Sunday, July 1, 2007

Cartwheel Pointers and Progression

Learning to cartwheel is like learning to ride a bike. Both are learnable skills, but not necessarily teachable ones. Think about it - no one taught you how to ride a bike, you finally just did it, although you probably crashed numerous times before reaching that “I got it” moment. Cartwheeling is the same – there are some pointers we can give you, but ultimately it is something you must just “feel” for yourself by building muscle-memory through repetition – lots of repetition. And, like riding a bike you will of course crash many times along the way.

The good news is that you don’t need to learn any new strokes to cartwheel– the forward and reverse sweeps are the only strokes you’ll need, and I’m sure you already have those in your paddler’s toolbox. Even the magical “double-pump” is nothing more than a forward and reverse sweep linked together while on edge.

Before we get to the strokes though, let’s focus on vision and rotation. When running a rapid, vision is of paramount importance. The same is true for cartwheeling – lead the move with your eyes. Your eyes should be looking at the next “point” before your paddle blade gets there. I cannot stress the importance of vision enough. Good vision serves a two-fold purpose – it aids in the all-important edging and also facilitates the body rotation required to generate enough strength to get the ends down. Yes, cartwheeling requires some strength. If you’re only using your arms (with those puny bicep muscles) to execute a sweep stroke it will be very difficult to get the ends down. Engage the larger muscle groups like your pecs, abs, and obliques. The easy way to engage these muscles is to rotate through your sweep strokes.

Here’s a cartwheeling progression we often use with our novice playboaters, and something that is best done on flatwater. Pick a side to practice your cartwheels on – we’ll choose the right side for this example.

Stare at the front right portion of your bow while at the same time edging towards that “quadrant” as well. While maintaing that edge, do a reverse sweep on the right, trying to get water to wash over the front-right portion of your bow. It’s ok if you can’t get a lot of water over the bow right now. (See picture on right)

Now, look over your right shoulder towards the back-left portion of your stern. This will help you weight this back-left edge. Now do a forward sweep on the left, (while edging and looking in that direction), trying to get water to wash over the back-left portion of your stern. This stern point is much easier to sink under water than the bow. (See picture on left)

Once the stern goes under, switch your edge back to the right, weighting and staring at the front-right portion of your bow, while doing a reverse sweep on the right.(See picture on right – look at the rotation and vision) Can you see that you’re back to the starting position? Congratulations, you have just done a low-angle cartwheel, or “pinwheel” as we call them. Practice this progression very slowly, concentrating on your vision, edges, and rotating through the strokes. Once you have this muscle-memory down you can speed it up. Don’t worry if you don’t get the bow down right away – concentrate on getting the stern down.

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