Bracing - What I was taught vs what I do

Not sure if there’s a question here…more like a couple of observations I’ll throw out if anyone cares to comment. Way back when, when I was taking intro kayak classes, we were taught the low and high brace. My memory is that these were taught as means to get back to a stable upright position after being knocked off balance. I’ve been paddling for a long time now, and I doubt I’ve done this type of brace (I’ll call it a reactionary brace) more than 10 times. Far more common, at least in my experience, is what might be called instead a preparatory brace, when you see something coming (often nearshore in breaking waves / surf) and you brace INTO it so as to avoid being pushed off balance in the first place. In terms of the brace itself, I would think that one difference between the two might be the type of brace performed. I have read somewhere on this board that a lot of instructors don’t even teach the high brace anymore (I believe it was stated that this is because it is more likely to result in shoulder dislocation). I however have used the high brace almost exclusively (I think because it can be performed at a greater heel angle) but am trying to be less reflexive about it and to become at least as comfortable with the low brace. I guess the low brace works fine for preparatory braces, but it seems to me that for reactionary braces, a high brace is more immediately available on those occasions when your paddle is moving through the water on the side of your boat opposite to the wave that is pushing you over (the forward stroke transitions very quickly into a high brace with just a slight shift in wrist angle and paddle trajectory), which is about half the time.

I guess if I did have a question, it would be if my experience (using preparatory braces far more often than reactionary braces) is consistent with others experience. Perhaps in my case it is because I have mostly paddled in protected areas (e.g., bays, estuaries), usually though not always in relatively benign conditions, and have never owned a twitchy boat.

We can talk… what I was taught vs what I do. I watched the Eric Jackson video about rolling and bracing and was able to brace pretty good… with a euro. Well I switched to the GP and rolling was great; bracing not so much. What I learned is that with the GP the brace is actually a scull. You get way more purchase/bite if you push forward or backward as you push down on the paddle. It works great once you figure that out.

Preparatory braces are how everyone starts. No one has the automatic reflexes innately to know to use a paddle to brace - that is a learned skill.

I do teach both braces still. And they are both listed in the ACA standard syllabus.

And I use both braces. For reactionary braces, the one someone will use is the one that is closest to the position of the paddle you have when you find yourself needing a brace. For example, if I am surfing, I am generally in a stern rudder position, and if I need to brace on the side I am ruddering, the low brace is very similar in position to the rudder (basically just a twist of the wrist to go from a vertical blade positioning to a more horizontal bade position). But if I need to brace on the other side, it would be a high brace, as rotating around from a rudder on one side to a brace on the other is a smooth swing of arms around in front and you are set up. No hand position changes needed, unlike swinging from stern rudder on one side to low brace on opposite - which requires a twist in wrists along with finding a way to get the paddle low over your deck.

Recently, I have been seeing a lot of sculling braces by people trying to prevent flipping. This is one of the rough water skills that seems to be getting more popular in sea kayakers. If you watch the Neptune’s Rangers videos from the past year or so, sculling braces are showing up more and more. Sculling braces are almost always high braces. Here is a video they made which shows various braces in one run:
Note - this was not set up - they didn’t have him do the run with plans of showing the braces, but instead he did the run and they filmed it and thought that it would be a good clip to show these skills.

Same paddler (David), on a different feature, using a sculling brace to stay up from the most recent NR video:
Edit - Go to time stamp of 9:33 on this video to see what I am talking about. The time stamps that Youtube provides are not being brought into this bulletin board correctly - only the minute is coming through.

i mostly paddle ww so “reactive bracing” is my bread and butter- what seems to be in favor currently is teaching bracing from the middle of the boat, with your weight over the center axis of the boat. I find this a bit awkward but still useful to practice.

EJs video is very “old school” with the head dinks- with the body and head toward the back deck- a bit controversial with some because they believe it can open you up to injury. You can get much further over or into the water using EJs technique.

I don’t see these techniques as mutually exclusive- I also do practice using High (power face) and low (non power face) braces. Right now I pretty much live by my bracing, since I’ve been having difficulty setting up (leaning forward) to roll. Perhaps learning a back deck roll will be in my future. I go for my 2nd hip replacement on monday but did find my bracing was still solid at a pool session. I waited 7 weeks before practicing braces, withmy first hip replacement occuring back in Nov. Practicing out to the side and toward the back of the boat did not cause my bracing to suffering. I’m more likely to have problems paddling or rolling, which require forward flexability.

Some more thoughts, I used the low brace more canoeing and c1ing.
For that reason I am better at bracing on my left, my dominant paddling side. For Kayaking, the high brace seems to be more the norm but I still do my share of low braces. Hand positions are lower than they were 30 years ago with dislocation being a concern.
Good bracing skills can adversely affect one’s roll. You can get to the point where you’re not flipping and thus not rolling unless you explicity practice and are pushing yourself to turn completely over.

the best scenario is have both good bracing and rolling skills but I’m not letting that deter me from boating, so long as I stay well within my abilities, i can still get by with just a brace in many situations.

At some point if you spend a lot of time in the surf zone or whitewater bracing becomes automatic and you don’t think “Oh I am going to throw a low brace on the left side” or I need high brace because I am almost over, ooops I need to skull a bit …you just do it automatically. You develop a bag of tricks of low, high brace, skulling brace, falling into a breaking wave, bracing and coming up surfing etc etc. I kind of view it as similar to learning to ski at an advanced level, in the beginning you may do stem christies and work into parallel turns and then into different ways to weight , unweight the skis and turn, using conditions and terrain, but at some point in skiing deep powder or moguls you don’t think so much as you just execute what the terrain requires, it’s like playing music if youreally know your instrument.

I usually "throw " the GP out farther than normal and do a sweep. Always moving forward. If I have to do a “brace” I just haven’t gotten the rhythm yet.

Agree with tdaniel and seadart - for river paddlers bracing is essential, and it needs to be automatic. By the time you think about a brace, its too late. In a canoe you use a low brace if you are going over on your onside, and a high brace if you are going over on your offside. I find that my low brace is much more effective than my high brace, so I am less likely to swim from my onside. The low brace is often a quick slap on the water with a hip snap that allows you to bring your head back to the center of the boat. I find with a high brace that it takes me longer to plant the paddle, and its tougher to get my head back over the boat and snap the hips. The alternative in a canoe to a high brace is a pry, but that has never worked for me. Nice thing about a kayak is that you have a low brace on both sides.

Whitewater paddlers are told not to ride a brace (which sounds like your preparatory brace), but to paddle through difficult rapids. It is easier to maintain control if you have momentum. Not sure if that is the same with a sea kayak.