A Static or Balance Brace is often the goal of people that come to our Greenland rolling sessions. For some people their body’s size, shape and flexibility make it impractical to achieve a Static Brace. But even for those that are flexible and buoyant enough it can be a struggle.
A recent conversation with a fellow paddler got me thinking about the ways people can improve the stability and success of a their Static Brace. I am not going to address those issues of kayak design and fit, nor paddle type, or gear you are wearing. Instead I will just focus on the things to do with your body to help your success.
Most people naturally sink their forward shoulder. This is because in order to get our shoulders flat on the water we need to twist our torso through nearly 90 degrees. Rather than thinking about raising the forward shoulder think about sinking the rear one. Take your rear hand (your left one if you are bracing on the right side of your kayak) and hook it under the hull. This will naturally cause that left shoulder to sink a bit which should make your shoulders become more level with each other. The sinking of your shoulder can also help increase your back arch.
Try and use your rear hand to push yourself away from the hull. This will cause your torso to swing out further from the kayak. The greater the distance from the center of rotation of the kayak to center of your body’s buoyancy the greater the righting moment your buoyancy will provide. The less flexible you are the more valuable this will be. It is not uncommon for less flexible people to find their rear shoulder is touching the kayak. In this situation they will have very little support from the water. Using this push technique you can easily double the benefit of your buoyancy by pushing yourself away from the deck.
Lets face it, as we get older our spines get stiffer unless we are constantly working to keep flexible. One way to overcome the inability to rotate your core is to start by rotating your butt. Try twisting your butt counter-clockwise (for a right side brace) in the seat before you lay back. By doing this you are causing your shoulders to be rotated in advance of any twist that you can then achieve through your core. Additionally you are moving your right hip forward which can help overcome a common problem of your hip hitting the cockpit rim and preventing your torso bending.
Our heads are heavy. The best way to decrease the effect of its weight (the effect of gravity) is to maximize its buoyancy. In an ideal position one would completely submerge one’s head, but we do need to breathe. So instead concentrate on pushing your head backwards and curve your neck down. Helen Wilson talks about submerging your eyebrows, which is a great way to ensure you push the head back. This makes sure you are not attempting to lift your head up which is an instant way to fail. By pushing your head back you arch your back more, yielding yet another benefit.
When most people start trying to perform the Static Brace the angle of their kayak is such that the kayak is trying to fall over on top of them. It is desirable to get the kayak to sit as upright or as close to its normal resting place as possible. It is essential that it is not leaning beyond 90 degrees from horizontal (beyond the vertical position) or it will be fighting to collapse on top of you. The angle of the kayak is greatly affected by the amount you can arch your back. The ability to get your center of gravity as low as possible and as close to the bottom of the kayak as possible will greatly reduce the twisting or capsizing affect that your body has when floating in the water. Or to put it another way, the flatter the kayak the more the kayak is helping you stay afloat as opposed to helping to sink you. Work on land to develop the ability to get your shoulders on the ground and the kayak as flat as possible. If you can’t make it work on land you have no hope in the softer and sinkier water.
A Static Brace works by using knee or thigh pressure to push the kayak flat while using your buoyancy to resist the force. If your opposite knee is engaged with the deck it will subtract from the good force of your correct (right) knee pushing the deck. The best way to avoid this is to completely relax the opposite leg. You can go as far as removing it from the foot pegs and dropping it lower in the kayak against the right leg. If you need additional help you can gain an advantage if you can push your opposite heel down. I sometimes need to do this when I brace without a paddle. I discussed this method in an earlier post.
Rolling in with a splash and hoping to hold the Static Brace can be a challenge. As the kayak rolls in it will gain momentum that you then have to resist. Try leaning backwards fully (or as far as you can onto the back deck) first. Then slowly slide yourself off the back deck into the water. Aim for the back of your head to be the first thing to get wet. The slower you get into the Static Brace the less momentum you will have to deal with and hence the less buoyancy you will need.
As we get older we get stiffer if we don’t work to keep the muscles supple. The ability to arch our backs and rotate our cores will vary day to day. If your brace is marginal you could be impacted by changes in your muscle tone and conditioning. Consider yoga or other methods to regularly stretch your body and keep everything flexible. A few suitable stretches were in an earlier blog post
Last but not least you need to learn to relax. Next time you are swimming, roll onto your back and try to float in a relaxed manner. Then tense your body rigid and try to float. I am certain you will feel the difference. Being relaxed makes it much easier for our bodies to float and bend in the directions necessary for the Static Brace to be successful. The only tension that you should have in your body is in your lower half, pushing the right side of the kayak upwards.
The static brace is not simple, nor is it easy. Hopefully with these tips you will be able to improve yours or hold it for the first time. You can read more instruction and watch videos of Static Braces here
Hanging out at Tofte on the North Shore of Lake Superior July 2012.