Balance brace pointers

I have tried a few times when I’ve been playing around to do a balance brace. Granted I’ve used my European paddle when I’ve been trying it out, but still… Anyway, they way I’ve been trying to get the idea is to have grab the bow of someone else’s kayak and slowly lower myself off to the side of the kayak and lay myself out with my shoulders flat on the water as if doing a back float with my paddle in one hand outstretched above my head flat on the water. I’ve seen the technique with the greenland paddle so I am assuming the general body position is correct. However, as soon as I go to release the bow of the boat I begin to sink. I am trying to use the upper leg and hip to keep the kayak pushed over as much as I can, but perhaps I don’t have the flexibility to really hold the kayak flat on the water, as it wants to roll over as I begin to sink as well. I guess maybe seeing isn’t everything, so I was hoping folks might have some verbal descriptions of what is going so I can be sure that I am approaching it correctly. Thanks for the pointers…

A couple of things to try

– Last Updated: Aug-04-08 5:38 PM EST –

First, to make sure you are really flat to the water, go over with the hand that is not holding the paddle actually hooked under the edge of your own boat behind the cockpit. I suspect that by dropping off of someone's bow you are still curled a little upward away from the water, and you want quite the opposite. (And first check to make sure that your back will tolerate this much rotation by going into that position sitting upright. It'd be a bear to really pull something once sinking into the water.) Keep your head well back too.

This obviously precludes hanging onto anyone's bow, since the other hand is holding onto something for floatation, so you may want to start out in really shallow waster near shore where you can just push up after sinking.

Second, tension tends to kill the thing. Using a Euro paddle may leave you fussing with it too much. What worked great for me was actually a Northwater foam float - I stuck my outstretched hand into the pocket on the side and was able to leave that arm much more relaxed.

You may also need to be picky about what boat you try this with at first. Some boats are easier than others. For example the Tempest 165 was a piece of cake for me, as is any Romany/Explorer, but the Vela requires more attention to being pushed back and away from me to manage a static brace. And I'll lose it in the Vela much faster than in a Romany if I haven't been practicing (like lately).

Using the upper leg?
Perhaps that is the problem. Even a basic hip flick is killed by engaging the upper leg. (I think of a balance brace as somewhat resembling the middle of a successful hip flick.)

But take this thought for what it may be worth because I can’t do a balance brace yet either.

Other things to try…
Arch your back like Celia mentioned.

Practice with an inflated paddle float to get used to it. Remove air a little at a time until there’s practically none in it.

Ditch the Euro and use a GP.

Ditch your PFD (gasp!) - it can limit your mobility, particularly the laybacks that are so necessary in Greenland maneuvers.

balance brace
I agree with the paddle float suggestion, the GP suggestion, and the use the lower knee/leg. You can let the upper leg fall down on top of the lower leg, it’s just dead weight.

Once the boat falls on top of you it’s nearly impossible to stay up. So make sure you keep lifting with your lower leg.

If you can get someone to hold you up and slowly stop holding you up it’s a big help. It lets you ease into the brace.

Also relax and breath deeply, keep some air in your lungs. If you stop breathing you tense up, when you tense up you will tend to sink.

Upper leg
The legs, what you do with them - I find that in the Vela it when I am rusty (as now) I need to think of a two leg action. The lower one pulls the boat to me, the upper pushes it away just a little. This is not something I have to think about in the Explorer LV. That slab side just sits there. So - it is possible the OPer has a boat that makes you work a bit more like the Vela to keep the boat from falling over.

And re the simile to a hip flick, to me that is not at all in play for the upper leg. When I am on my side, the only leg which it is physically possible to lift is the lower one. The only choices with the upper one are to let it collapse on top of the lower leg or to use it to push the boat away, and in that case you are actually working the side or the bottom of the boat rather than the thigh brace at top.

Agreed that this will never work if both thigh braces have pressure against them in the same direction, but that seems very anti-intuitive to do once you are flopped over on your side to me.

Celia pretty much said it
Arch your back. Get the shoulders really flat on the water. Loose grip on the paddle. Arch your back some more…

A couple of other bits that may help: Twist your butt around in the seat. This ain’t whitewater and you don’t have to have your lower half locked in place. Get your head way down in the water. Your eyebrows should be wet.

Here’s my head trick. I was always telling people to put their head back further. Then I had a flash and started saying, “Raise your chin.” That changes the perspective from “He’s trying to drown me.” to “Yeah, I like keeping my mouth out of the water so I can breathe.” But it amounts to pretty much the same thing.

See if you can conscript someone to stand on your off side and hold the cockpit to help keep the boat in the right position while you try to find the sweet spot.

Have fun.

View surroundings upside-down

– Last Updated: Aug-04-08 11:22 PM EST –

I use a Euro paddle and don't find it a hindrance. However, I also practice it without holding any paddle at all, and to me that is easier than with a paddle. One thing that helped me was to make sure that the opposite-side leg was straight, letting the same-side leg/hip hold that side of the boat up. Also, I let my head relax (arched back and shoulders flat on the water) so that I view my surroundings upside-down.

One thing that might not have been mentioned was the initial position: I was taught to lie straight back on the stern deck, engage the "holding leg" while keeping the other leg straight, then slowly slide the head down onto the water while keeping the boat edged up on that side (knee/thigh/hip actively tilted up).

When learning, I found it easier to ditch the PFD because I am short and the PFD got in the way to various degrees. Later I could do it with the PFD but it was much dicier that way. Some of this will depend on your torso height in relation to the back deck height, because doing the balance brace wearing a PFD with my new boat (a LV Explorer) is easier than doing the same in my Tempest 165. Yet when NOT wearing a PFD the Tempest 165 is a little easier for me to balance-brace than the LV is.

It's another way to cool off on a hot day (besides rolling). Have fun practicing! Oh, and skip the bow-pullup. Just practice in a shallow area with sandy bottom.

this works for some

– Last Updated: Aug-04-08 11:42 PM EST –

First, picture a pole vaulter, the position they are in as they go over the bar. This is similar to the position you are in when you are in a balance brace.

Second, keep in mind your hips are your high point.

Those two thoughts came from watching Doug Van Doren mentor up in Grand Marais recently. It's a joy to watch him teach.

Third, as Celia said, in my Vela I not only brace hard with my on side knee, but I straighten my top leg and push away with my heal. This may help with other kayaks as well.

Fourth, keep your head tilted back and your chin up. The minute you bring your chin down you lose the arch in your back.

Fifth, keep your shoulders square to the sky by twisting a bit in the seat. If you have no spinal rotation this is difficult.

Lastly, and most importantly, float, your pfd floats, your paddle floats, your kayak floats, why would you sink?

Try going from balance brace to full capsize and back up again repeatedly, it really drives home the body position for balance brace.

You've gotten some great tips so far from everyone.


most importantly

– Last Updated: Aug-05-08 12:42 AM EST –

get a boat made to do this. many kayaks are not, for various reasons, and this technique will be difficult to impossible to do. for example, i have one sea kayak, rolls just fine, as does just about any kayak i've ever rolled, but it can't be static braced. my other sea kayak, does it with ease.

I forgot one thing

– Last Updated: Aug-05-08 9:27 AM EST –

(and gee, thanks to all who indicated that I got something right!)

In a perfect world, you should be able to slide up onto your back deck from a balance brace to recover. You just maintain head back and all and bring you and the boat back together - I'm hard-pressed to describe exactly how that happens except to say that timing is important. If your body moves ahead of the boat rotation or vice versa, you might lose it. But that's a feeling thing and just takes time. Another reason for shallow water though - even after I could hold a brace, it took me a while to get up onto the back deck without capsizing.

But this leads to an important point. If your rear deck height, seated angle or flexibility prevent this from happening, you probably are trying to do this in a boat that isn't friendly to this manuver.

Another unmentioned point here is that there are body types for which this is harder or easier. The more the center of your weight is naturally in the boat when you are twisted over on your side, the easier it'll be. So average height to shorter women, or a lean guy with long legs who can put a lot of their back into the water, will find it easier than someone with a very high proportion of their weight concentrated in the upper body. That is, a shorter guy who is built very strong - think a fireplug - or women who tend to have an unusually high proportion of their weight in the torso like the "apple" shape. It's not fair, but someone built like me has an easier time of it.

One trick…
I usually can do it but in some boats I start to sink. I usually re-try by first twisting my position in the kayak so I am dropping in more on my back than my side. This gives me more flexibility and allows me to bend back further and usually then I can balance it. Don’t lift your head but try to lay it back so the water is up to your mouth. I usually need my PFD on for that bit of buoyancy. Remember, the reason it’s called a balance brace is because you are tilting the boat back towards it’s normal floating position and that force is what causes the balance. If the boat is toppling over on you, you can never do it. People have their own way of doing it, but I use my furthest foot away and push on the foot peg and tilt the boat back away from me. If you know how to scull on the water, you can slowly scull and get into the position much easier than trying to drop into it. If you’re alone, practice it in a foot of water.

Side scull into it
I think the natural progression is to learn the side scull first. Once you know how to side scull you can work on making adjustments to your position to decrease your support from the sculling motion of the paddle and then the paddle itself. You don’t need a greenland paddle to learn to side scull, but of course it helps.

The balance brace is cool, but I think the side scull a is much more important skill to learn since it leads to much better bracing skills, other skills and can even be used to roll. Also, if you know how to do a side scull you can practice getting into a balance brace on your own - you won’t need the support from a second kayaker.

learned this week
I successfully got the balance brace this week, practicing first in a foot of water. The two ingredients to the success versus initially going over were 1)doing this on my right side, having my left leg and foot relaxed and doing nothing, while applying serious energy to keep the boat upright with right leg and 2) staying in water as close to boat as possible.

I might also agree that while it’s cool to say one can do it, I don’t envision myself using it to rest or anything else, still preferring the side scull. The balance brace for me seems still small margin of error until capsize while the side scull feels fool-proof and more relaxed.

What’s cool
…is that in another thread somebody described how a paddle-free balance brace could be a step towards getting a hands roll.

So then the question becomes “What’s cool about a hands roll?” I don’t have a hands roll so I don’t really know. Seems like it’s a good test of your coordination and timing, though.

Developing the technique
to do a hand roll will benefit your ability to roll up with a paddle in real conditions when you need to. I enjoy paddling in challenging conditions and I feel most comfortable having my rolling technique as good as possible.

Performing a balance brace
takes a combination of body type, flexibility, kayak and good instructions. The lower and closer to the side of the kayak the coaming is will help. The greater your flexibility, arching your back an twisting your torso, the easier it will be to perform. The greater your body weight ratio is to having more weight below the waist, will help. Having an instructor who can help, will help a lot. There are many greenland kayak symposiums around that can really help you develop some techniques very fast. Good luck.