high brace?

I consider myself a novice paddler and have no meaningful WW experience.

Several years ago when I hired and supervised canoe and kayak instructors at a large summer camp, it seemed to me that their consensus was kayak instructors should not teach the high brace on safety grounds: improperly used, it could result in shoulder dislocation.

But the other day I observed a more experienced paddler (whose last kayak dates from the 70s) teach two other novice the high brace. I bit my tongue, since I wasn’t sure if my second hand knowledge was correct.

Any idea if there’s any modern consensus on the high brace?

it is a bit controversial
and you might be hard pressed to find a consensus.

If the ‘more experienced’ kayaker’s last kayak was purchased in the 70s then they could be OUT OF DATE (at the very least their kayak is probably out of date). Also, if you came across your knowledge several years ago you might be OUT OF DATE.

There are trends and fads in kayaking (just like everything else) some maneuvers and strokes come in and out of style - just like clothes. There are always those folks who still hang-on to outdated styles, and those who are a bit too cutting edge.

Bottom line, when the high brace is taught to be performed with good mechanics and in a safe manner then it has no more risk than other strokes. Anytime someone is taught bad technique and uses bad technique they are at greater risk - no matter what the stroke.

Remember we (as a population) argue the most about which we (as a population) know the least.

You need the high brace

– Last Updated: Jul-17-09 11:46 AM EST –

If you are caught in a hole, or enjoy side-surfing holes, you need to be able to use the high brace to move the boat around in the hole. Use a reverse-sweeping low brace to move the boat sternward, followed by a forward stroke blending into a high brace to move the boat bowward.

High braces are discouraged by some instructors teaching novices and beginners because, improperly used, they have led to shoulder dislocations. The key is to keep the "high" brace very low with your elbow braced well at your side and your hands in the "box". The paddle shaft will be no higher than for a low brace.

The low brace is defined by a brace utilizing the back face, or non-power face of the blade and the elbows above the hands. The high brace utilizes the power face of the blade with the wrists and hands above the elbows.

Avoid emulating those photos of early WW kayakers who were "chicken-winging" with the high brace, with the offside hand held way up high and the onside hand at or behind their shoulder plane.

old high brace

– Last Updated: Jul-17-09 3:48 PM EST –

Some older references show the high brace with the arm locked out straight. That's an injury waiting to happen. Keeping the elbow down puts a lot more "give" in the system.

One rule o' thumb: Your shoulder is in a much weaker position when your hand goes above it or behind it. Use caution with any strokes that do that.

Here's a decent high brace:

High brace turn
I use the high brace turn constantly; it is my preferred turning method. If you do it right (elbows close to body, hands at shoulder height, kayak on edge and your upper body committed to the blade), it’s safe and very effective. Converts instantly to a forward stroke or a reverse high brace sweep.

I picked it up several years ago from a Steve Maynard article a friend emailed to me. Does anyone else use it?

it also can lead into a bow rudder. push the brace fwd and verticalize the shaft and switch edge to the outside edge.

it’s also a very necessary component of the ROLL!


The wter is your friend
Both Dubside and maligiaq believe that “the water is your friend” and that you don’t beat back your friends with aggressive high braces. Instead, they promote the idea of using your natural buoyance and PFD and when capsized, relax, don’t fight, and use sculling to recover. Works 4 me :slight_smile:

what’s a scull
but a variation of a high sweeping brace fanned back and forth?


maybe its just me but that doesn’t work
too well in surf.

High Brace
It’s still taught here in sea kayaking classes as described above - elbows low and close to your sides emphasized to prevent shoulder injury.

I tend to not use a high brace very often with a Greenland paddle.

If it Weren’t for High Brace

– Last Updated: Jul-17-09 8:24 PM EST –

I'd have no brace at all.

Gloom, despair, and agony on me.

(I don't know nuthin' about whitewater but my sea kayaker shoulders are intact)

long as
you keep it a LOW-High brace with elbows in and the shaft near perpendicular to the boat you’re G2G! LOW means shaft is under your eyes, maybe chin. You can generate TONS of hip snap and support from this position.


only two kinds of strokes
those that work and are injury free and those that don’t work and cause injuries.

a high brace with extended arm and arm behind and above shoulder does not work well and causes injuries.

the one flatpick is describing works and is safe.

good to practice
the high brace… if you have waves it’s even better because they give you a boost…

Today was 20 knot winds with 4-5’ swells… my Nordlow was just awesome in these rough wind and wave conditions… I’m so used to high bracing that a few times I used it as a quick little correction like a little high brace scull… and in the waves I don’t find it stressful at all on my shoulders…

I realize when I’m going to capsize also and don’t fight it and just roll back up.

go with the water
yep, go with the flow, don’t ever fight it. let go of the paddle with at least one hand, both if on a leash or if in surf just plain let go.

that said, shoulder injuries are very very very serious and can end paddle career so easy does it always.

let go of the paddle in surf?
that’s a new one to me. Being paddle-less in the surf is not a great place to be. Better to focus on proper form than start chucking gear around.

learn it, use it, its fundamental

of course
decidedly so. however, one cubic yard of water weighs about a ton, and when moving much more force than is wise to resist the paddle being torn away. So in that situation better to keep your shoulder intact than to say you had good form trying to hold on.

A high brace is a precursor to rolling
The progression I followed on the path to learning to roll was:

  • Low brace
  • High brace
  • Deep high brace (torso submerged, then brace up)

    At that point, you have the final third of a roll mastered. The first third (capsizing) is easy, so all you need to learn is the setup and how to link the three parts.


– Last Updated: Jul-18-09 10:27 PM EST –

If this is a camp where kayaking is stable rec boats on a pond then a high brace is of marginal utility. A decent forward stroke and basic rudder strokes would be great.

But if these kids have whitewater or more advanced aspirations then the high brace is needed and just needs to be taught correctly.

For me the high brace facilitated my roll (I learned to roll by accident practicing a sweeping sort of high brace in flat water). Now it helps me stay on my surfski on the occasions that I screw up and end up broached and bouncing sideways towards the beach after catching one late.

In WW, there are all sorts of things that flow from a sound high brace. The brace just needs to be sound because you can hurt yourself. It needs to be drilled into them to do it right and boaters probably ought to practice. I race mostly. There's lots more to do with the skill in WW but I even have use on my ocean boat. Downwind on the surfski and you might use the odd low brace while resting on a good run. I only use the high brace when I foul up in surf and I don't spend much time in the break zone on a 21' piece of carbon fiber that doesn't like getting maytagged. I've poked a high brace or two into the foamy when my arm was extended a bit or maybe my elbow was back a bit and felt that little twinge in the shoulder. Definitely a vulnerable position if done wrong.