In this post I’m going to explain how to loop, going over set-up and finishing as well as body, boat and paddle position throughout the movement with some tips to improve snappiness and height throughout. I will assume that you can comfortably move about on grade 2 or 3 whitewater – by comfortable I mean having a bomb-proof whitewater roll and being able to spin in both directions confidently on demand in whichever feature you are intending to learn this trick. While you can loop on a wave, it is considerably more difficult than in a hole so I won’t be mentioning anything to do with that; ideally find a deep, steep and retentive hole that doesn’t immediately flush you out – if you can spin without flushing then you can probably loop as well (disclaimer: of course a pour-over is not what I mean, be sensible).
The very first thing to say is that you really need a playboat that fits you. Admittedly it’s hard for some people who are in between sizes and so on, but a boat which is either too small or too big will hinder not only your loops, but any other trick you want to learn. To little volume and you will get less air and be more likely to bottom out which isn’t good for your feet or your boat; too big and the rotation will be slower and you’ll be more likely to flush – choose your sizes wisely beforehand. Now that’s out of the way, how do you set up for a loop?
If the the feature is symmetrical then aim to be bang in the centre of the foam pile, if the feature isn’t symmetrical then identify the deepest part and make sure that you’re pointing that way. You want to be at the top of the foam pile so that you have a proper run up which will give you the maximum forwards momentum before plugging into the green water making you more likely to keep the boat straight. Find an upstream marker which if preferably straight ahead of you and as high up as possible, slalom pole, trees or buildings work fine; by looking at the marker it should be easier the keep the bow straight while plugging. You do not want to have any edge whatsoever because this will cause the boat to cork and either fail completely or finish wonkily. At this stage you have:
- Found the deepest part of the feature
- Manoeuvred to the top of the foam pile
- Face directly upstream towards the deepest section
- Be looking at your upstream marker to keep the bow straight
- Have absolutely no edge on
- Keep your body in a neutral position
Now that you have set up we’re going to work on initiation. Move your body from a neutral position to slightly leaning forward, this will make the boat want to slide down the foam pile towards that green water. Just before your bow hits the green water stomp down with your feet. This is the part most people do wrong, while it depends on the feature normally you should aim to stomp the bow down on the line between the foam pile and the green water. If you stomp too soon you will be too far back on the foam pile and are likely to loose balance or flush, if you wait too long then you won’t be in control and will probably face plant. One issue I’ve noticed other people have while learning is the boat corking to one side during the initiation. This can be stopped in 2 ways: first, make absolutely sure you are facing upstream and have no edge (you can practice stomping without edging on flatwater to make sure); second, you can use a stern-rudder or low brace with your dominant paddle blade to make sure the boat stays straight and provides a sort of fallback or safety to keep your balance.
Now, you’ve set up and initiated. Your boat is becoming vertical. When you feel the boat almost reaching 90 degrees you stop leaning forward and you stand up (still pushing with your feet), look upstream for your marker keeping your chin up and reach for the sky with your paddle. By spotting your marker it will be easier to start and finish straight, keeping your chin up will help you get that little bit more height and by reaching up with your paddle the next phase of the movement will be much more snappy.
The next thing you have to think about is the rotation. I was told to throw my weight all the way forwards and then all the way back again as quickly as possible. I firmly believe that if you just trust me on this and try, that it might even work first time around as it did for me. The main mistake people make is throwing all the way forwards and thinking that’s all they have to do, or they know to throw back but think that they’ve already failed. Don’t do that. Throwing all the way back often brings it around even when you don’t think it will do. You’re probably not going to stick the move first time around but you should still be aiming to complete the rotation (no matter how far downstream you are when you do finish it). The better you become and the faster and more confidently you can throw the loop, the more likely you are to stick the move and stay in the feature.
When finishing a loop there are a couple of different ways to do it. Body position: when learning, you want to finish with your body thrown back (and legs kicked forwards) so that the boat will come around faster. Once you can stick a loop every time you can start moving your body position closer and closer to neutral at the finish so that you can attempt a clean or super-clean loop however, when starting out don’t even bother thinking about this – focus on staying on the back deck. Paddle position: you should have your paddle blades above your head with your arms extended to help balance and keep the boat straight upon finishing. You can either hold the paddle horizontally (more stable but less leverage) or vertically with a single paddle blade out behind you (less stable but more leverage for finishing the move). I recommend using the single paddle blade because while initially it might make it easier to cork out the additional leverage will make it easier to bring the bow through when you’re still not as confident about the movement. The more consistent you become the more you might be thinking about clean or super-clean loops and that is when finishing with both blades back makes more sense (although I actually learned to do this first). To recap…
- You’ve set up
- Lean forward slightly
- Kick the bow down (plug) where the green water meets the foam pile
- Look for your upstream marker
- Keep your chin and arms up
- The boat becomes vertical
- Throw your weight all the way forwards
- Throw your weight all the way back kicking your legs out
- Keep a single paddle blade behind you bringing the bow round
- Keep your weight on the back deck
- If necessary sit up and paddle hard to get back in the feature…