Slickrock Adventures

The High Brace

By Michael Gray

If you followed our piece on the low brace, you now know that it is your first line of defense against capsize. What happens if capsize is imminent? The fertilizer has hit the ventilator, you've passed the point of secondary stability... get the picture? It's time for evasive maneuvers, captain: the high brace.

Remember that low brace body position with your elbows up and knuckles down? Now you need to swing your knuckles up and your elbows down. Your elbows will almost come to rest on your deck and the power face of your paddle blade will be down against the surface of the water on the side you are bracing. Now that you are in position, let's simulate an upset by tilting your pelvis to the left about 20 degrees in a practice brace position. You can stop your kayak from tilting over further by planting your paddle face into the water on your left, giving you the leverage you need to roll your hips back into a level position. In other words, the power face can catch you when you fall. You may find that once you have brought your kayak to a level position, you will have to slice your blade back out of the water to avoid it getting stuck under the surface... much as you did with the low-brace recovery discussed in our last article.

Once you have practiced this on both sides and have achieved some familiarity with the body position, its time to bump it up a notch... you may be using the paddle to arrest your fall, but be sure the righting effort you are making comes primarily from your hips and your knees rolling the boat back into level position. This is what we refer to as a hip snap. The hip snap as much an element of low and high bracing as it is the Eskimo roll. In fact, once you've developed a solid high brace, you'll find that Eskimo rolls with come more easily for you. If you can already roll, they will become bomb-proof. To enhance your bracing practice, start tilting your kayak over a bit more on each side before righting yourself until you get to the point where you can actually dip your bracing side elbow in the water. Later, you may even be able to dip your head into the water and come up just as effortlessly.

Key elements and pointers:

  • Keep your elbows down close to your deck and your paddle shaft parallel to the water...this keeps you in a tightly coiled position and gives you maximum leverage against the water's surface to uncoil against.

  • Keep your paddle in a stable position in relation to your torso... it's that lovely mermaid's tail of yours that does most of the moving (your kayak). You'll find that as you fall to the left your right elbow will end up over your right hip as you coil up to brace and then come back into your lap as you spring back into a level position.

  • If you watch the bow of your boat during all this it will help you to maintain proper head position for your brace and improve your hip snaps for both the C to C and sweep rolls that you may choose to learn.


Michael Gray is an ACA open water coastal kayak instructor and director of Uncommon Adventures, a Northern Michigan paddling school and adventure center. In winter he runs paddling skills oriented trips on the island of Roatan in the Bay Islands of Honduras. Browse www.uncommonadv.com for more information.

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