low vs high brace, NOT in surf

Assume you are trying out a fairly new and tippy boat, say a Nordkapp, off shore in moderate winds (15 to 20), chop and current. Would you be doing more high or low braces to keep upright as you change direction and maneuver with respect to the conditions?

depends on what you are doing
Depends on what you are doing.

If forward stroke, I suspect a high brace would be more common, as it seems like it would be easier to get into that position.

If forward sweep, probably high. if reverse sweep, probably low brace.

A few "Oh s—'s always help me!
Jack L

HI and low braces

– Last Updated: May-07-14 7:46 AM EST –

You learn these braces as a vocabulary of possible tools that can be used and you adapt a paddling style that fits you. I tend to agree with Peter with the high brace. The paddle stroke itself is a brace and I can really lean on mine if I need to just by making it into a flatter angle. I can turn my boat with it, brace with it and propel the boat with it too. I personally find the low brace more acedemic than useful for my personal paddling style. Usually if the water is big enough for me to really need a brace, it's as high as my torso and the high brace is perfect. I use the low brace if I drop my hat in the water and need to pick it up like a pulling a pizza out of an oven.

The Nordkapp
First of all, I wouldn’t consider the Nordkapp to be a tippy boat.

Bracing if required should be an instinctive reaction and if required, you probably won’t have more than a split second to think about it.

In a kayak the high brace, combined with a head dink, is probably going to be used more often than the low brace. As long as the high brace is kept low with the elbows close in to the sides, the shoulders won’t be at risk. In a canoe, the low brace is used much more frequently, at least for on-side braces.

The exception for using the high brace primarily in a kayak would be when the non-power face of the blade is already loaded when one starts to go over, as it would be during a reverse sweep or stern pry. In that case I think it is much easier to turn the loaded back face down towards the water.

I disagree
in that sea kayaking only requires high braces occasionally. Generally when, as someone pointed out, at the top of waves or when the boat broaches in surf. All other times, I use a low brace, since there is still plenty of time to set up and it is really easy to switch from low to high (on the same side, generally) when such a thing is warranted.

In white water, high braces are much more commonly used, although whenever possible, I use low braces and save the high brace for those times when nothing else will do.


I also use a low brace often
Especially if I need to brace on the side my paddle is in the water already. I find it easy to swing the low brace forward while on the water for a forward stroke without ever having to lift the blade from the water.

It depends on which side I would need to brace and the position of the paddle at the time. Like someone said it should become automatic.

Playing in the surf makes for a quick learning curve on bracing.

Question is somewhat ambiguous
It’s not entirely clear to me what you mean with respect to “keep upright as you change direction and maneuver with respect to the conditions?” Are you referring to something more akin to using a brace as part of a maneuvering stroke (or setting up to be ready to use one if necessary), or more of an “oh sht" brace, where you’re on the way to a capsize absent some intervention?

With respect to the former, I generally prefer a low brace, which works well in conjunction with a sweep stroke, either as a protective “back sweep” that puts the paddler in a good position to low brace if necessary, or a more explicit low brace turn. Of course, one can utilize a high brace to initiate a more extreme turn, but those have always struck me as less efficient for general touring (as opposed to pivot turns in surf or eddying in/out)

If you find yourself in a position where you’re relying on a lot of "oh sh
t” braces (outside of surf or similar circumstances), then that’s a more fundamental concern than the type of brace you’re using. In my experience, that’s a pretty good indication of someone who simply isn’t comfortable paddling in those conditions. One of the wisest bits of boating advice ever given to me was that in most circumstances, the best aid to stability is a good, confident forward stroke.

what my body tells me to do

– Last Updated: May-07-14 4:22 PM EST –

If you know both and use them often enough it becomes a reflexive reaction. So I don't bother with what-if scenarios. The only reason I can think of for this question is to settle an argument that is taking place off the water.

Repeat of prior
I am repeating prior - just sat down and I have the sense that something I did not mean to be personally directed was taken as same. So I took out the other bit of response and am repeating it here. To the question -

If you are trying to simply stop from capsizing due to a surprise that hits you from somewhere, a low brace will do the job.

But if you are trying to make forward progress or turn over the top of a wave - you did specify winds up to 20 - a low brace is not going to give you much impulsion. In that case you need a high brace integrated with a forward or turning stroke.

ha ha exactly right
This question was to get other opinions on an off the water argument. My adversary insists that the low brace is all he uses in rough conditions, unless dealing with a large wave coming from the side. He even states that he has less confidence in the high brace since he rarely uses it. On the other hand, I don’t have a preference, low or high, and am not really aware of how often I use each. I was very interested in other’s take on this.

Also the question of reflexive or split second braces is related. I paddle a Seda Ikkuma, and extremely stable boat, alternating with a Q700, a pretty stable boat. I also do not sally forth into off shore winds greater than 20. So 99% of my braces are precautionary or anticipatory, almost never reflexive.

low brace 90% of the time
use the high brace once your shoulder hits the water. Until then, low brace is almost always more effective and safer.

I too had no intention to offend if that
Was the case.

Whatever is fastest–like dabbing
That pretty much means some high-brace-like movement if paddling forward, low-brace-like if reverse paddling.

I think of them as similar to “dabbing” when mountain biking technical trails. Just a quick touch to keep the right side up, then back to propelling.

I think that is a good assessment. If the power face is loaded, a high brace is usually quicker and more instinctive. If the back face is loaded, a low brace applies.

If one has the time to actually anticipate the need for a brace, either can be used.

In modern whitewater kayaking, the power face is typically loaded more frequently and high braces are used more often. In fact, I have known skilled whitewater kayakers who have seldom, if ever thrown a low brace.

agree with you guys
Like Jay said above. “The paddle stroke itself is a brace and I can really lean on mine if I need to just by making it into a flatter angle.”

A surprise brace for me is usually just flattening the blade angle, getting my hips back under me, and continuing. So there’s not really a decision involved. It’s really more often during a maneuver than just paddling, as I try to use my edges to my advantage.

I’ve never really understood debates about this, other than I understand that many believe it should be avoided. I think it stems from trainers dealing with beginners and related injuries. I think learning a good, safe high brace should be practiced and drilled into muscle memory. In other words, not avoided, but done over and over and over and over…

I hate to think what happens when I take pride in never using a high brace, and then in an unexpected turbulent situation, I reflexively come down onto a high brace with my shoulder in a compromised position. It should not be used for the first time in rough water.

Just about everyone regularly rolls in an extended arm high brace position. Rolling your shoulder back to extend the sweep, and then trying to pull yourself up with the paddle, is I think a common way for people to tweak a shoulder.

Shoulder paddling is another way to come down on your paddle with your shoulder in a compromised position. The more you keep your shoulders rolled forward, and use your torso to extend rotation in the place of that shoulder motion, the safer your shoulders are.

I can do pullups with my arms and elbows extended straight in the air, so it’s not really about that. So I just think it’s incredibly important for people venturing into rough water to have the safe high brace shoulder position engrained into muscle memory. And that takes dedicated practice vs. avoidance.

Isn’t shoulder injury always the basis for someone low-brace-centric?

Learn/Practice the Continuum…
low brace, high brace, roll… Use what you need, when you need it.


yes, but that doesn’t make sense
I agree it’s often a result of what you say. But my opinion is the low brace done properly actually exposes your shoulder more significantly than a high brace done properly.

Slush, that should not happen at all. The entire purpose of a low brace is to keep the paddle much lower to the hips than a high brace.

Shoulders get injured as a result of the elbows extending up to or above the shoulders. If you want to see the proof of this, put your hands over your head and have someone push on them - they will move easily because the shoulder is a very weak joint when the arms are high. Drop the elbows to 90 degrees and repeat. You will see the shoulder is in a much stronger position, but it is till weaker than if the elbows are well below the shoulders. Drop them further so the elbows are below the shoulder and you will find that here, you are very well protected from virtually any injury.

A low brace isn’t just a matter of which paddle face is used (if it were, there would be only the high brace and it would be used all the time since it is stronger), but also how the brace is applied. Elbows low and close to the body and keeping the hands below the chin, will keep the joints in a strong support position.

I have never seen an injury during a low brace, but in WW, I can imagine some impacts or forces that could exceed the strength of the joint. I don’t think a high brace would ever save someone from that type of injury unless if, perhaps, it was applied at the moment needed to keep the paddler from the zone where such an impact or force injury might occur.