Presetting angles relative to where you are going next is a concept that does not seem to sink in for the whitewater kayaker immediately. Initially it may have something to do with the “paddle! Paddle Paddle!” mentality which trains a beginner paddler to just take strokes for the sake of stroking, often setting them up to use the wrong stroke at the wrong time (i.e.: a forward stroke at a time when a correction stroke should be taken.)
Some whitewater kayakers stumble upon the concept when they begin running harder creek lines. In fact, experiential education– when the intended eddy is missed and the beating taken as a result makes a paddler pause and rethink their approach is a common coach for whitewater kayakers more than willing to learn from their own mistakes.
Slalom boaters seem to be a bit more willing to short cut the experiential education part of their paddling. They are eager for a good coach to help short cut the learning process. And a coach addresses the subject of preplanning boat angles relative not to the first gate, but to the second or even third gate downstream.
We the obstinate downstream paddlers could learn a few things from slalom boaters. A little less experientaial education might eliminate some of the scratches on our helmets!
Where would the whole boat angling help out?
By helping a paddler understand that 90-degree turns are not such a realistic approach to running a rapid/catching an eddy.
Why? Downstream current. No matter how hard one paddles—on a 90-degree course for the intended destination, downstream current is going to push…downstream.
In order to expedite the learning process, a boater must a) be comfortable with turning the boat at an angle to the current. Kayaking 101 says: your boat goes where it is pointed. You want to get into an eddy? Point your boat to it. And if the path is clear do it as far upstream as is reasonable. Step b) is timing/knowing when to start on the approach to the intended destination. Just as a pilot lines up on an approach to the runway during descent so must a kayaker line up angled to the eddy/moving towards the eddy.
At a slightly more advanced level, whitewater kayakers start thinking like a slalom boater: two steaps ahead. In addition, at this more advanced level, presetting angles relative to destination also allows a whitewater kayaker to use specific pieces of water—diagonal currents/waves to help move towards the intended destination. It is called a “free ride!” Or using the water to make your move. Diagonal currents/waves are a huge help in moving diagonally across the downstream current. But won’t happen if the boat is pointed straight downstream.
So now that we’ve beaten up on the poor whitewater chap—is there nothing a slalom boater can learn from the whitewater contingency? Lots. How about: being okay with messng up and having to go with plan b. Slalom boaters spend so much time being all but anal retentive about perfecting a specific move, they forget that sometimes things just don’t go as planned. Missing a line, flipping, going to Plan B—these are occurrences a whitewater kayaker accepts and deals with. And it is part of the appeal of kayaking. It is the best cure for someone who is a type A personality because they have to be okay messing up. For most of the whitewater contingency there is nothing more invigorating than accidently catching an edge in a rapid and having to roll a few times or getting trundled in an unintended hole. Pure Jubilation!! And there is no time for pouting about missing a line/flipping/surfing because the adrenaline is running pretty high at that moment and all your friends are cheering for you. Being on the edge and recovering is a good tool in kayaking.
There is no such thing as perfection when paddling a little kayak on the big river.