What is the trick to a balance brace?

Is there some trick to doing a balance brace? I watch these youtube videos and everyone makes it look so easy. I am using a regular spoon blade paddle, but I’ve seen people doing balance braces with all types of paddles…in fact, half the time it doesn’t even look like they need the paddle for the brace. What is the trick? I used to think you had to really work at keeping the hips stretched out so you don’t let the kayak move beyond the 90 degree mark…but again, youtube videos make it appear as though that isn’t even necessarily important either. Every time I’ve tried to do a balance brace though it results in me being upside down in the water. Now that I have my own kayak (an Impex Force 4), I’m determined to get this by the end of the summer…

As a Greenland trick or as a skill?
Your boat has a low deck and is fairly narrow so you should have an easy time of it.

Not sure how you are approaching this, but if you want to do useful braces, check out Erick Jackson’s rolling and bracing video - and you can quickly learn how to stay on your back indefinitely if that is what you want to do.

I’m shaped like a popsicle
everything up top, stick legs below

when I try a static brace I sink like a rock

Things to try
First, pay mind to what bowrudder wrote. If you are top heavy, it’ll be harder for you to do.

Things that work for me when I have to re-establish a static brace:

Scull into it

Be aware that some boats may have to be pushed beyond the 90 degree point to stay up and balance you because of the angle of the side of boat (my Vela is one)

A couple of body things - stick the top of the head back into the water as part of the arch, take the hand that was on the upper or drier side as you went down and stick it if possible underneath the boat towards the stern so you are rotated as close to 90 degrees as possible. Actually I’ve gotten into this position before going over at times, to pull me around into a more rotated position.

just as a skill/trick something to do
I would just like to learn how to do this as another fun skill to do. I really enjoy playing around with rolls and re-entries and the balance brace is something that just looks relaxing. I guess it is probably something that would be easier to be shown how to do than to be told…but any tips or advice that might help would certainly be appreciated…


– Last Updated: May-22-10 11:41 PM EST –

First, a question -- can you already scull on your side? If not, I'd suggest learning that first. It's easier (in my opinion), and will help you develop a good feel for your body position when you're on your side. Basically, the less work you're doing while sculling, the more support you're getting from just your body.

Of course, we can't really diagnose what you are and aren't doing without seeing you try it. But here are a couple of things that helped me:

1. practice in very shallow water, so that you can prop yourself up with your paddle if you lose it. Having to roll up every time you lose the brace can get tiring. Even better -- get someone to stand in the water and support you while you practice.

2. Don't "abandon ship" and go to your roll or pop back up when the back of your head starts to submerge. I find that my balance point puts my head into the water up to about my eyes usually.

3. the boat does make a difference. I find it significantly easier to balance brace low volume boats.

4. I think a Greenland paddle can help a little, but it's very do-able with a Euro blade. One thing that helped me was to grab the paddle with my palm under the shaft, which helped reinforce stretching out with the paddle, rather than pulling down on it. You're right that when you really nail it, you won't need very much support at all from the paddle.

Try it without the paddle first

– Last Updated: May-22-10 11:59 PM EST –

...in shallow water. Seriously. You don't need the paddle at all. It's like practicing x-c skiing (on a flat area) without poling--this eliminates one thing to worry about so you can focus on basic body movement and position instead. Then when you've got it without the paddle, holding the paddle is a no-brainer (as Nate say, don't "grip" the paddle so much as let it float). Makes no difference what kind of paddle it is.

Think of viewing the world upside down from the top of your head while it's in the water, to promote keeping the back arched. (Like standing up and bending over backward so you see things upside-down.) Also keep shoulders flat on the water, which helps floatation.

You don't even need a PFD to hold the static brace afloat. I don't use it at all for these kinds of exercises, or for roll practice.

Though the static brace might feel shaky at first, eventually it becomes so comfortable that you can stay in that position for a long time, super-relaxed. I don't know about *napping* like that...but it's another pleasant way to cool off on a hot day.

The boats I've used for this are a Tempest 165 and an Explorer LV, and I'm just under 5'3", so it's not necessary to have a really low-volume kayak. You DO need body flexibility, though. Some stretching and yoga might help you.

A few things
Shoulders flat on the water. Let your hips rotate in the seat to help.

Arch your back, lift your chin so eyebrows are in the water.

Engage your lower leg, disengage the upper leg or actively use it to rotate the boat away from your body. Keep the boat on the upright side of 90 degrees to the water.

Put your hand offside hand under the deck or at the top of the deck, whichever works for you. I know people who do either.

Don’t grip the paddle too hard. Let it float to the surface.

Have fun.

2 paddlefloats can be usefull.

Can you Butterfly roll?
Butterfly is a good transitional skill, if you don’t already have that. Also, if I’m trying to balance brace, and I sink, I can just pop myself back up and flick my boat back over into a good starting position by doing a sort of first-half-butterfly roll.

I know we’re not supposed to blame the boat, but I can’t do it in my pintail. I can do it in a hard chined low volume rolling boat, and in a Tempest 165. I suspect the round sides of the pintail don’t give it a good balance point on edge? Not sure.

Of course all the advice above is good, and I’d add one thing. Practicing it with someone standing behind/beside you is really helpful, because in order to be successful you need to just relax and kind of let yourself sink into the water as though it were a very soft mattress. It’s hard to relax when you’re worried about flipping over, so having someone who can give you a little gentle support and tell you where your tense can help.

Good luck!

If you can get someone to help position you and talk you into the brace it’s a big help. They can hold you up and slowly release you once you’re floating on your own.

Get both shoulders in the water, chest aimed at the sky.

Keep the kayak from falling on top of you (the 90 degree position).

Take deep slow breaths, be sure your lungs get nice and full of air. This will help you float because you’ll be relaxed and limber, or because your lungs are full. I swear it’s a bit of both.

Helen Wilson Video
"Simplifying the Roll with Helen Wilson" is a spanking new video that primarily focuses on the balance brace and then leads in to a standard Greenland roll. It trouble shoots problem areas (sinking paddle, head coming up too fast, shoulder position, etc.) and then gets into norsaq, hand rolls, and forward finishing rolls.

The main point is that 1/2 of the video discusses techniques and practice tips for the balance brace; the foundation for all layback rolls. Helen does a nice job with summery tips and describes techniques that are suitable for any type of kayak or paddle.

Remember to have fun :slight_smile:

top heavy
I really think I am top heavy. I went out today and played around near the shore with this. I find it very difficult to understand how anyone can manage this brace. I have a hard enough time preventing the kayaking from rolling over on top of me, let alone keeping my upper body in a back float position…what the heck is my problem??

easier with a wider boat?
Is the balance brace actually easier with a wider boat? I’m watching the Dubside video and it almost looks like he is turning his hips in the boat. My kayak is pretty narrow (20.75") and I dont have the play room inside the boat to allow me to turn in the seat like that…

not for me
For me the balance brace is easier in a narrow boat. In a wide boat your but is much higher, so I think you pull the boat over on top of you.

You do need to turn at the hips some, but you don’t need a wider boat for that. Push your top leg out straight, and relax your bottom leg. That will turn your butt in the seat some.

Good trunk flexibility is important too, and is probably what makes it look like Dubside is sitting sideways in his boat, when in fact his torso is rotated dramatically, and his hips only slightly.

The cockpit fit
Can make a difference. If the seat position holds you from rotating towards the in water side, and or holds you to far off the gunwale on that side, it can hinder you. Your own flexibility can sometimes combine with features of the kayak to either help or hinder. You also have to be able to relax the top leg. If your knee hooks are keeping that leg up on the footbraces, let the top leg come out of the hooks and down onto your bottom leg. You want to sink as much of your weight down onto the gunwale as possible, letting the kayak float your legs and your torso floats, balanced across the kayak. I’m not familiar with the Force fit, only paddled one once. A Greenland kayak does not restrict you with backbands or pads. It holds your thghs, but your butt is free to slide and rotate. A modern skirt can also work against you if it resricts or pulls against you. All these things can usually be overcome, but they can all be factors.

top heavy?
Once you, and your pfd, are in the water you won’t be top heavy. How flexible are you? I can recommend some yoga stretches. Also where are you located? Someone here might be in your back yard.

Ithaca, N.Y. is where I usually paddle.

I’d certainly take some yoga stretch suggestions that might help with this specific task. I know it is early in the season still, but I am determined to get this by the end of the summer now that I have my own boat and no excuses…

2 poses

– Last Updated: May-25-10 10:00 PM EST –

Taking a class is much better, but trying these at home should help.
Just ease into them, don't try to do the typical guy thing of thinking that exercising/stretching for hours every day is going to make up for not stretching for years. It takes time, so please go easy.
edit: I should have said 3 poses!

You need to be able to twist at waist

– Last Updated: May-25-10 11:21 PM EST –

A whole lot. With a kayak that narrow and your weight, you'll have to achieve virtually a 90 angle between your torso and your legs in the boat. Can you reach around and get your upper so to speak hand under the edge of the boat behind you? It's not clear from your posts how much you've been able to get around.

If you do get that far around and get your head back, it's likely you'll have the arch you need.

Also, as I mentioned above you well may need to get that boat more than 90 degrees to the water, maybe 20 degree further. Between your torso weight and the volume and hull shape of that boat, 90 degrees may not do it.