With all the rain we’ve been experiencing in Ecuador this season we’ve had plenty of big water opportunities . Big water can mean big features in the form of waves and holes that form and change shape and size, and that come from all directions. Those features can knock you flat if you shy away or have an improperly placed stroke. They can also provide incredible support and help you along your way if you know what to do. That’s where a hybrid-high brace/sweep stroke comes into play.
Most people think of bracing as a recovery stroke, something done to right yourself after tipping. That’s only part of the story. It can also be a great preventative stroke, done in anticipation of tipping, then transitioned into a propulsion stroke that keeps you moving.
Warning: Done incorrectly poor high brace technique can lead to shoulder injury. Here’s an article that describes the high brace as a recovery stroke. Many of the body/ paddle positions are the same in a hybrid situation so it’s good to look this information over.
There are many different scenarios where this stroke comes into play. For the purpose of this article we’re going to address a situation where you are traveling straight downstream and are about to encounter a lateral on the left. Let’s assume you also want to travel in the direction the lateral is angled.
The goal is to anticipate, stablize, then move on in a balanced fashion.
- Downstream vision. No time to be looking at your bow. The sooner you can see something the sooner you can plan.
- Peripheral vision. Mine is active and very tuned into movements to either side of me as well as downstream.
- On impact keep your eyes clear. You might get hit with a blast of water that will blind you for an instant. You can either close your eyes or turn your head away from the wave. The sooner you can be on your way, which includes seeing where you want to go, the better.
- Stroke on the same side as the feature. Stroking opposite the feature will only make it easier for it to knock you down. If you were getting ready to stroke on the opposite side and the situation says “no” , then multiple strokes on the same side are fine. Plant them forward of your hip and don’t let them drift behind you. As long as you have support and purchase and the stroke is slightly forward of your body, there is no need to replant.
- Plant the blade lower than you think- doesn’t have to be on top. Planting on top is a misconception on many people’s parts. The water in the face of a wave is on it’s way up so it provides plenty of support. This lower paddle position keeps you balanced and your shoulders safer. You should be able to see over the top of your horizontal shaft.
- Always keep some kind of bend in your elbows. These are your shock absorbers for your shoulders.
- Keep each hand on it’s respective side of the body, it helps keep you balanced. Over reaching to one side might give you more leverage but only strains your shoulder and leads to being off balance once the feature dissappears.
- The blade angle is a hybrid position. Not quite flat like a true high brace and not on edge (vertical) like a sweep stroke. Instead the knuckles are rolled slightly forward to give you the best of both worlds. Avoid rolling knuckles back so you have an open power face (facing forward)- this is bad on the shoulders and pulls your posture back.
The boat and body
- Edge your boat into the feature. The stroke is only part of it, if you edge away, you’re over.
- If needed, add a little shoulder. If the feature is powerful enough, stroking into it alone isn’t going to do it. Increase the tilt of your boat and lean your shoulders into it as well. Be prepared to flatten as you come out.
- A slight forward cant to your body is good as well. The wave might try to knock you back so being forward to start will help prevent this.
This hybrid stroke is not just limited to big water, it’s useful in a variety of conditions. Once you master this technique you’ll find yourself going out of your way to take the hit- it’s that much fun!
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