Using your body to tilt the kayak onto its edge is fundamental to balance, stability, and the basic skills of turning and bracing. Part of learning edge control is finding the line that marks the transition between a stable edge and an unstable lean. When you find that line and cross it, a good paddle- brace recovery will keep your head dry.
Using your lower body (hips and legs) to tilt the kayak while your upper body remains upright is called edging. Edging holds the kayak in a stable position, maintaining a balance between the action of the paddler and the stability of the kayak.
To edge your kayak, sit with your back upright and lower one hip as you lift with the opposite knee. Your weight should remain balanced over the kayak. Moderate edging will usually lay the hull/deck seam in the water. If paddling forward, the kayak will turn away from the lowered side of the kayak.
Moving your upper body and head away from the kayak’s centerline and out over its side is calling leaning. Leaning usually takes the kayak beyond the range of its stability, so it’s used in conjunction with the support of a low or high brace. Leaning is used for aggressive maneuvers and in large waves and fast – moving water.
As you progressively lean, the kayak will tilt to a point where it becomes unstable. Without the support of a bracing stroke, a capsize will soon follow.
The untrained response: 1. The usual reaction is to move your head away from the water. This puts a curve in the paddler’s back causing the upper knee to push upward on the deck, increasing the tilt and contributing to the imminent capsize. 2. Another natural reflex is to elevate the arms and shoulders. This raises the paddler’s center of gravity, adding to the instability. 3. At the point of capsize, the beginner feels ‘locked” in, is unable to make a change in posture to prevent a capsize, and the capsize is inevitable.
The trained response: 1. With the support of a bracing stroke, can lean, balance and recover at any point even with an ear in the water. This is dependent on the correct posture inside and outside of the kayak and using the paddle for bracing. 2. To prevent capsizing, move your head toward the water, not away from it. 3. Relax your upper knee, raise your lower hip and lift with your lower knee. 4. Lean forward moving your head toward your lower knee lowering your center of gravity and adding to your stability. 5. Brace on the water with the blade of the paddle. 6. As your head and upper body move toward the water, the countering movement of the lower body will set the kayak back on an even keel. 7. Moving your upper body toward the water will also lower your center of gravity, making it easier to support yourself with a paddle brace. The simultaneous movement of lowering your head and moving your hip and knee up is the same as the “hip-flick” used to do an Eskimo roll. It is counterintuitive and must be learned through training and practice.
The cross-sectional shape is responsible for its stability.
Initial stability: Refers to how secure a kayak feels when you are sitting upright in calm water. A narrow, round-bottom kayak feels very tippy and is easy to tilt; this is low initial stability. A wider kayak that’s flatter across the bottom will be harder to tilt and is said to have high initial stability.
Secondary stability: Refers to the kayak’s resistance to being held on edge. A kayak with a shallow V-bottom keel feels initially tippy while sitting still in calm water; the kayak would be easy to tilt onto its edge. Once the kayak is tilted, there is a wide zone of stability and comfort. Lots of initial stability is good for taking photographs and snack breaks, but good secondary stability is more important for turning and bracing.
Keel shape. A sea kayak with a long, straight keel will track well along a straight course. It will require an extreme tilt to lift the ends out of the water and will therefore be hard to turn. For a kayak to turn in response to tilting, it must have some rocker, the upward curve of the keel from its middle to the ends. A short kayak with steep rocker will turn easily with a slight tilt but will be hard to keep on a straight course.
Tilting any kayak changes the shape of the hull area moving through the water increasing turning ability. As the kayak is tilted, the bow and stern sections will rise up from the water as the wider midsection of the hull provides the buoyancy to support the kayak. The shape of the hull in contact with the water will become shorter and more rockered. The kayak will turn more easily when tilted.
Fit in the kayak
Inside the kayak, the hips and legs move very little when edging or leaning. Hips, knees, thighs, and feet should make firm and secure contact with the interior of the kayak so that movements are transmitted to the kayak. To assure secure contact, adjust and add padding to seats, back bands, thigh hooks and footrests.
Rudders and skegs
These can fail, often when conditions are rough and the paddler is working the controls with some force. Learning to control the kayak by tilting, without relying on a rudder or skeg, is necessary. Tilting for steering works more effectively for sharper turns than rudders allow and for maneuvering in larger waves.
Turning a loaded sea kayak in the wind and waves takes considerable effort. A forward sweep is a preferred turning stroke because if preserves forward speed. Adding an outward tilt noticeably improves the turn. Edge left, sweep out to the left, and the kayak will make a solid right turn. Turn your bum (fart) towards the direction you want to turn. To continue turning and maintain good forward speed, keep the kayak on edge as you follow the sweep stroke on the left with a forward stroke on the right, and sweep on the left again.
Where a more aggressive turn is required, such as turning seaward to exit a surf wave or turning upwind to exit a steep breaking wind wave, losing speed is less important than maintaining directional control and stability. For a leaned turn the kayak must be moving forward at a good speed. Start the turn with a reverse sweep stroke and tilt the kayak strongly by leaning toward the turn, over the side of the kayak, committing your weight to the support of a paddle brace. The leaned turn has the kayak tilted inward toward the turn, not outward as with edging. The angle of the paddle blade makes a transition from vertical for turning power at the start of the sweep to horizontal for the support of a brace. Lean right, reverse-sweep right, brace right and the kayak will make a sharp right turn. A leaned turn can turn the kayak through 90 degrees with only one stroke, but with a significant loss of forward speed.
Weathercocking. A kayak on course across the wind tends to veer upwind. The repeated sweep strokes on the upwind side required to keep the weathercocking kayak on the desired course reduce forward speed, tire the paddler and can be frustrating. Edging with the windward side tilted down will tend to carve a steady arc away from the lowered edge and at least partially offset the forces causing weathercocking. Edging also improves the effectiveness of corrective sweep strokes and helps avoid the fatigue of paddling hard on one side.
In the steep waves of a tide rip or the larger breakers along shore, tilting the kayak is necessary to remain stable and upright. Steep waves can force a kayak to broach or turn sideways to the wave. For small waves, edge by raising the leading edge to allow the kayak to slide across the water without catching the curve of the hull or the lip of the deck and capsizing the kayak. For large, steep, breaking waves, an aggressive lean toward the wave and a high brace set deep into the wave may be necessary to counter the considerable forces that would capsize the kayak. A paddler moving with the current toward an overfall (a standing wave formed by moving water), needs to edge or to lean and brace into the wave. Edging or leaning the wrong way will result in a sudden and forceful capsize.
Notes: Bracing. For either a low brace or a high brace while leaning, keep your forearms near to right angles with the paddle shaft and keep elbows well bent. This posture keeps the shoulder joints in a strong and safe position. If your arm extends or elbow drifts above the shoulder, you could dislocate a shoulder.
Practice edging and leaning on calm days, then move up to breezy, choppy days to develop confidence when it is most likely needed. Good skills extend your comfort zone. Good edging control can deal with challenging conditions while conserving energy.