Thursday, June 4, 2009

Sticking to the Basics by Andrew Holcombe

Have you ever heard of the book All I Really Need to Know I learned in Kindergarten? The title alone is a great reminder, in my opinion, that we learn a lot of the most important life lessons at a pretty early age. Then we spend the rest of our lives trying to figure out how to apply them to the myriad of circumstances put in front of us. How does this apply to kayaking? Well I’m a firm believer that you learn most of the skills necessary to be a great kayaker in the first year (or maybe if you want to get really crazy in the first month). The trick, and this is what we spend the rest of our kayaking careers on, is figuring out how to use and apply the basics in lots of different and sometimes quite intense situations. The following sequence of photos of Big Boy on the Ravens Fork illustrates this quite well. At first glance Big Boy is a pretty intimidating rapid. However, if you look closer the most important skills sets being used are made up of things we learn on our first couple trips in whitewater: Maintaining an aggressive forward body position and how to punch a diagonal wave or hole.

The key to a successful line here is to punch the left to right diagonal at the top of the picture. To do this I set up angled towards that diagonal with an aggressive (slightly forward) body position.

As I approach the diagonal I keep my body position forward while adjusting my boat angle to hit the diagonal at 90 degrees. This, as we learned early on, will allow me to punch across the diagonal without turning.

Notice that my right paddle blade is in the water to help hold my angle as my boat begins to cross the diagonal.

Completing the right paddle stroke my boat crosses the diagonal with my body weight still forward and angle still at 90 degrees relative to the diagonal.

Success! I’ve crossed the diagonal thus continuing my path from right to left and my body weight is still forward and aggressive.

It’s important to remember that the decision to run a large or difficult rapid is not one to be taken lightly. But, once you do make it its good to remember that you use the same skills you learned early in your kayaking career. The rapids are just bigger, taller, and scarier. So get out there and remember the basics.