MIKCo’s Fundamentals III Course Notes


Introduction and Objectives

The intermediate kayaker understands precisely what combination of boat angle, blade placement, and body position will allow her to play with the varied textures of the sea – to manage the winds, be comfortable in rough water, move through surf lines and paddle with confidence and safety.

Weather Summary: H and L tide, wind direction and speed, water temp, dew point.

Goals for the Day: What are your individual goals for the day? Do they align with the weather, group and equipment?

Safety & Personal Responsibility: Be responsible, first to ourselves, then to others.

Risk Factors: Awareness of realistic dangers, individual fears and other possible problems.

The Captain: We are captains of our ship, legally, morally and effectively. The Captain of the ship balances environmental, personal and equipment factors as good seamanship.

If it hurts, don’t do it. Warm up and stretch before activity.

Review of Fundamentals I & II Course Content
  • Kayaks, Paddles & Equipment.
  • Dressing for paddling.
  • Connecting with your paddle and boat.
  • Entry, wet exits and basic safety.
  • Assisted, Self & Eskimo rescues.
  • Basic propulsion, maneuvering & support strokes.
  • Kayak control skills.
  • Introduction to Route Selection & beginning Seamanship, Charts, Rules of the Road, Environmental factors of Wind & Waves, Tides and Safety.
Route Selection Today
  • What are our best route options today for: safety, adventure, opportunities, dangers, escapes, avoidance of unwanted conditions?
  • How might route change when we factor in: wind and waves; tides and currents; nautical traffic; desired scenery; exposures; weather changes; type of day the group desires?

The selection of an appropriate course with a known result by applying good judgment and your skills, experience, and knowledge to your equipment, group, and conditions. Ken Fink refers to Judgment, Skill, Knowledge, and Experience as the “Four Cornerstones” of good paddling.

Fundamentals III emphasizes the following two fundamental skills:
  • Intermediate paddlers use climbing blade angles as appropriate.
  • Intermediate paddlers use edging and leaning; they connect the blade through their body to a chosen boat angle for a particular result.

Edging is using knees, hips, butt and thighs to tilt the hull. Leaning is using these plus the tilt of the whole torso to tilt the hull. Tilting the kayak to one side changes the shape moving through the water and alters the pressure and flow of water around the hull. Edging can be used to reduce or even counteract the kayak’s tendency to turn into the wind (weather cocking).

Outside edge turns. Once a touring length kayak turn has started, edging  he sea kayak away from the center of the turn will cause the sea kayak to turn more strongly in that direction.

Make edging stable. Keep your torso vertical above the kayak by pinching hips to ribs on one side, raising up (pressuring) one knee and pushing down on opposite side of the seat.

Initiate turns with your paddle. Keep the boat moving in desired direction by applying appropriate Edge or Lean. Once the turn has been started, normal forward paddling can be resumed and the boat will keep turning as long as the edge is maintained. Edging can be used to reduce or even counteract the kayak’s tendency to turn into the wind (weather cocking).

Propulsion Strokes

Forward and Reverse paddling. Make it smooth and practical. Use edging to maintain desired course.

Maneuvering Strokes

Timing. Well designed sea kayaks are directionally stable so they need time and input to respond to commands. For example, to initiate a directional change start with a well timed sweep stroke as the bow pokes above a wave.

Draw Stroke on the Move (while moving forward). To quickly pull whole kayak evenly sideways; to miss a rock or pier. It’s the same as a draw stroke while stationary, but with an opened leading edge on your blade. Front edge of blade must be slightly angled out away from the kayak, so when your paddle arm/torso pulls the boat toward the blade, the blade moves smoothly toward your hip.

Hanging Draw (while moving forward). To achieve a longer sustained side slip through the water, perhaps when you also need some paddle support. While paddling forward, plant blade solidly off your hip and leave it roughly in place. Remember blade’s leading edge must be climbing out/away from your boat. As blade tries to slice (fly away from the kayak), you pull the whole boat after it with your paddle arm – leaving paddle planted out away from your hip. Blade should be slicing through the water, not braking. It’s a finesse stroke. Consider starting a hanging draw with a stroke on the same side as the draw. Experiment with your edging. If one end of the kayak is moving more than the other, try placing blade slightly ahead of, or behind your hip so whole kayak drifts sideways equally and evenly.

Bow Rudder (while moving forward). To turn boat by pulling the bow around, by pulling bow toward your paddle – instead of pushing stern around with a simple stern rudder or reverse sweep. It’s basically a Hanging Draw placed toward your bow, up towards your feet. Feel the finesse; you shouldn’t immediately be stopping, or creating a big commotion in the water. Blade is cleanly slicing away from your bow and you are pulling the bow after it while gliding over the water. Work on a strong body position, experiment with arm placements for strength; but remember, water pressure is pushing and slicing across the power face of the blade. Do initiate a bow rudder with a strong sweep stroke on the opposite side – and perhaps as your forward movement dies out, finish with a bow draw to complete the turn and roll blade into a forward stroke. Very smooth!

Stern Rudders. Turning towards the paddle side is easy; apply water pressure to the back of the paddle blade. Be careful of your shoulder, maintain the paddler’s box. Experiment with blade placed well aft, like a rudder’s position. Alternatively, place deeper in the water down below your paddle elbow with strong, tighter ‘fighter’ position. You can turn away from the paddle side as well by changing water flow from the back side to power face of the blade. To change water pressure to the power face of a stern rudder, vigorously push forward arm out across the kayak’s deck while pulling in on paddle arm. Accentuate change of pressure by rotating blade angle 10° to 20° each side of vertical to allow water pressure to change from the back of the blade (turn toward) to the power face (turn away from blade). See if in one run between tight objects you can turn the kayak toward the paddle (easiest) and away from the paddle (harder) without changing paddle from one side of the boat to the other.

Hanging Draw, Stern Rudders, Bow and Cross Bow rudders. All of these strokes are best done while moving close along a shore, dock, wall, or piers so you can see the immediate results and adjust as necessary. In all these strokes, the blade is held roughly stationary in the water while the kayak is moving. Paddler consciously has water pressure slicing over the power or back side of the paddle. These strokes either pull the whole boat sideways or pull/push the bow or stern sideways. In each, the blade should be cleanly slicing through or pushing away the water. Using too much blade angle will overly brake, slow or stop the kayak instead of push/pulling the kayak side-ways while maintaining momentum. Placing paddle at the bow or stern will affect that end of the kayak (bow or stern rudder). Placing paddle in the middle will move the whole kayak sideways (hanging draw). Bow rudders and hanging draws are done using only the power face. These strokes are more effective with the blade vertical and close to parallel with the kayak’s centerline, and more powerful the faster the kayak is moving.

Low Brace Turns.  A committed lean inside of a turn encourages the bow of the kayak to bite and the stern to skid. This speeds the turn and slows the kayak. By using a moving low brace we stabilize ourselves allowing for more lean and more turn. Keep the blade close to flat on the surface; if too vertical, the greater the stopping force and less you turn by hull moving through the water. Keep your weight forward to help free the stern to skid and the front to carve. Initiate the turn with an opposite side sweep. Useful surfing when you are turning on or off of a wave while providing stability.

Sculling for Support. Sweeping the blade forward and backwards, each with a respective climbing blade angle. You can use a low brace (an easier, lower angle support) or high brace position which is more effective and better stroke training. Switch climbing angle only at end of each forward/backward scull – each moving support stroke. Keep the blade and shaft as horizontal as possible. Longer, slower strokes are more effective.  

Sculling for Support into Sculling Draw. Once you have a reliable high brace sculling for support, you could transfer this into a sculling draw. While sculling, slowly raise your opposite arm upwards, changing shaft angle toward vertical. Maintain water pressure on power face. As shaft angle moves toward vertical, remember to keep the moving blade slicing away from the boat – and pull the boat after the blade with your paddle arm and torso. In a sculling draw, a more vertical shaft will create more movement. Longer, slower strokes are more effective. Try using your whole torso in each stroke.

Edging to Assist Performance

Explore the effects and results of edging towards or away from the paddle when using maneuvering strokes. Do you edge towards or away from the paddle when performing a hanging draw? A bow rudder, stern rudder, forward and reverse sweeps?

Recovery and Support Strokes 

These skills are designed to keep us upright in conditions or save us from capsize. Basically, the paddle stops us from falling in and provides a platform to snap our boat upright as we retrieve our paddle from down in the water.

Low Brace/Recovery. Use the back of the blade and a push-up type movement with arms and shoulders as a platform for the hip snap back to upright position. Slap, Snap, Retrieve. Horizontal shaft.

High Brace/Recovery. Use the power face of the blade and a pull-up movement as a platform for the hip snap. Keep hands below shoulder level and elbows powerfully bent to avoid serious injury. Horizontal shaft.

Should be practiced both stationary and on the move (check for climbing blade angle when performing on the move).

High brace Sculling for Support. Long smooth backwards and forwards motion on surface of water with nearly flat blade. Elbows below paddle. Wide sweep. Shaft near horizontal. Climbing, not turning blade angle. Commitment to your paddle.

General Rules
  • Loose hips, light paddle grip. Trust your kayak’s stability. Relax, breath, be flexible.
  • Keep paddling for speed and support.
  • Introduce climbing blade angle to your forward paddling for confidence.
  • Recognize fundamental effects and differences in horizontal and vertical blades and paddle shaft.
Paddling into Wind & Waves
  • Paddling into wind is easiest direction for boat control but requires emphasis on power, on driving the kayak through the water.
  • As a beginner in small waves, meet waves perpendicular, at 90 degrees to the wave. As waves increase in size, try and meet wave at a slight diagonal and present hull, not bow, to the wave face. This reduces the chance of pushing you back (or flipping on larger waves) and keeps you dryer.
  • Plant your blade over the wave’s crest and pull yourself over.
  • Use the downward slopes to accelerate, maintain position while going up a wave.
Paddling in Beam or Quartering Seas 
  • Combine forward stroke with a strong forward sweep on upwind side, with edging your deck toward the wind, and possible stern rudder on downwind side.
  • Edge deck toward the wave.
  • Let the wave roll under you.
  • Zig-zagging (tacking) may be easier than going straight in short, steep chop.
  • As necessary, brace toward the wave.
Paddling Down or With the Waves
  • The faster you paddle, the greater the free ride and the less you get turned by the waves.
  • Accelerate down the wave face. Relax a bit as the new wave begins to roll beneath you.
  • Use forward strokes, edging, and sweeps to steer. Use stern rudder as a last resort.
  • Diagonal runs, one direction or tacking, may be easier than straight ahead.
Going Downwind and Across the Wave

Use of rudders and skegs. Set the rudder or skeg to offset weather-cocking. Readjust for any change in intensity or angle of wind or wave on boat. Add more skeg if kayak still weathercocks, less if it runs downwave or downwind.

Use stern rudders, a trailing paddle, to help maintain a straight course. Do you want to use upwind or downwind side for stern rudder?

Additional Thoughts on Generating Effective Strokes

Basic Control. Forward & reverse paddling, stopping, forward & reverse sweeps, draws, and recovery strokes start or cancel movement in the boat.

Turning & Steering on the Move. Stern rudder (with tillering), low brace turn, high brace turn, bow rudder, and cross bow rudder help kayak change direction and require boat to be moving to be effective.

Sculling & Support. Stationary and on-the-move low and high braces and sculling for support strokes help you stay upright when sitting still or moving.

Draws. Draw (with in-water return), draw on-the-move, hanging draw, sculling draw (maybe with figure of eight) move boat sideways when sitting still or moving.

Your forward stroke should work in: flat water, beam & following wind or sea.

For each stroke, what are the following doing:  head, torso, upper arm, paddle arm, paddle shaft, hips, knees, and feet?

Are you edging or leaning?

Should your torso be leaning forward or backward?

Support Component of a Stroke.  For each stroke you should also be able to incorporate a support element into at least a portion of the stroke’s action.

Perfect practice makes permanently perfect. Remember that practice makes permanent, not perfect… so practice your form, work for efficiency and effectiveness.

Technique. There is no purely right or wrong technique, no absolute correct stroke, no approved perfect way. There is a more appropriate stroke for a given paddler,on a specific day, in a particular boat, in set conditions. Modify your strokes for the situation. As a paddler we want strong, effective, committed strokes. For example, you might think of your forward stroke as follows:

It works.

It works well.

It works really well.

It’s working better all the time.

It is working better than I could have imagined!

Are you quick enough or strong enough to outrun:

A pending storm,

A changing tide,

A growing headwind,

A dumping beach break?

Can you accelerate in to rescue your paddle partner, and instantly stop in the correct position and place without harming yourself or the victim?

Is your forward stroke a gentle half hearted stroke – slow forward movement – relaxed cruise – open crossing pace – serious “lets go home” rate – flat out “I think I’m going to die” mode?

Demonstration and working towards an Eskimo roll

Guided paddle roll.

Paddle float roll.

Pawlata or extended paddle.

Sweep or Combat roll.

C to C.

Spare paddle roll.

Re-entry and roll.

Areas to work on:  Attitude. Paddle set up. Climbing blade during sweep. Hip flick. Head coming up last. Timing.

Be safe out there and thank you for getting a paddle wet with Maine Island Kayak Co.