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July, 2013
Table of Contents

Kayak Stroke Clinic
By Marty Sullivan

"WITHOUT A PADDLE: Racing Twelve Hundred Miles Around Florida By Sea Kayak" by Warren Richey

The story of Sharkchow's 2006 participation in the Ultimate Florida Challenge. Coming to a bookstore near you. June 8, 2010.

Publisher: St. Martin's Press
ISBN: 978-0-312-63076-8
320 pages, $24.99
Due in bookstores and on Amazon.com June 8, 2010.

UFC 2006 New Release

$25.95 with FREE Shipping!

Jenning has a second version of the EPIC Ultimate Florida Challenge. This is a two DVD set. The first DVD is the same as the first release. But the second DVD contains two very interesting interviews.

First, SharkChow has a long interview giving many details and insights into his impressive win of the first WaterTribe Ultimate Florida Challenge in 2006. His hint about using the tides on the St. Marys river is worth the price all by itself if you are thinking of doing the UFC yourself. Note: this is really a voice recording - no video.

Next there is a shorter video interview of ThereAndBackAgain (aka TABA). TABA isn't a complainer so he had never mentioned many of the real issues he faces in these challenges. This interview opened my eyes and prompted some minimal changes to make things just a bit more fair.

Special Note: The proceeds all go direct to Jenning. Making this DVD took untold amounts of money and time. This would make a nice preview for the UF2010 event.

Click here to visit Chesapeake Light Craft

Forward Stroke Technique

The Forward Stroke Taught at the
WaterTribe-Adventures Meetup Clinic

By Greg Stamer (KayakVagabond) and Marty Sullivan (SaltyFrog)

Our clinic will emphasize the kayak forward stroke since this is the technique that you perform 99% of the time while in your kayak. Performing a proper forward stroke can significantly increase your speed and endurance and reduce both fatigue and discomfort, especially as the miles/days accumulate on a long trip or race.

Although the movements described below may sound too complex to bother with, if you take the time to master the stroke you'll be a much happier paddler. Paddling is like swimming in that proper form makes a huge difference in efficiency. Improvements in technique are often more dramatic than even improvements in fitness (although both are important). Once learned and practiced, good technique becomes ingrained in muscle memory and becomes easier to perform. Study the movements described below and come to the clinic prepared with your questions and comments. Prior to the clinic we also recommend that you watch “The Kayak Forward Stroke” video, by Barton and Chalupsky. The Brent Reitz Forward Stroke video is another good source of information.

The Setup

A kayak stroke is a chain reaction where each phase depends on the previous one. Ensure a good stroke by a proper setup.

Rotation, rotation, rotation! Arms have small muscles, the torso has large ones. Large muscles are more powerful and don’t tire as easily. Use the large muscles to increase stroke efficiency. Good rotation starts from good posture, which should be erect as if you’re balancing a book on your head. You should have minimal contact with your backrest because leaning on your backrest stops you from rotating. A very slight forward lean is OK. With your feet firmly planted on your foot pegs, rotate your body from your shoulders all the way down to your seat so that your knee is elevated on the “catch” side, the side on which you’re going to paddle. Remain erect (don’t lunge forward), and position the paddle for the catch. Your body is turned so that it faces to the opposite side from the catch. This will position the catch paddle blade forward and ready for the next step.

The Catch

Get the blade in the water ahead of your feet, and close to the kayak. It should enter cleanly (no bubbles or splash).

This is the most critical part of the stroke and where most errors are made. Most of your power is in the first part of your stroke, so don’t short-change yourself. “Catch” the water as far forward as you can without bobbing or lunging. Your rotation should allow you to put the blade in ahead of your feet. Make a definite movement to “spear” the paddle downward in the water before starting your pull. Immerse the blade fully, to where the blade meets the shaft, no more and no less. A bit of bright tape at the end of the shaft can help you monitor this. This action is controlled by your upper arm, the hand away from the catch side. The upper arm thrusts the paddle into the water, straightening the lower arm and preparing for the power phase. The catch and the transition into the power phase appear as a single movement since it happens fast, but the catch needs to be a separate and distinct action. A common mistake is to start the power stroke before the paddle hits the water causing you to catch late and miss the first 6 inches or so of the most powerful part of the stroke. A kayak stroke is short. You can’t afford to waste any of it.

The Power Phase

Use the power of your rotation and legs to pull yourself past your planted blade.

Here’s where you will really feel a difference. You’re wound up, your paddle is fully inserted, and you’re in a position to use your whole body to propel the boat. Start the push from your bent leg on the catch side, pushing on the foot peg and straightening the leg. Transmit the power from your leg, through your hips, abdomen, and back. Your shoulders and arms simply transmit your body’s power, they don't create power. Think of it as a tug-of-war where your whole body is used to pull. You should feel a distinct difference from “arm paddling” in that the power comes from your body’s core, not the arms and shoulders.

A common mistake is to push yourself straight back into the backrest with your leg drive. Consider that some race boats use swiveling seats so that the paddler can increase his/her rotation through their hips. Imagine that you are sitting on a “turntable” and swivel on the seat, allowing your stroke-side hip to move backwards while the opposite hip moves forward, effectively rotating “in place”.

The pulling arm remains almost straight throughout the stroke because body rotation, not your biceps, is providing the power. The upper (pushing arm) is bent and moves across in front of your face, on a level plane. Do not drop your pushing arm! Bringing your pushing arm straight across and around without lowering it ensures that you will rotate your body and prepare for your stroke on the other side. Think of throwing a round-house punch with your pushing hand, keeping the hand at the same level all the way around until the paddle exits the water. The pushing hand stays about chin height for high-angle stroke and chest height for low-angle stroke. Due to torso rotation, the upper hand will cross the center line of the boat on each stroke, approaching as far as the opposite side gunwale (outside edge of the deck).

Don’t attempt to “pull” the paddle straight back. Torso rotation will cause the blade to start close to the hull and then flare away from the hull in a shallow “Vee”, where it will finish a foot or so away from your hip.

The Exit

Get the blade out quickly, as it nears your hip.

When your lower hand approaches your hip it’s time to exit the water and prepare for catch on the opposite side. Don’t extend the paddle stroke too far back because the paddle blade will be facing upward and pulling up on the water instead of pulling forward. This disrupts the boat’s equilibrium, wastes energy, and delays your next catch. The exit should be a quick, effortless lift from the water and rapid transmission to prepare for the next catch.

The Recovery

Setup for the next stroke.

After your exit, you will not be fully wound up. Continue rotating after the exit (both blades out of the water) to get full rotation, preparing for the next catch and pull. Position the upper hand to control the catch, preparing to spear the water for a positive engagement. The knee is bent and prepared to drive your rotation through the leg, hip, abdomen, and back.


Rotation cannot be emphasized enough. It will feel awkward and more tiring at first and needs to be exaggerated in practice in order to feel comfortable and natural. Rotation is the key to using the body’s big muscles and developing an efficient, strong stroke. Your chest should be more or less facing the center of your paddle shaft the whole time with your body rotating with your paddle shaft from side to side. These techniques can be used whether you use a high-angle stroke, where you catch right next to the gunwale, or a more-relaxed low angle stroke, where the hands are carried lower and the paddle swings farther out from the boat.

Four-time Olympic medalist, Greg Barton, says "The most common technical mistake in kayaking is not using the whole body to paddle. Beginners often start pulling the blade through the water using only their arms, get comfortable with their style, and never change to a more efficient stroke."

Check this link and the video: Whole Body Rotation

Copyright ©2013 Greg Stamer (KayakVagabond) and Marty Sullivan (SaltyFrog)

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