At the last few pool sessions that I have attended, it seems that practically all of the sea kayakers have been working on Greenland-style static braces (balance brace) and the sculling high brace. As I have mentioned in previous posts, Helen Wilson’s “Simplifying the Roll” DVD has been extremely helpful in providing some very useful techniques for learning these two skills. In the case of one of the paddlers, these techniques have been the key in helping him to finally master his elusive offside roll.
One problem, though, continues to plague many people who are struggling to learn the sculling high brace and static brace. It is the same problem that I faced when I was learning the sculling high brace over a decade ago. How do you keep the kayak from falling on top of you and causing you to capsize? In Wayne Horodowich’s University of Sea Kayaking DVD on Bracing, he talks about the difference between a “boat capsize” and a “body capsize”. When doing a sculling high brace, your body will obviously be over the water, not balanced over the kayak as is usually desirable. In other words, you could consider your body to have capsized. However, your boat should not be allowed to capsize while you are doing this stroke. What am I talking about? When you are attempting to do your sculling high brace or static brace, consider what would happen to the kayak if you were suddenly “beamed” out of the kayak (Star Trek style). Would the boat fall upside down, or would it fall back in a right side up position? If the boat ends up being upside down, your kayak has experienced a “boat capsize”.
When doing a sculling high brace or a static brace, it is important to keep the kayak oriented so that if you were suddenly removed from the picture, the boat would fall back into a right side up position. How is this done? You need to be pushing the kayak up and away from your body with your upper leg. You need to arch your back and straighten the knee on the upper leg in order to keep the kayak as upright as possible. Your lower leg (the one closest to the water) really is not needed at all. In fact, several of us at the pool session found that we could take our lower legs out from under the thigh brace while performing these braces with no detriment to our brace. This differs from performing a roll in which you need to use the lower leg (leg closest to the water) to bring the kayak upright. You will also need to use this lower leg when you come back upright after performing your brace. However, the lower leg is not needed while you are actually performing the static brace or sculling high brace.
You can practice this part of the brace in several ways. Start with your kayak on shore. Try laying your body out to the side on the ground and pay attention to how your back, hips, legs and feet are holding the kayak to keep it as close to flat on the ground as possible. Once you put your kayak in the water, you can try putting your boat and body in the correct position while holding on to the pool deck or pool gutter. Experiment to feel when the kayak is falling on top of you and when you feel that you are successfully resisting a boat capsize. When you are ready to let go of the side of the pool, you can use a technique from the Helen Wilson DVD. Put a paddle float on both blades of your paddle and get into position for a static brace. This should give you more than adequate support while you experiment with finding the body position that works for you. You can gradually let air out of the floats to learn how to do the static brace.
Once you can do the static brace, you will probably find the sculling brace to be a fairly easy transition. If you need a little extra support in the early stages of doing a sculling high brace (until your confidence is stronger), have a person stand next to you in the water and help to hold your kayak to prevent a boat capsize. If your kayak does not capsize on top of you, you will not end up under water. Most people can do a back float without too much difficulty. Doing a back float with a PFD on makes it even easier. Now consider doing a back float, wearing a PFD, with your legs draped over the outside of the kayak. You can’t possibly sink. Even with your legs inside the cockpit, the kayak is still giving you the same amount of buoyancy.
The missing key to successfully performing the sculling high brace and the static brace, then, is to keep the kayak from falling on top of you. Or, in the terminology of Wayne Horodowich, you need to prevent a “boat capsize”. Whatever you call it, if you have been struggling with these skills, I recommend that you give the above suggestions a try.