your elbow with your fist and shoulder to get the best horizontal power, whereas throwing a punch with the elbow lower than the wrist and shoulder would be little more effective than a slap to your opponent. You wouldn't do that...you'd lose the fight! So don't do it when you paddle. Many paddlers who suffer from wrist tendonitis may be able to fix their problem by making sure their joints are aligned horizontally.
The Catch This is the place where people lose the most efficiency. The kayak stroke is usually only about three feet long, and the key problem to overcome is to not allow your body to unrotate until the blade is completely buried in the water.
If you start to unwind AS you plant the blade, rather than before the blade is fully buried beneath the surface, you will unnecessarily lose several inches in the stroke length and lose a lot of power stored up in your rotation. These inches can add up to as much as an 18% loss in efficiency over the course of a race.
Timing during the catch is also very important. If you can pause just a millisecond and allow the paddle to be fully submerged before you pull on it with your lower hand, you will have much more power at the front one-third of the length of your stroke. The pause should be very short, yet fluid with the rest of your stroke.
Spearing the salmon: Transfer the consciousness of power from the bottom hand to the top, and slide the paddle in beside your toes. Pulling too early with the lower hand can mean critical inches lost in the stroke's length.
The best way to ensure the blade gets in the water as far forward as possible is to reallocate the energy from the lower hand to the top hand. If your top hand is sliding the blade in beside your toes, as if thrusting the blade in a spearing motion, the lower hand will not hurry the catch. Intuitively, one wants to start the blade in with the lower hand, which is something to overcome. Changing your attention to the top hand will also help you relax you lower hand, arm and shoulder, which can actually help extend your reach by a few more inches.
Pushing with a Bent Elbow
There are two rules that a lot of kayakers learn that are incorrect. They are that "you should punch forward down the center of the boat", straightening your arm, and that "your top hand should never cross over the center of the boat". These rules were fine in the days of arm paddling. But to be fast in Wildwater, you have to unlearn these two rules. So write them both down on a piece of paper, crumple the paper up, and toss them away forever.
Pushing with a bent elbow is the part of the stroke that helps you take advantage of your rotation during the power phase. You want to push with your top hand as though you are throwing a crossing blow, elbow bent ninety degrees, with the stroke ending up with you looking just over the top of your forearm.
When you incorrectly push straight ahead instead of pushing across, then the path of movement for the blade is an arcing movement that pushes up and down on the surface of the water, rather than down the long of axis of the boat. If you push straight ahead with your top hand, all you are doing is lifting water with the blade and pulling the boat down deeper--a huge impediment to efficiency.
Just prior to the exit, your top arm should be bent ninety degrees, and you should be looking right across your forearm.
Imagine what the perfect paddling machine would look like: it would take the paddle, place it vertically in the water at the front of the boat, and pull it back along the long axis of the boat vertically the entire time the blade is in the water. Since we are human and limited by having to hold the shaft with two hands, pushing across the center line of the boat is the closest we can come to an ideal vertical blade position. Once again, It is okay to cross the center line with your top hand, and is key to transferring your rotational power to the blade.
The Exit Most paddlers hold onto the exit too long and very few take it out too soon. The blade should come out of the water when your hand meets your hip. So imagine that you have a steel rod across your hips that extends on either side of the boat. Once your hand hits the rod (not the blade), then get the blade out of the water.
The blade should come out effortlessly because this is the only split second of rest that the kayak stroke actually allows; don't make yourself work here!
Let the blade come out where it "wants" to come out. Forcing the blade further than its natural exit zone wastes energy. If you are making the blade come back further in order to help set up rotation for the rotation and set-up for the next stroke, remember that you can more easily rotate with the blade out of the water than in it.
Imagine your hand hitting a steel rod jutting out sideways from your hip. Get the blade out quickly when your hand hits the rod.
Putting these components together takes some effort, and the mind works best when you slow the stroke down and think "rotation, catch, chicken wing, exit" as a tantric chant. Try concentrating on getting the technique down on one side, then the other, and then together in a fluid motion. In a very short time, you should see improvement in how much further you can go with far less energy output.
Brent Reitz owns and operates WildSprint, a kayak clinic in Monterrey, California. He has won four U.S. National Wildwater Championships, two Marathon Championships and saw a fourth place finish at the 1993 Landeck, Austria World Cup races. Reach him at email@example.com.
Editors note: Anyone wishing to get faster and efficient in K-1 should check out Brent's video on forward stroke technique. It is quite good and a tremendous resource! I got mine at REI, and most paddling shops can order it for you if it is not already in stock. Check his Website for more info. Photo credit for this article goes to Bruce von Borstel, who shoots and produces Brent's clinics.--MB
Desperately seeking stability: thoughts on getting stable.
Question: I am a sea kayaker who recently bought a racing surfski. Because I am still trying to get use to the low stability of the narrow and round surfski hull, I haven't been able to utilize the full power of my forward stroke, especially in swell and chop. Is there any advice you can give for getting use to the low
Duane, So. Calif.
Excellent question! This is something that every one of us asks when first we make the decision to leap from Touring to Racing..."yikes, this thing is TIPPY!"
I can relate, as I still remember climbing into my first Wildwater Boat on the Roaring Fork River, in Aspen Colorado. Wildwater boats are similar in LACK of initial stability to that of Surfskis.
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Training Log: create a game plan.
I’m just getting into racing, and would like to know the value of keeping a training log? What's the best method to use? - Megan
Training logs are a big deal to me. I really believe that to be competitive, one must have a fairly defined game-plan as it relates to training. The game-plan is all about knowing where you want to go. The training log is all about knowing where you've been.
"You've gotta walk, before you can run."
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Avoid the squat: how to trim your boat.
Brent -- I've heard you say "squat"! What do you mean? And why do it.
Signed, Doesn't Know Squat.
My Dearest "Don't Know Squat",
I am not really sure when, or where, you've heard me use the word "Squat"? My only guess is that I must have been referring to the "Trim" of one's boat. It was either used in that context, or, you were hanging around with me in a bar after some late-nite blues jam? If it was the latter, I choose not to elaborate.
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The expedition stroke: the scoop on stroke technique for long paddles.
I am not racer, but I plan to do a long expedition. When I learned to paddle they told me that for long trips I should keep my arms and elbows low. Is that correct? Is it possible to paddle long distances using your stroke techniques?
Here is a question that must be on many folks' minds, especially those who do not race, as I am asked this one a lot! My answer to your question is a Great Big YES. The stroke I teach and explain in my film, is the same for a short race , as for a long expedition. Please remember that the 5 components are a "foundation" for YOUR OWN Forward Stroke.
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Catchin’ a wave; tips on how to ride waves or wind chop
When in a trough between swells, you feel a slow down from the swell coming in behind you and paddling can become much harder for a few seconds - should I let up and wait for the paddling to get easier? Should I really power it out and try to keep as much speed as possible to catch the upcoming swell? - Chris
Your question is an excellent one! The readers of Hull Speed are coming up with excellent topics. I have a tendency to choose the questions I answer here, based upon how "universal" they are. In the last issue (Volume 2 / Issue 1), we dealt with our Ol' Friend, "Mister Wind". This column will be about "how the heck to catch a ride"! The decision between "backing off and resting or hammering through the tough part" is a hard one to make. My short answer is; that you need to do both! Not at the same time of course, but rather based on several variables. Let's explore.
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Windage: strategies for paddling in gusty conditions
Hi Brent, You probably don't recall us but we have emailed you a couple of times after purchasing your video and trying to apply the concepts to our paddling. We are slowly improving. We have subscribed to the Hullspeed publication as you suggested, and have found the journal to be most interesting.
Another question that has arisen and may be of interest to other readers (and is definitely of interest to us) is that of the changes to the forward stroke in windy conditions. As mentioned before, we live in Melbourne Australia, which is a very windy place. (It’s not uncommon to have 20 - 30 knot winds on a sheltered inland river, let alone at sea.) We have had conflicting advice regarding this matter and our own experience has also been a bit ambiguous. Basically, how does the stroke alter for going into wind, versus downwind, versus cross wind. It has been suggested to us that into wind shorter, quicker strokes are the way to go, however, our experience suggests that with the wind making it difficult to place the paddle correctly, that slower deliberate, efficient strokes are better. What are the facts?
Peter & Clare Averill
Peter & Clare,
Thank you for your question. I find your question complex, yet universal, hence the reason I've chosen it for this issue of Hullspeed. To answer your question; I alter how I apply the power to each stroke. I don't really alter my stroke-rate that much in the wind.
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SPEED-O-METER: Gauge your training by playing the percentage game.
I am working out very hard, and I sometimes get a little discouraged that I am not getting faster. I race on many different courses in many different conditions, and it doesn't seem fair to compare times race-for-race. Is there a way that I can gauge my performances regardless of course differences?
You Bet! As a matter of fact, there is a way you can make this a practice every race, every time! I highly recommend what I call "Playing The Percentage Game".
In your question you say, "that I am not getting faster." How do you know you are not getting any faster? As you have already noticed, it's really impossible to get "clean data" on changeable conditions. If you workout and race on pure flat water, where there is no current, swell, major wind, or changing conditions… you are probably an Olympic Sprint Racer! The rest of us have all this crazy stuff to contend with!
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LEG WORK: Brent runs through the use of your legs in the Forward Stroke
How much leg should I be using in my stroke? Sometimes when I finish a paddle my legs are exhausted. Is that too much?
So, ya wanna use your legs huh? MOST EXCELLENT! We should ALL be using our legs on every single stroke with few exceptions!
Paddlers with lower body limitations have found kayaking and kayak racing a welcome sport. The lower body is not an absolute requirement to move our small craft forward. I teach and race with strong-willed individuals who do not have the luxury of adding power to each stroke by using their lower body. They do however, understand the benefits of using good torso rotation. These athletes maximize the rotation by calling on other muscle groups to propel the boat.
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SETTIN’ THE PACE: The Reitz way for setting the proper stroke rate
How do I determine the proper stroke rate for racing, and should that be different from my training stroke rate?
This question is "HUGE"! It's really a question related to PACE. Pace, in my opinion, is one of the cornerstones of successful racing. I have been receiving excellent questions from the Hull Speed readers, and this is a topic to be discussed over and over again. Let's talk "pace" in general terms first.
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I am very interested in marathon racing. Could you recommend somewhere to find information? Also what is the equipment you use, i.e. what type of boat do you use and is the paddle different than the wing?
The best bet for finding info should be through the USACK Federation on their website (http://www.usack.org/). (I have not researched this though; so let the other Hull Speed readers know your results)!
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