Lay down, Sally, and rest you in my arms.
Don’t you think you want someone to talk to?
Lay down, Sally, no need to leave so soon.
I’ve been trying all night long just to talk to you. – clapton
In Greenland rolling an essential technique, and the foundation of a variety of rolls is called the balance brace. This little maneuver is simply the act of floating your upper body without falling over. The challenge is that with your upper body in the water, the kayak wants to follow you in. That means we have to position our bodies in a particular way to “balance” the boat against the weight of our torso to remain on the surface. Yeah, it’s tricky. While we’re going to talk about the balance brace for at least a couple posts in this series.. I’m here to tell you that you don’t need to be successful at it, to have an effortless roll. Some people and some boats are built for this, while others are not. If you’re physically a bit top heavy, less flexible or your boat is very high volume you may find the balance brace to be a little frustrating.. It’s ok. All we really want here are elements which will help us roll much more smoothly (Even if we never touch a Greenland paddle or do a balance brace in our lives).
The first thing I want to emphasize is squaring your back (See the pic). We’re back to the body again! We talk about it all the time in kayaking. Turning your torso and squaring your back are key to a variety of paddling skills including; draws, prys, rudders, safe high braces and more. What we don’t often learn in standard rolling classes is that squaring your back on the surface of the water can make rolling much, much easier. That’s one reason why becoming at least familiar with a balance brace is so important when talking about a “low impact” roll.
Check out my position here. My shoulders are as square to the boat and as flat on the water as I can make them. Again, I’m not nearly as thin or flexible as most folks you see performing balance braces. We simply do the best we can. But consider this. What do I have to do from this position, and how much effort will it take for me to get my body back onto the boat?
Well, if I try to lift my head and sit up I’m going to fall right back over. My butt would push down on the kayak, I’d go off balance drop bum over head right into the water. However, what if instead of trying to sit up, I simply slide my body sideways and slip my back onto the (blindingly white and over exposed) back deck of my boat? Something to consider to for next time.
Ok, so here’s a little exercise for the weekend. Sit in your kayak sideways. Let your feet hang out over the coaming to one side. Then lay back. I have a Greenland paddle in my hand here, but you won’t need one. Now the goal is to lay back on to the water with your shoulders square and simply float there. You may need to arch your back and lift your butt. Every kayak is different. Find your happy place. Once you are relaxed in this position (see above), see what happens when you really, really arch your back and push your legs down toward the water. What does your kayak do? Does it get more stable or less so?
Next start doing a crunch. Lift your head and your feet.. Slowly.. What’s happening now? What if you tried to sit up?
Here’s a quick video just in case the pic is not quite clear enough!
Now just for fun and extra credit.. can you find a way to get back up or into your kayak without falling over? Have fun! See you next week.