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Bending Branches

Balance in Sea Kayaking

By Wayne Horodowich

As we were finalizing our latest DVD on bracing ("USK's Bracing Clinic -The Art Of Staying Upright"), I was thinking about the subject of balance with respect to kayaking. At first glance balance can be thought of as staying balanced over your kayak so you do not capsize. This is one aspect of balance.

Keeping your balance over your kayak is a learned skill and can be practiced. Your balance point is that specific location that you know you cannot go beyond without starting to capsize. A brace can help you get back up on the safe side of your balance point.

Balance can also be referring to your equilibrium. Your equilibrium is managed by your inner ear. If your internal balance mechanism is adversely affected it can cause disorientation which directly affects your ability to stay balanced in your kayak. When one gets a head cold or an ear infection, it is not uncommon for your equilibrium to be affected. In addition, your sensitivity to movement (from your inner ear) is part of the reason why some of us get seasick and others donít. It is also important to note that a rush of cold water into your external ear canal can cause immediate dizziness, because the cold is affecting that inner ear balance mechanism.

There are a number of other ways we can look at balance as it refers to sea kayaking. How often do you paddle and how often do you practice your skills? When I go out for a day tour or an overnight trip, I know I am practicing some skills as I use those skills. However, I donít consider those outings as skills practice sessions. When I go to practice my skills I am not covering vast distances. I am on the water focusing on specific skill sets. I raise this question, because you may go out every weekend to paddle and if you rarely capsize how do you know if your capsize recover skills are still reliable? (See USK articles, "Can I Still Do That?" and "The Transient Nature Of Skills") I believe there needs to be a good balance between paddling and practice.

When I was in graduate school and studied exercise physiology, I learned it is important to have a balance between your different muscle groups. It is also important to have a balance between strength, endurance and flexibility. If all of your paddling is forward strokes, you may not be keeping a balance for other paddling movements such as reverse strokes and draw strokes. Maintaining good flexibility is also highly recommended for a healthy back. Tight leg muscles can cause numbness in your legs after sitting for a long time. Balance your day of paddling with some rest breaks and stretching.

If you have the luxury of owning more than one kayak, I recommend you switch off between the kayaks. If you can switch kayaks with your friends I believe learning how to balance and react in different kayaks is a worthwhile training tool. As an instructor I get a chance to try all sorts of equipment from students when I let them use my stuff; sometimes its good and sometimes its bad. Regardless of whether I like using the other equipment, it does keep me on my toes.

There needs to be a balance in how you pack your kayak when you are heading out for a kayak camping trip. Balancing the weight in your kayak is important for a level ride. It also will determine how your craft will ride in head winds or following seas.

A frequent concern for many paddlers in cold-water environments is the balance of dressing for immersion in cold water and the warmth of the summer season (see USK articles: "The Dressing Game" and "Testing Your Immersion Ensemble").

I started my kayaking on the ocean in a whitewater kayak. I liked playing in the waves. Eventually I took a whitewater class with a few friends. We loved it and spent a good portion of our spring and summer weekends on the rivers. The rest of the time we spent in the ocean. I have to say I really feel the switching between the different environments was instrumental in my skill development and more importantly, my confidence level in kayaking. Balancing your time in different kayaking environments and locations is a good training technique.

The last aspect of balance I want to address is the balance between work and play. My friends and staff will all say I was a work-a-holic. I never thought of myself as one, because I enjoyed what I did. I also believe hard work is a way of life. My dad taught me that if you are going to do something do it well. I also learned, by watching my dad provide for the family, that you do whatever you need to do to meet your obligations. As you can see I am not a work-a-holic. I mention this because there were many opportunities that I passed up in the name of getting the job done. I told myself I didn't have enough time to go out for a short paddle, because I had so much work to do. The other favorite lie was, "I go out on the weekend." As dad would tell me, tomorrow never comes.

Now that I am retired (Ha!), I wish I did take more short breaks to get out on the water. I know that I always felt better when I did. I also feel I was more productive after my short outings. If you have a place nearby and you can get out for even a half hour on the water, I think it will add incredible balance to your life.

As you can see there is more to balance than just staying upright.



Wayne Horodowich, founder of The University of Sea Kayaking (USK), writes monthly articles for the USK web site. In addition, Wayne has produced the popular "In Depth" Instructional Video Series for Sea Kayaking.

DVD's Available from Paddling.net

- Bracing Clinic
- Capsize Recoveries & Rescue Procedures
- Essential Kayaking Strokes
- ABCs Of The Surf Zone
- Beyond the Cockpit - featuring Derek Hutchinson

From the University of Sea Kayaking
Directed by Wayne Horodowich




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