Whitewater yaking advice

-- Last Updated: Aug-19-16 10:54 AM EST --

I've been paddling in canoes since I was a kid and I finally decided to start whitewater kayaking this summer, I've ran into an issue I can't figure out.

Whenever I really started to paddle hard, the kayak at seemingly random times would get into a spin of sorts. It would start to turn one way or another and wouldn't stop until I ruddered hard on the opposite side. I would try to do a hard correction stroke on the side that started turning and it would actually stop it while the paddle was moving water, but as soon as the stroke was finished it would resume the turn. Even 4 or 5 hard correction strokes wouldn't stop it. If I didn't rudder, it would spin me backwards before stopping. Anyone ever experienced this?

It's not a problem on flat sections or going downstream, but if I'm trying to do anything in whitewater it's almost possible to keep a line and the constant rudder corrections destroys any forward speed.

I've now been in two sit in kayaks which both had the same issue.

what type of canoes?
Have you paddled whitewater canoes and, if so, what vintage?

The reason I ask is that whitewater boats are made to spin, not go straight. As both whitewater kayaks and canoes have gotten shorter and flatter on the hull bottoms, that tendency has only been exaggerated.

In pretty much any modern whitewater canoe or kayak, if you paddle in a straight line and suddenly take your paddle out of the water, the boat will typically spin 180 degrees without you doing anything to make it turn. It can really be challenging to get the boat to continue to go straight once you stop paddling.

A whitewater boat is somewhat like a car on ice. Once the stern starts to skid out, it will continue to do so unless you immediately do something to counter it. If you wait to long, you won’t be able to correct without coming to a complete stop. It is often easier and more efficient, in fact, to just let the boat come around nearly 360 degrees and then straighten it than it is to try to force it back on line from a skid.

I have been involved in teaching beginners in whitewater kayaking and a majority have exactly the same problem you are having. The key is to develop a sense as to when the stern is starting to slide out and then immediately counter it. Countering the skid can sometimes be done by heeling the hull a bit, applying a longer or more powerful stroke on the side opposite the stern skid, or apply a bit of sweep to your stroke on that side. You can also “soft stroke” on the side the stern is skidding towards.

This sense becomes intuitive and subconscious over time but might not come immediately. Start out by using relatively easy,soft strokes that have less turning effect on the boat. A lot of people when they see the boat starting to turn will start paddling harder using stronger strokes on both sides which is counterproductive.

getting the boat to go where you want

– Last Updated: Aug-19-16 9:53 PM EST –

it to go can be challenging. Current can exacerbate the spinning. You're allowed to take more than one stroke on a side, so do so when you need to and I find slowing things down, paddling "softer" with "shorter" strokes can help you maintain where you want to go initially.

Note, spinning isn't all bad, it's a really popular way to turn ww rafts which are kind of hard to turn. So when you spin out unintentionally then focus on applying power to regain control of kayak in the direction you want to go. Spinning is something I actually practice as a way to set up a new angle in the current even in my kayak.

You've got to put in some seat time to get all this. Most folks start out over-stroking using their arms too much, sweeping out slightly away from the boat, taking the stroke well past the hip and they are paddling harder than they need to. Often the strokes are less vertical than what they should be and perhaps their weight isn't really centered in the boat to begin with. They end up expending a lot of energy muscling their way downstream correcting constantly.

So take smaller strokes and focus on each "little" one, keeping the strokes more parallel and vertical to an imaginary line that runs the length of the center of the boat. As you gain control then use more powerful strokes. There is a tendency to want to look at your paddle blade while your trying all of this but ideally you want to look out at where you want to go! So see it's tricky doing all this and looking ahead with your head up.

ww kayaking is different than canoeing in that the strokes are much "shorter" and "choppy". This is particularly true if your used to ruddering or goon stroking from the stern to keep the canoe straight. It's really a different skill/stroke in a ww kayak.

ww kayaking can be frustrating at first. Part of the fun is taking on and then meeting the challenge, setting your own goals, and realizing not all of it is going to come easy.

In other words, there is still a lot of stuff I suck at! It's that kind of sport, a lifetime of challenges, but more seat time is the key to overcoming what you're experiencing now. Less brawn and more beauty (technique) will get you where you want to go. You will eventually learn to adjust the "tilt" or "lean" of the boat to keep straight but that also comes with time and practice and starting out "small" and engaging the hips and legs.

How close is the volume match?
Of you to the designed paddler size for the kayak? If you are near the boat’s limit, it makes it much more responsive to small weight shifts. AKA squirrely until you get good at keeping your weight well centered.

Likely the canoe gave you more wiggle room on this, literally. Also no sharp edges to get caught.