Losing your balance

I’m curious about experiences surrounding the idea of not simply losing your balance leading to a capsize, but a loss of balance making it difficult to stay upright.
When I was getting started paddling, I experienced it in whitewater. I started to sense feeling a loss of control. I started capsizing like I was tripping over everything. I maintained my ability to roll back up, but I was rolling unintentionally a lot, and even took 4 attempts to accomplish one of the rolls. Being carried through the rapids and getting on flatwater kept me in the boat, but I was beyond something causing me to momentarily lose my balance. My sense of balance seemed to have escaped me.
I’ve had sea kayakers in the ocean simply lose their ability to stay upright. Assisted re-entry was all good and fine, except that it didn’t last but a few moments upon release.
I’ve offered assistance to a paddle boarder who had been paddling and playing in waves seemingly fine for some time, and then just lost their ability to stay standing on that board. He tried to relax several times, but ended the day kneeling on his board to get back to shore.
The concern this brings up is both capsize, and where re-entry doesn’t solve the problem. How does one re-set the weeble while still in the thick of things?

Get your ears checked. It could be an inner ear problem that only becomes apparent in a boat.

For some of the kayak cases, could it have been water in the boats throwing balance off?

I believe the question is not why but how to correct the situation on the water. In order to get someone onto land for a better diagnosis.

I have generally bomb proof orientation on water, but WW came very close at first to leaving me confounded about which way was up. I found I had to look at trees on the shore. I would suggest that someone find a vertical and stationary point on land as an initial response. Hope that they know to let the boat move under them without getting in its way.

My husband had occasional moments of disorientation at first on bigger water, never from anything expected. He always called it early, before it turned into a capsize. We would pause and wait it out, and talk it out. Find some points on land if we could. At some point things would be settled enough for us to proceed.

Don’t know if any of this helps. But yeah, it is disconcerting as hell.

inner ear issues likely, my doc gave me some little blue pills and presto I was back to boatin’, other symptons include dizziness when going from a lying down position to sitting, feeling slightly car/sea sick, mild pressure in the ear canal

Vertigo at some level is common among seniors. Not keeping good hydration will bring it on.

Celia has the right idea of what I’m referencing. I’m not trying to diagnose a personal issue. It’s been years since my personal experience on whitewater. Although who knows, a repeated rush of cold water into my ears could very well have gotten and kept me off balance for some time?
I’ve seen it enough times to figure it is a somewhat common intermittent experience.
It is debilitating for a group, and potentially devastating for solo, or even 2 paddlers.
Thinking about it, I think taking focus off of immediate surroundings, and looking to the horizon, is a tip that I got when I first started sea kayak surfing. And I know I’ve used that when I’ve noticed seas starting to have a sort of dizzying effect on me, and it works.
But I can definitely imagine times where it would mean everything to be able to help restore someone’s self-sufficiency, and I’m wondering what has worked.

My worst incident with vertigo was apparently brought on by dehydration. 3am in small town Ga. It was severe enough my wife called EMS. It was one of those out of body experiences where I remember the EMT saying " He’s got better vital signs than I do." It took me days to get back to somewhat normal and it starts to recur easily but I know how to deal with it.

Check out: Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo ( BPPV )

I had this happen once. No idea if it was kayak related but it was scary until I knew what it was and how simple it was to self treat.

Check your health and learn to brace. Use pressure of your paddle on the water to stay upright.

It is not a skills issue. Bracing requires an awareness of when you are “up” again. Capefear is talking about someone being too disoriented to know that. It would be easy for that person to get balanced and keep going right by that point because they were unable to sense that they had gotten to a balanced state.


CapeFear knows how to brace. He’s an ACA L4 Open Water Coastal Kayaking instructor.

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“Sight the horizon” was a term I learned following Greg Stamer’s forward stroke advice as well as a video analysis he did on WaterTribers’ forward strokes.

It’s not something I now consciously think about when paddling, but sure needed to remember during two incidents.

  1. My first lesson on a SUP where when I stood up, I could not control my balance and was shaking and wobbling out of control. My coach yelled that I should look up and forward (sight the horizon). Once I did, I was fine.

  2. During my first GLSKS experience, we were paddling in Lake Superior swells and waves that were the largest I had ever seen. I was intimidated by the lake, uncomfortable, stiff and a bit off balance. Didn’t relax until I remembered to sight the horizon, then all was pretty much well.

I think there is some association between head and eye position and balance. I could never walk across the room with a brimming cup of coffee without spilling it until I stopped looking at the cup and looked ahead.

Ppine. I know that. Of course.
I read his post as asking how to deal with this being an issue for someone he is with. His earlier experience In WW was history. It is not the problem he had to deal with when the paddle boarder list their orientation.

In fact so far l read a lot of these replies as not being exactly on point.

As I noted, sighting the horizon was helpful when I was in that situation.

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I think that is excellent advice that would work for many, based on the purely selfish part that it helped my husband and if trees are the horizon me.
There is just other stuff that got in here, more useful for after everyone has gotten onto land.

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Assuming the absence of a health condition affecting balance, I have this to say: it is critical to our human inner-ear balance system that we gaze at the unmoving horizon rather than at things that are close, especially things that are close and in motion.

Learned this for boating, and again for dirtbiking. The WORST thing you could do was to stare at that huge rock in the trail ahead, instead you need to look ahead down the trail to where you want to go!

Until the sense of balance is recovered, it would probably be best to stop boating for awhile.

If you are having a vertigo “attack” the world is jumping around, lights are all hostile and there’s no looking anywhere. You have to reboot.

It sounds like “sight the horizon” is the best solution. I can see how focus gets drawn in at times. If you’re feeling uneasy about the conditions, and maybe a strong whitecap or two give your kayak a push and cause an uneasy brace you weren’t expecting, you might find yourself focusing on the waves as they meet your kayak. Trying to go distances in short period steep seas like that will probably do a number on a lot of different people.
Celia, that’s reassuring that you and your husband were able to wait it out and were able to get him back on track. I think when someone gets nervous and stiffens up, and on top of that gets under the dizzying spell of constant wave motion, suggesting they change focus is one thing. Their ability to just do it may be another. If a person could sit for a while under the security of being rafted up, and use that time to redirect their focus, and get a feel for the waves while sighting the horizon, they could potentially regain their ability to continue.
I know this isn’t everyday occurrence type stuff. But it seems like it’s something that does happen, and happens under more challenging circumstances. I’ve been there, and given a lot of thought on how to take care of a disabled paddler. But I’ve never given that much thought on how I could assist in re-setting the paddler during an incident, which would be the ideal solution. And I do a fair share of solo paddling at sea. So understanding how to re-set my own senses should be important.
I think Rookie’s Lake Superior story, and Karen2’s "It is critical to our human inner-ear balance system that we gaze at the unmoving horizon rather than at things that are close, especially things that are close and in motion " speak to this well. It can happen to people with no medical issue. And I’ve seen and heard it can lead to quite difficult situations. I guess sometimes even the simplest solutions can prove elusive when things start to feel out of control.

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