Low/high brace question

-- Last Updated: Oct-06-15 8:52 AM EST --

When I took the ACA L1, the basic strokes were introduced: forward, reverse, sweep, and draw. Practicing these strokes presumably starts you on the road to muscle memory because when you do them, you get instant feedback: you're either moving forward, backward, sideways or turning. Refinement comes later.

The low brace was also demonstrated in L1 but there was no practice session. Bracing wasn't mentioned in my L2 class. I purchased Horodowich's bracing clinic video and tried a high brace the other day. Seems simple enough.

Twice this summer I went far off balance. Once on Lake Huron in the Epic V7 and once in my own boat when I was nearly blown over by a huge wind gust. In both cases I used a hip snap to get back over my boat before my brain could even process a low brace.

While I regularly practice low braces, how do you get bracing to become an automatic reaction?

From a student's perspective, I wish the low brace had been taught as Horodowich shows in his DVD, and as mentioned in Schumann/Shriner's "Sea Kayak Rescue," where you have someone standing at the stern of your boat, trying to flip you sideways. Instant feedback.

If you can find it. Or whitewater, class 2 will be enough, if it is closer.

Yes I’ll agree with the surfing. Actually worked for rolling too (once you know how of course). When you don’t have time to think, sometimes your body does it for you.

My instructor’s didn’t teach a high brace. Said the risk of injury as well as capsizing was not necessary, so I know a low brace but they never went over high. I don’t doubt it has a place but for what I do I guess it hasn’t come up.

Several ways
One is to paddle often in rough water or strong current. But that can be putting the cart before the horse, or more like a test rather than a drill.

There is a step you can take before that, whether or not you go out in rough or moving water. You sit in the kayak next to shore in shallow, calm water. Practice edging as far over as you dare, while keeping the body and paddle ready in the brace position. Not only do you learn the point at which your kayak feels very unstable, but you quicken your bracing response. Practice on both sides, as with everything,

When that becomes unintimidating, test yourself by putting the paddle on the water next to the boat, only loosely holding it in the middle of the shaft. Then repeat the deep edging exercise, using only hip snap to pop the boat back to the flat position. You will find that you can do it without relying on a paddle blade. The paddle lying next to you is more of a reassurance than anything else, similar to walking in good balance along a vertical cliff edge, using the barest finger contact on a cable fence.

Another way is to have a partner throw you off balance by shoving the kayak when you do not expect it, I have not used this way, but supposedly other people sometimes do.

From my experience…
it comes naturally after a lot of years of paddling.

I guess if you went out in a lot of rough conditions you would learn it all pretty quick.

kind of like “sink or swim” !

Jack L

that was good stuff

– Last Updated: Oct-06-15 9:21 AM EST –

I was going to agree with the aforementioned "surf" in a safe area, but those are good tips.

That last one is fun but it has to be in the right company.

Rolling will help

– Last Updated: Oct-06-15 10:22 AM EST –

Before you start to practice either low or high braces, make sure you have proper technique. There is a very real risk of shoulder injury with poorly performed braces, especially the high brace.

Of the two braces, for kayak the high brace is usually the stronger. When practicing the high brace make sure you keep your hands low and in front of your body plane. The elbow of the arm holding your non-bracing blade should be kept in close to your body and your forearms should be nearly vertical. As your kayak tips more and more, the elbow of the arm holding your bracing blade will necessarily travel further out from your body to keep the blade at or near the surface, but try to keep it as close to your body as possible, and as you complete the brace, pull it in to your side as soon as you can.

In years past, it was not uncommon to see photos of paddlers "chicken winging" a high brace with both arms raised high overhead, and often with the bracing hand dangerously behind the body plane. Do not emulate this.

An important component of either a high or low brace that is sometimes not sufficiently discussed is the so-called "head dink". As you execute the brace, drop your head toward the water and keep it low until you are fully upright. Dropping the head to the water is counter-intuitive. Dinking the head does not in and off itself help right the kayak, but what it does is engage the muscles of the torso, leg, and knee on the side the kayak is tipping towards. That so-called "hip snap" brings the boat up and is more important than the very temporary support the paddle blade provides.

Here are some dry land and flat water tips for bracing drills from noted whitewater kayak instructors Phil and Mary DeRiemer:


I think this video is a pretty decent demonstration of low and high brace techniques incorporating head dinks:


Many or most kayak rolls are at least in part an exaggerated high brace, particularly the C-to-C roll. The conclusion of the C-to-C roll is basically a high brace and head dink. If you can develop good roll mechanics it will help you with your braces.


– Last Updated: Oct-06-15 4:19 PM EST –

I liked Eric Jackson's teaching: a brace is the last half of a roll. You want a good brace? Get a good roll. Onside and off.

WW or surf
Kayak surfing in a dedicated surf boat hammered home bracing for me, as did paddling any type of kayak in moving water.

Taking an intro to ww class would also help.

Or find a friend and take turns with bracing drills somewhere local and where you’re comfortable getting wet.

Signing up for a winter pool session would also be productive, especially if you could find someone to get your roll going.

2x on edging to the limit
I developed an instinctual brace by taking my canoe out in shallow water and trying to get water over the gunwale and hold it there (extreme edging). Or, same principle but to a lesser degree, just edge your boat a lot and learn what it feels like when you pass the final point of stability. Try to save it with a brace when you do. You’ll probably flip it over many times, but after a while you gain the muscle memory and then it just becomes natural. I’ve gotten it fast enough that i can save an OC1 from flipping on the non-ama side about half the time, which happens extremely fast once it starts to happen.

Another way to practice is to do a sculling brace and edge progressively more and more until the only thing keeping you upright is your brace. This will get you wet semi-regularly too.

Another thing I do in my solo canoe is paddle in as sharp as an S as possible, edging the boat to the limit to get it to turn back and forth.

Repetition is key to muscle memory, so however you do it, just put yourself in situations where you have to brace or you’re swimming (safely of course). You’ll swim a little less frequently every practice session.

Edging with in-water recovery
Rookie, this should work with your Samba. Not as applicable to rec. kayaks without thigh braces.

If you can’t find surf to play with, heel the kayak to as high as you dare with a forward sweep stroke but on the recovery turn it into a low brace skim (as lightly across the surface as you can) for support back to the beginning of your forward sweep stroke.

On the reverse sweep drop your waterside elbow and recover the paddle back to the beginning of the reverse sweep with the power face down in a high brace skim for support using just the tip of the paddle knifing through the water.

Why? The bit of support that the arcing low/high bracing will allow you to heel the kayak more confidently higher on edge. Until you get cocky, then all of the sudden that active skimming brace is going to develop a lot more downward pressure as it becomes an recovery stroke rather than a balancing assist. Quickly you will realize that the paddle pressure provides support and help to internalize that paddle position into your repertoire. Additionally you’ll become more comfortable with your kayak up on edge as you might find it in mixed up conditions.

See you on the water,


The River Connection, Inc.

Hyde Park, NY



As You Gain Experience
You’ll eventually be doing the opposite: trying to break the bracing habit. Bracing is a wasted stroke and is no substitute for an effective power stroke. Begin now by not forming bad habits. If you paddle in flat water, why is there a need to brace? In the ocean, where I paddle, bracing will only set you up to get smashed and miss rides.

Thank you
so much for all the good advice. I should have asked this question in the summer.

As to whitewater, there’s a class II-III WW park 30 minutes away. Lots of drops and big boulders. WW requires equipment I don’t have. A club sort of exists and is affiliated with the ACA so they can get insurance for their annual spring rendezvous, but it doesn’t respond to email inquiries.

Practicing in Lake Michigan surf/breakers is a better option when conditions permit, althought water temp where I normally launch is now 58F and continues to drop. Have surfskin pants, neo jacket, gloves, boots, but no drysuit. On the other hand, the thought of getting flipped, wet and cold could be a great impetus. I think I have a couple weekends left before I’ll have to stay off Lake Michigan, so will hope for decent conditions.

The exercises pikabike mentioned are great. The Schumann book has ten pages on bracing basics and drills, which I’ve been practicing. Obviously not enough since I’ve gotten balanced using my hips and a weight change, before my hands even get in brace position.

pblanc, the DeRiemer exercise is hard to do on the floor - unless you have your feet braced against something, like you would in the boat. Am going to have to try that on the water. The video was helpful - and the head dink is pictured in the Schumann book. I rarely remembered to do it. That will change.

Marshall, the water here isn’t as cold as the big lake and sunset is now 7 pm, so I’ll start to work on your suggestions tomorrow evening and beyond.

Clyde, I agree with the USK philosophy that “it’s better to stay upright than get upright.” I think it’s probably quicker to brace to stay upright than go over and have to do a re-entry. Stuff happens, even on flat water. Rotation, rotation, rotation, spear the fish, wind up and pause drill, the 1001 count, etc. I try to avoid bad habits with lots of forward stroke drills.

There’s a vacuum up here when it comes to finding qualified instruction, at least in my region. The closest ACA instruction is over two hours away. I can’t adequately express how much I appreciate the help I get here.

"go over and have to do a re-entry"
Get yourself a Greenland paddle and get a reliable roll. Don’t mess with that re-entry stuff. You’ll get a killer brace after you get a reliable roll.

Easy White Water
Easy white water is the best environment, IMO, to learn balance and bracing. Get someone who knows the river with you and get your water reading skills and gear in order - even slow moving water environments can be dangerous. Surf too is good, but there are no currents there, just waves, and they are a lot more predictable than river currents and waves. In both situations, as mentioned, try to develop at least a basic roll first - will have much easier time and be much more willing to go to the “limit” of your balance. With a sit on top you don’t need the roll, of course.

what’s wrong with re-entry?
IT’s another tool in the bag.

Also, I have a reliable roll, and I’ve never used a GP.

WW park might be your best resource
A used ww boat is pretty cheap, could probably get something decent for around $300, and many people will throw in a paddle and skirt for that price.

Re-entry is Good

– Last Updated: Oct-07-15 10:08 AM EST –

A reliable roll is so much better. Re-entry takes a lot more time and energy.

I'm convinced that a lot of folks have a weak roll or gave up trying to learn the roll at least partly because the euro blade is not really designed for the job. The euro is great for going forward. The Greenland is great for rolling.

I agree
that I learned my instinctive braces in surf.

The high brace can expose the shoulder to injury, no question, but there are times when only a high brace will do. When broached in breaking (particularly dumping) surf, or when paddling among boomers (inter-tidal rocks that become exposed when larger than average swells pass over them), a solid high brace can be a godsend.

The key to the high brace is that you should keep your hands low. The tendency is for the arms to rise so that the elbows reach or exceed shoulder height. This is where injuries occur.

The key is that a high brace can be executed with the elbows down near the hips. This is a very safe and strong position and does not expose the shoulders to the risk of dislocation.

That said, I don’t use high braces very often, but when I need it, I have it and don’t worry overly about injury since my elbows are low and my hands are close to my body and don’t go over my elbows.


I Like Your Attitude
Over the years, bet your opinion changes as your skills develop. However, although I listen and watch all the experts, my best teachers have been our youth…as you’ll later discover.