The Brace: Staying stable with water’s natural resistance
Though the sunny seas and waterways may offer Jacksonville kayaking enthusiasts plenty of opportunities for paddling fun, it’s easy to forget that water is one of the most powerful forces on Earth as you’re gliding across its calm surface. Still, the evidence is all around us—waves crash and splash, tides ebb and pull at us—but pressing down while dragging your flat palm across the surface of the water will easily prove just how much strength and resistance the water can have.
If you’re buying a kayak for the first time, you may just be learning the many paddling skills that keep you safely upright and maneuvering on the water. Bracing is one skill that every kayaker should know, a valuable technique that takes advantage of the water’s resistance to keep you from capsizing.
The Support of Bracing
Any time your paddle is in contact with the water, it’s helping to support you and your boat as a hydrofoil. The scientific specifics of the phenomenon are complex and unnecessary to explain here, but think about your flat palm pressing down against the water one more time—bracing replaces your hand with the paddle to support your boat with the water’s natural resistance.
The Low Brace
A low brace can be performed by placing the control hand blade, which is the blade on the side of your dominant hand, flat against the water with the power face (the face that pushes against the water during a stroke) pointing up. Your dominant arm should be bent but slightly extended, with the other arm pressed lightly against your ribs.
Sweep the blade back and forth with a smooth motion, pushing down gently on the surface of the water. Then, lean toward the blade, tilting the boat with your hips. Though it may feel and look like you’re about to capsize, the hydrofoil of your blade will provide the necessary support to keep you upright—this is called a sculling or low brace.
Practicing your low brace in still water will help you master the art of pulling yourself up from extreme angles when powerful waters threaten to capsize your boat. Enough experience with the low brace will help you push the limits of how far you can tilt your boat to each side. To get back upright from your low brace lean, cock your hips sharply and rotate your pelvis—this hip snap will force your kayak to move with you back to a normal position.
The High Brace
Rather than placing your blade parallel to the water, the high brace dips the paddle beneath the water’s surface. Begin with your dominant arm in the same position as the low brace, but bring the other arm up so that your fist is above your head. Place the power face of the blade parallel to the boat’s side and dig it into the water, gently sweeping back and forth.
The high brace may make you feel unstable at first, but will be more than enough to keep you upright and is ultimately far more versatile than the low brace. Because it is much easier to transition into a high brace, which is positioned similarly to a stroke, this technique may serve you better when a harsh wave threatens to tip you than trying to switch things up with a low brace.
Bracing: Your Action Plan
Mastering both kinds of bracing will be a big help in keeping yourself upright for a safe and enjoyable kayak trip. You may want to dedicate some practice time to bracing before trying to tackle the risks (and thrills) of more challenging waters. You can use this article as a jumping off point for bracing, but a beginning kayak course can also be a big help in grasping the basics of this important skill and many others.