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Articles > GuideLines > Kayaking: Strokes/Braces All articles by: Michael Gray

The Low Brace and its Cousins or

How to avoid the upside down thing...

By Michael Gray
Bracing, it keeps your head in a gaseous oxygen environment. The low-brace is your primary defense against flushing those sinuses unexpectedly. It should be automatic, much like catching yourself with the flats of your hands from a slip on an icy sidewalk. Automatic, as in don't think about it, just do it. Its part of your basic skills toolbox along with your forward stroke and sweep stroke.

Here's how its done:

Basic low-brace: used for recovering from slight instabilities caused by boat wakes, waves and reaching for things you dropped.

You hold the paddle with the back face of your blade down, paddle shaft resting across the cockpit with your knuckles down and your elbows up...pretty much a push-up position. Your paddle will be tucked right in close to your navel to get this body position. Now that we have our paddles and torsos in place, let's get our tails into the action. Maintaining a vertical torso, gently tilt your pelvis to the left (this will tilt your boat) just enough to simulate a slight tip. As your boat tilts to the left, stop this tilt by gently pushing the backside of your paddle blade flat against the surface of the water. You should hear a gentle "kersploosh" when your blade hits the water. This action will arrest your fall long enough for you to right the kayak by tilting your pelvis back to a level position. Oops, hey, that pesky paddle may still be stuck just below the surface of the water now...not a good time to pull straight up on it. Try simply rolling your hands upwards to slice the blade back out. In review: push up position, boat tilts, arrest this tilt by kersploosh of the back of your paddle blade, right the boat with your backside, slice the paddle back out. Okay, now practice this on the other side. Not once in a while either, but every time you paddle, practice your low-braces slowly on each side, so that your body develops a memory of its own.

Key points:

  • Maintaining a vertical torso. You're not a buoy with lead in your tush to hold you upright, so only tilt your boat.... keep your body and head right over your center of gravity. Pretend you're suspended from a rope or watch the bows of your kayak...both are useful devices for maintaining that upright position.
  • Elbows up, knuckles down.... there will be a test.
  • Low paddle position: the more parallel the surface of the water your paddle is the more leverage you maintain against it.
  • Brace on side that you are tilting toward.

Basic Variations:

Skulling low-brace: used for adding stability while tilting the boat to one side during a flurry of confused waves or inconsiderate jetski activity.

First, tilt your boat slightly to one side, so you know which way it will go if it wants to capsize. Next, back to your basic low brace body position. Now, glide your paddle back and forth gently on the water's surface in about a 30-45 degree arc...just like frosting a cake. The key is to tilt the leading edge of the paddle blade up a few degrees so it glides across the surface rather than diving. Put more energy into sliding the paddle back and forth than into forcing an angle into the blade...the paddle will often readjust its own angle if you're gentle and let it do its job. This works well and, well, it looks pretty practice, practice, practice.

Low brace return for sweep strokes: Refer to the last article in "Guidelines" for the sweep stroke and this little enhancement will open up a whole new world of snappy turns for you and your boat. Turning your kayak by doing a whole lot of sweep strokes in succession on one side takes a lot of effort. We've learned that we can edge the kayak slightly to one side and it will turn away from our tilt. So, I am doing a forward sweep on the left and edging my boat to the left to carve a turn to the right. Okay, got it...although when my stroke exits the water to come forward for a second forward sweep, I feel a little unstable tilted like that. Enter the low-brace return....simply return that paddle blade back to the bow in the low brace position, rotating forward with the back face of your paddle blade just above the surface of the water. It'll be right where you need it to catch you if you start to fall. Remember to practice this on both sides, forward and backward.

Michael Gray has been helping people keep the open-side-up at Uncommon Adventures since 1984 and is available for instructional clinics in NW Michigan and for multi-day skills training programs wherever you are. email: or on the web at

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 • Kayak Braces - High and Low Braces
 • The High Brace
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