brace reflex or anticipation

Returning from the ocean through a lumpy Mission Bay channel, I saw a large boat wake approaching and interacting with the lumps and clapotis from the jetty. I though I could just paddle through with out bracing, but was briefly undecided whether to do an anticipatory brace, or wait to see if I needed a reflexive brace.

It seems to me that 99% of my braces are anticipatory, not reflexive. Very rarely am I surprised by a wave and have to reflexively brace to avoid a capsize. And the anticipatory brace requires judgement based on experience, not reflexes.

How do you see it?

I tend to brace too much
I’m a river paddler not a sea kayaker, but I think I ride the brace too much. At least on rivers, you have better control of the boat when you are paddling. Riding the brace puts you at the mercy of the river. I know it, it just don’t do it.

Probably different on the ocean.

Anticipatory brace?

– Last Updated: Sep-11-12 8:01 AM EST –

I am somewhat unclear about what an anticipatory brace is. Do you mean that you stop a regular forward stroke to place the paddle in a position that does not move the boat forward, or backwards, or whatever overall direction you want to go? Or are you talking about altering blade angle through an otherwise normal stroke to increase the amount of vertical support it provides?

High stress and fear
is what it sounds like to me. Just go out and paddle relaxed with loose hips.

A brace is reactive. It could take years to develop, or you might not ever develop a dependable reactive brace. The time it takes to develop a reactive brace may depend on where you paddle, how often you paddle and what conditions you paddle in. Whitewater and surf paddlers likely develop a brace more quickly than others. Most paddlers cannot brace. Some know how to brace, but most have never needed to brace.

An anticipatory brace is akin to a deer in headlights. There are other things you should be doing with the paddle and craft that will nearly eliminate the need for a reactive brace most of the time.

A reactive brace will develop with time and experience, but that does not mean you do not need to practice bracing often. Develop a strong and consistent flatwater brace and it will be there when you need it, with or without the paddle.



I agree
Spend enough time in rough water and you’ll learn to trust the boat. Always watch for sneakers, but the boat can handle the rest without a lot of bother.

If you mean what I think you mean
An anticipatory brace is not the best of options. You’ll lose paddling speed which will not only see you fall behind the group over time but will also reduce your stability as most sea kayaks are more stable in forward motion.

Practice your brace so it is more reflexive and you won’t have to worry so much about relying on it if the need arises.

Also look at other options:

Varying blade angle slightly to give more support on your forward stroke when required;

Edging and paddling into the approaching wave face and the receding back of the wave;

Minimizing the amount of time your blades are not actively engaged.

Instead of brace
I just put the blade on the “right” side of the boat for a forward stroke at the right moment.

Yes, an anticipatory brace is when you see, or feel, a larger than wave coming that you think you have to lean and place the paddle into. A judgement has to be made. Can you just keep paddling with a slight incorporation of a brace into the forward stroke? Or do you have to stop forward progress and do a purpose high brace?

If, at night, you suddenly cross an unseen eddy line, you need a reflexive brace. Good luck on that.

The only way to practice a reflexive brace is to go out in conditions where you need a brace to stay upright. There are two aspects to a reflexive brace: the execution, which is very fast, and the decision, high or low, forward or aft. The decision process is the slow part, and cannot be practiced on flat water. One cannot learn a reflexive brace without a capsize or two in conditions.

only practice will get you there. Surf is great. Near La Jolla’s “Marine room” is a wall that bounces waves nicely at the right tide and swell for fun practice. Night paddling helps. Or try closing your eyes for a minute paddling choppy water.

One way of practicing
In shallow water, get a partner to stand behind you and try to aggressively tip you over on randomly alternating sides. Once you master that, do it blindfold.

“without a capsize or two”
“One cannot learn a reflexive brace without a capsize or two in conditions.”

Very true. Capsize should be expected. And that’s not the end of the world.

Just what wetzool said.

If you see it coming you usually can deal with it by edging into the wave a bit, staying loose, and keep paddling. When I use a brace is when I am suddenly going off balance, as when in a wide turbulent boily eddy line.

Ditto Marine Room Clapotis

– Last Updated: Sep-11-12 3:01 PM EST –

Next time there is a bunch of onshore windswell coming at tide between 4 -7 ft, and and a little ground swell mixed in, head down to the marine room and paddle south close to seawall, work on getting to feel at one with your boat, the paddle and the moving water. A few times a year some of us post up on the SDKC surf group that we are going for some plastic boat play. (Doing this at really high tides, requires threading the needle into the walkway coming in, so I don't recommend it in an expensive composite seakayak.)

Another good exercise is to just paddle along the surf zone right at the edge of the breaking waves, so you are parallel to the waves and have to make it over each wave before it breaks. South of the parking lot at LJ shores is a really easy place to try this out.

There’s no decision.
It’s like riding a bike.

The way I see it:
if it doesn’t come automatically, then you are not a good paddler.


I ussually only reflective brace
and use it at the end of a paddle stroke with a low brace. The best way I’ve found for developing a reflective brace is to paddle parallel along a shore line with one to one and a half foot waves coming in. Start out with smaller waves and work your way up as you gain more skill. You’ll be amazed at how fast it helps you develop this skill.

not reflexive in surf
When I practice in small surf, parallel to the beach and waves, the brace is not reflexive at all. It is the opposite, anticipatory. I see the wave coming an stick the paddle into it and lean. Very easy.

In tricky water, a tide rip, or choppy conditions, things happen faster and from unusual directions.

Forward stroke
In the context of single blading – and I think for most double blading also – stability is best maintained by two things: hull velocity and the solidity of the paddle plant. Both things are most often attained by strong forward strokes, slightly sweeping, which are sort of like a moving high brace.

A static brace will slow you down, decreasing velocity stability. An anticipatory static brace will slow you down even more. I think I would only do that when running a ledge in whitewater. Even then, I would quickly forward stroke when I hit the foam pile at bottom.

A reactive brace is most necessary when you for some reason are literally being knocked over by something unexpected.

Aside from ocean clapotis, which can be scary disorienting, most river and wind waves can be rhythmically anticipated, heeled to, and forward paddled through.

One tough situation is single blading at right angles to strong wind with big wind waves coming at your on-side. In such cases, you will be very happy if you have developed ambidextrous paddling so you can stroke on the downwind side while heeling the open hull away from the waves. Maybe a decked boater wouldn’t care as much about the heeling direction as an open boater in this situation. Static braces in this situation will slow you down and be less stable than dynamic forward bracing strokes.