High Brace Controversy!

-- Last Updated: Mar-08-07 2:44 PM EST --

Ok, I'm going to try to keep this brief:
I'm at a pool session. It's a mix of seakayakers, white-water folks and kayak-polo players.

I'm a seakayaker.

I see a guy struggling with his high brace. I tell him to think counter-intuitively--keep your head down and lean into the brace, just like I was taught and studied from the likes of Hutchinson, Foster, Dennis, and Seakayaker Magazine (not to mention the inuit and greenlandic paddlers.) I demonstrate. He tries and looks much better.

Just then another paddler approaches, a highly respected WW guy. He says "No, that's wrong. Keep your head up, centered over the boat and balance on edge, using a coordinated slap of the paddle and hip snap.

I look at him like he's crazy--he looks at me like I'm crazy. The student just looks confused.

A major debate ensues (heated but civil, of course.) He sites some questionable physics and the accepted olympic technique. I site some questionable physics and 10,000 years of greenlandic paddling culture with a little hutchinson thrown in.

We agree to disagree.

Lean-in or Lean-away? What do you think?

I think
you should have pantsed him and thrown his trunks outside.

How do you fall over and keep your head over the boat? What does he tell people to do for a roll?


– Last Updated: Mar-08-07 3:21 PM EST –

he said,

"Keep your head up, centered over the boat and balance on edge, using a coordinated slap of the paddle and hip snap."

Usually, the "hip snap" is coordinated with the "head dink" down. If you have your head already down (towards the blade to start off with), you really can't get a good hip snap. A C2C roll which is really an extreme high brace really demonstrates the coiling in one direction, uncoiling and then coiling into the side of the roll (or brace). If you are already there, there is minimal or no hip snap.

So, if his "hip snap" includes a head dink, I would say he is right. The more you lean over, the more you must rely on a strong hip snap/head dink rather than just the paddle slap to get you back upright.

If you reference G-style, there is not the emphasis on "hip snap" as much as continuous drive up with the onside knee/hip combined with the sweeping motion of the paddle. It's a bit different than the high brace that is taught with modern (Euro) paddle.


Ask the WW "guru"
why Kent Ford’s video (done in WW boats) teaches the head down method for high braces & rolling. Keeping the head low engages the correct knee to right the boat; head up does just the opposite, tending to pull the boat over. To borrow the USK motto, “Do it in a way that works best for you”, have the newbie try it both ways and see what works. He’ll win the argument for you.

Lean in then lean away
I think his answer was the same as yours except he was describing the response to a perturbation, prior to the high brace as well as during.

  1. Wave or whatever perturbs hull. Hull rocks left. Body responds by making a C shape to keep head over boat, left hip and leg lowered, right hip and leg raised, to edge appropriately. This is the first part of his explanation.

  2. If required, for example hull get’s dangerously close to or goes past edge of secondary stability, then hip snap, making C in the opposite direction and head tilted down and outboard toward the water now, and brace up. This is the low brace, really the second part of his (WW guy’s) description I think. When he says coordinated hip snap and slap paddle on the water, I’d ask, “When you hip snap does that then put your torso in the opposite C shape with your head now tilted outboard and down?” If answer is yes, then he’s describing the same high brace as you are. It’s just that he also described the prior step, that goes on all the time in waves, of taking waves in stride with his hips and keeping balanced over the boat.

    If he’s saying that once you’ve gone well past the edge of secondary stability that you should still keep the inboard C shape, with head up, that’s not gonna work.

    My thoughts anyway.

    Paul S.

my thoughts exactly, but
I went back and checked “The Bombproof Roll and Beyond,” an excellent whitewater-centric technique book, and they teach it “lean-away” style too.

That’s a pretty darn good book.

Is there a difference between a WW high-brace situation and a SK high-brace situation?

As usual,
it depends…

(trying to work it out in a desk chair)

I think that if I’m still mostly upright, I do more of a J-lean/head dink/slap kind of brace. If I’m already well over, I won’t fight to stay upright, but try to rotate to hit with the back of my pfd to stop the rotation. I’ll then try to come up on a sweeping brace.

If both of you could do a safe, effective brace with your respective techniques, I’d say you both have something to learn.


– Last Updated: Mar-08-07 3:48 PM EST –

but i find that you don't have a whole lot of time to figure out if you're a little off balance or going completely over. So I guess my feeling is: What's the point of the j-lean? (which is the appropriate term to describe the WW style high-brace posture, thank you.)
To Sing's point, the style I was recommending does have a "continuous hip drive paddle slap" a la: all one motion (g-style) instead of j-lean one way and then a coordinated "c" in the opposite direction. To me, the latter just has too much going on.
I'm hip snapping as soon as I feel like I'm losing my balance point.
Maybe, in WW situations, you want to at least try to keep your head up because of the rocks and obstacles that may be coming up next. In open water this really isn't much of a concern.

Yes - more rocks! NM

No controversy, you’re both right…
If you are past the point of no return (deep high braces), by all means put your head in the water and brace up. However, if you have the ability to really hold the boat on edge, high braces can work with the head held high although the argument should be whether that person should actually be using a low brace at that point. Head dinking is dependent on the amount of lower body isolation control that paddler has since its more of a means to an end (independantly engaging rolling knee).

From all my greenland training and playboating, I’m able to hold a boat on edge with the coaming submerged and brace up without moving my head. When I was down in Sweetwater, for the BCU stuff, I was advised to throw in a head dink just because most people think that’s what’s righting the boat and it’s what they wanted to see. :slight_smile:

Eric Jackson
teaches that a high brace is performed with your whole body in the water. Well respected white water guy.

Been in that one

– Last Updated: Mar-08-07 4:36 PM EST –

As the student as a matter of fact, not quite as extremely confounding as you describe but it was still interesting.

Yes - the first way to do a high brace I was taught came out of WW and started with a prononunced curve up and away from the water, before initiating an equally strong curve in the opposite direction which included hip snap and torso head curling down then up in a way that should make a cat with a long tail envious. As Sing said. Basically it ends the same way you would do yours, but starts with a pronounced reverse setup.

Then you get to the more organic or whatever approach in sea kayaking, and are told to essentially get right to the second part. This has one obvious flaw - considerable wet exit practice if the student has not yet learned to feel where the center of balance is. The other approach makes it easier for the student wimp out on how far over they go. (which I took full advantage of when I started)

It's worth mentioning that it is considerably easier to just smoothly roll current sea kayaks up when they start going past the point of capsize than the planing hull WW boats out there now. Once one of these planing hull boats start really going over they tend to do it with a lot of intention. For what it's worth in how you deal with a brace...

As for that specific scenario, one thing that is missing from the post is just what this student's core problem was. Was he engaging the wrong thigh, did he lack a solid snap (or whatever you want to call it), was he having trouble really feeling the balance of the boat, was he really not comfortable trying to rely on the paddle...?

Don't take this the wrong way - we all get caught up in things and I am pretty bad about it. But rather than having a debate over the correct form for a high brace, it might have been worth asking him what felt different and more or less comfortable each way. It would have left the student considerably less confused and pointed to something that he could walk away feeling that he got right.

yeah it will
it’ll work…and while he’s at it (neck straining to stay over the centerline) he can let go of his paddle and grab his @$$ in the ohhhhsoooo typical flip. this works sooooo well.

N O T !!!

my least favorite teaching technique is the ‘keep your head over the centerline’ J-lean.

my J-lean only goes to my belly button. the head is free to look around, snap, whatever…anything BUT try and stay over the centerline.


When You’re Working With A Beginner

– Last Updated: Mar-08-07 6:26 PM EST –

you want may want emphasize a bit of C2C (coil, uncoil, coil) motion into the high brace because it really emphasizes and gives the feel of the head pushing down towards the bracing paddle and driving up the knee on that side. As this becomes ingrained, the motion may become very abbreviated (and not even observable) in an actual dynamic situation such in disturbance of white water or surf. But it's there.

If you start to talk about falling over, rotating to fall on your back, and sweeping the paddle, whether foward or back, and driving up on the onside knee, these are certainly effective. But from the standpoint of a beginner, you are introducing more elements (which s/he may or may not be ready for) and goes outside of what is largely taught as the "standard" high brace by Dutkey, Lull, Shriner, et al. in their books/instruction.


do not get Flatpick started on the “J lean”

You have been warned


just another opinion
if in a SK forget the high brace…why run the risk of shoulder injury…of course if in WW and a rock could kiss you face then the risk outweighs the benefit.

In the SK just fall over, rotate your shoulders if you can think to, square the shoulders with the water as you hit and immediately start sculling in the long slow arcs then shift the body onto the back deck…it takes a lot of energy to do a high brace/hip snap, it takes very very little to fall onto the water and use the slow sculls to get you back on the backdeck.

Shoulder risk
I thought of that later in the day, and it may be the one WW versus sea kayaking thing. It is easier to do the high brace in a way that works but may hurt the shoulder, and easier to do the low brace in a way that is not effective but leaves the shoulder OK. Whatta choice if you are new…

It feels to me as though the low brace has replaced the high brace when coaches talk about the preferred one to use in a lot of sea kayaking, including surf zone, scenarios. I seem to recall more emphasis on going to the high brace as a first choice when we first got any guidance.

But in my little bit of work with WW stuff so far far the high brace still seems to rule, I am guessing because the smidge of time it might take to get that paddle flipped over to a good position is often time you don’t have in WW. Plus with the newer boats intended to have some play potential the deck right in front of the paddler is on the higher side.

Hoenstly, the longer I do this the more I think it is advisable to at least try to learn all the approaches. The more places you can move the boat effectively from the more relaxed and fun paddling gets. But I suppose there is the question of how to do that without it being horridly confusing for newer paddlers. While I can pretty much, as long as I practice regularly, do any sculling position someone wants to see except for the full chest scull (and dammit that is going to happen this season), it’s taken an awful lot of time on and in the water to be able to do so. It would be tiotally unrealistic to someone new to kayaking to have gained that level of confidence.


– Last Updated: Mar-09-07 8:06 AM EST –

"Hoenstly, the longer I do this the more I think it is advisable to at least try to learn all the approaches. "

That's true. But within the confines of pool instruction with a beginner, you teach each technique, step by step. With a high brace, it's really important to emphasize the "box" for protecting the shoulders. You try to ingrain the different techniques in practice and then you reinforce through actual use in ww or surf (or increasingly textured water while touring).

I too have heard it said that a high brace is not needed in the break zone. I dunno... I think I tend to use that much more than most when paddling through the impact zone with my waveski. Despite that, anyone out on the break with me will probably confirm that I often employ a whole range of stuff to stay upright, high and low braces, sculling moves, forward strokes that have a sculling component. The fact is that my waveskis are far tippier than the ww or long boats I have. When paddling out through the break zone, I am almost always being hit with something that threatens to upturn me. I make the adjustments to keep me upright without much thought. And, sometimes, I just go over and then roll back up (but lose distance by getting pushed back in). Instinctive movements don't begin to happen "instinctively" until you take each technique, break it down and practice, practice over and over in calmer settings before attempting to employ and ingrain in the more dynamic environment.


A good point
Not only because a good high brace should become more subtle as the paddler progresses in skill, but also because a C2C roll is nothing more than an extreme high brace.

When paddling in WW or surf, I incorporate high braces into my forward stroke when necessary. When paddling one of my SK’s it’s there if I need it, although I’m much more likely to use a G-style low brace, as it’s easier on the joints, and keeps my center of gravity lower. But for a newbie just learning, it’s good to build on things that are parts of others. Many times they figure that out for themselves once they have all the tools.