One of the most common mistakes I see people making (not only for freestyle but for kayaking in general) is that they’re not looking where they want to go. I make this mistake all the time and it’s annoying seeing myself in a video later and realising. Sometimes you’re tired and you just forget, or maybe you’re looking where you think you should be but actually you should be looking somewhere else – I’m going to explain why it’s so important, how to remember to do it and give some examples of where it relates to freestyle.
Looking in the direction you want to travel or rotate helps you get to where you want to go and/or complete the rotation. If you look at something your head will turn that way as well. When you look where you want to go, the rest of your body (and by extension your kayak) will follow your head. If I try and look underneath my boat then I’ll probably capsize, however if I’m doing a spin and I look over my shoulder at the 180 degree mark my boat will follow my head and finish the full 360 degree rotation. Try sitting in your boat and looking around – if you look behind you then your torso rotates alongside your head, you will probably edge in that direction and tense your legs and core to stabilise yourself. You can apply this principle to any freestyle trick throughout the movement and for river running as well. When you’re aiming for a certain line down a rapid always look at where you’re aiming to end up, I often see people looking at the obstacle they want to avoid like a huge hole, a rock or a block etc. If you look at the area that you don’t want to be in then your body will likely ‘help’ you get there resulting in a beatdown, swim or worse. Tip: don’t look at the nasty feature!
How to remember to do this: when you’re learning to do a trick you need to force yourself to look where you’re going. If you can make yourself do this while learning a trick then it’ll be much easier to keep doing it once you’ve mastered said trick. You can choose a marker depending on the trick you’re trying to learn and that’ll help you to remember where you should be looking (or multiple markers for harder tricks). When river running you should visualise the line you want so that when you’re on the water you know where you want to be and where you don’t, a good beatdown should remind you not to look at the big, scary hole and to keep looking at that eddy you should’ve made.
How can I apply this? I’ll give a couple of freestyle tricks as examples where this helps a lot and is also easy to understand (whether or not you can do them)…
- Flat spin (mentioned before) – say I am spinning to my left. I put in a back stroke on my left side and I rotate almost half way round. My stern is now facing the feature. If I keep looking upstream then the chances are I will either go back into a side surf, or I will head back towards the feature (because I’m looking at it) and catch my stern. Instead I should then look over my left shoulder and try and find the feature. This will help my edge transition so that I don’t edge upstream as I’m coming around and also helps my torso rotate for the forwards stroke bringing the boat pointing upstream again.
- Loop – one of your main goals during a loop is to get air, this not only scores you more points in a competition but also makes the rotation faster because the boat has less resistance in the air and means that it’s less likely you will flush upon completion. To get more air one of most best thing you can do is to look up. I often think I’m looking straight up but am actually looking diagonally, if you reach your arms up you can also have the same issue. Try and find something upstream like a bridge or a floodlight to look up at, if you can’t do this then simply attempt to jump for the sky and think about keeping your chin up. When you look up during a loop you get a lot more pop and consequently a bigger air.
- Cartwheel – you’ve completed the first end but can’t get the back end to come through. What are you doing wrong? Not getting ahead of the rotation. How to fix it? Look over your shoulder before you’ve even completed the first end. Try and think of it like looking for the water over the back of your boat. Similar to a flat spin but instead applied vertically, your torso will rotate ahead of the boat to follow where you’re looking and mean your paddle blades are in the right place to brace and that your core is wound up ready to kick the stern end through.
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