I started kayaking in the 2000s era, when freestyle was all any young kayaker wanted to do. Although freestyle isn’t my focus any more, I am so glad it was part of my progression to where I am now. Why was it important? Well, it forced me to get stuck in!
Get stuck into what you ask? Waves, holes, pourovers, ripples, any feature that pushes your comfort zone and forces you to learn, fast! Surfing and riding in features can be a steep learning curve, but it’s an important, and here’s why you should get stuck in rather than stuck in the eddy watching!
Edge control is important for us to break in and out of the flow with control, change direction when surfing, track our boat on rapids, and perform tricks like the tail squirt! You need to be able to hold an edge without uncontrollably wobbling or dropping the edge back down.
Getting stuck in waves and holes is great practice for good edge control, if you don’t edge, you soon know about it! You’ll be adjusting your edge all the time while you surf. Dropping an edge on the upstream side will often lead to a capsize which leads us onto our next point …
Gain the ‘bombproof’ roll
It’s best to accept that you’ll flip at some point. Don’t panic though, this is all part of stepping up and an important part of getting better. If you can’t roll yet, this is a great time to go an master it and then come back to play! If you can roll, getting stuck in is going to make your roll stronger than ever. I put my strong roll down to my years of freestyle kayaking.
Flipping in waves and holes is fantastic practice, and it forces you out of the standard roll set up, you have to deal with the position and set up you’re thrown into. Before long, you won’t even think about it, you’ll just be popping up with a grin on your face, ready for the next ride.
As you repeat an activity or action, muscles build (maybe some you never knew you had) and they get used to the movements, then your body starts to perform these movements with confidence and subconsciously.
Kayaking is a constant balancing act, so muscle memory builds quickly as your body makes constant micro adjustments, this is especially true when you get into surfing features. By repetition, the more you kayak, the more you surf things, the better you become and the easier it gets. I mentioned earlier that soon you’ll be rolling without thinking, that’s muscle memory for you!
Your mental game is an important part of your progression. Surfing features, sometimes ones that scare us, will help build a strong and level head. Whether you get thrown about and spat out, or you roll up for a second time to find you’re still in the fight, this is a great experience that will serve you well.
Sooner or later you’re going to end up surfing something you didn’t plan to (if that hasn’t happened yet, it will). Then the time you spent building confidence in challenging features and gaining experience to deal with regaining control will pay off. No one likes to swim, and sometimes a swim can put us in a sticky situation so taking the approach of ‘practice as we play’ will serve you well when you get stuck in for real!
Getting stuck in takes courage and pushes our comfort zone, which isn’t always easy to do. I remember as a child staring at the foaming whitewater, not able to muster the confidence to get stuck in. But by starting small, and building your way up, you’ll getting stuck in to everything and your confidence and skills will appreciate it.