In this post I’m going to go right back to basics and explain how to surf in a hole/stopper (which is where water pours over a submerged object causing the surface water to flow back upstream towards the object). Whether you’re interested in freestyle or river running this is probably one of the first things you’ll want to learn when you start whitewater kayaking – it’s important to know how to confidently manoeuvre in such a feature so that you can either surf out safely or position yourself in the ideal place to initiate a trick. I will split this post into 3 sections as follows: how to side surf, how to surf out of a stopper and how to get to the top of a foam pile (for those more interested in freestyle).
If you drop into a feature whether deliberately or accidentally you will likely end up sideways so the first thing to know is how to remain in a stable side surf and avoid getting window-shaded. Let’s first focus on your edges – you want to keep your upstream edge up (the side closest to the direction in which the water is coming from), this stops the green water from grabbing it and prevents any unwanted barrel rolls. There’s no need to tilt the boat all the way over, just make sure that your upstream knee is always tensed and ready to pull up as most holes can bounce you around quite a bit. Body-wise you want to remain neutral or perhaps lean just a little bit forwards, what you don’t want to do is lean backwards. When you lean back you are at your weakest both in terms of controlling your edges and bracing. This moves us on to paddle position – I would recommend maintaining something similar to a low brace (with your hands below your shoulders using the back of the paddle blade to steady yourself). You can easily turn this into a forwards or backwards stroke in order to move around the feature and it places much less strain on your shoulder reducing the risk of injury.
Now that we’re in a stable side surf, how do you surf out of a stopper? You want to keep your upstream edge up, just change your boat and body position. Let’s imagine that you’re facing to surfer’s right and that you want to surf out in that direction – look where you want to go (the top of the eddy), reach your right paddle blade forwards then pull hard, keep doing this until you reach the edge of the feature. When doing this your bow may rise onto the green water (a bit like doing a mini blast) and you will probably lean backwards a bit, so long as you keep your momentum going this is fine – you effectively just paddle forwards on your downstream side. When you reach the shoulder of the stopper you need to make sure that you keep your bow pointing at 1 o’clock, if you point it at 12 o’clock you won’t have enough momentum to punch out of the feature and if you point it more towards 3 o’clock then your stern may be sucked back in like you were about to do a flat spin. It’s only once you’re in the eddy that you should think about dropping your upstream edge or pointing the bow downstream.
Finally, how do you get to the top of the foam pile? This is vital for freestyle kayaking as it’s much more difficult to initiate tricks in the trough. You’ve settled into a stable side surf and then begun to paddle towards the shoulder – here’s where it gets a bit different. Instead of keeping your momentum going and punching into the eddy you want to brush the eddyline and then turn back into the feature. Keep your upstream edge up, point the bow at 1 o’clock and paddle forwards on your downstream side. As soon as you reach the point where you’ve hit the eddyline and could exit the feature, put in a stern rudder on your upstream side, look over your (in this case) left shoulder and pry the bow around to 10 o’clock while switching edges. You need to get a feel for this as it’s all about timing, so for the first couple of tries you may end up side surfing again just facing in the opposite direction. The trick is to exit the feature enough that the boat slips downstream slightly enabling you to surf back in at the top of the foam pile, but not enough that you flush completely. Practice makes perfect!
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