Supportive Forward Sweep Stroke
By Wayne Horodowich
A sweep stroke is one that is primarily used for turning a kayak. If we do a forward sweep stroke on the right side of the kayak the kayak will turn left as long as there are no other forces affecting the kayak. If the stroke is done with the blade on knife edge you will get the turning power but not support. Your balance point needs to be over the kayak or you will capsize.
Since a kayak will usually turn more easily if you edge the kayak and lean your body a variation of the sweep stroke must be done in order to get the support you need so you do not capsize while edging and leaning.
As you will see, the supportive sweep stroke uses the blade on an angle rather than on knife edge. You end up getting support and turning power. Even though the turning power from the blade may be less the net result on the turn is greater because your kayak is on edge which allows an easier turn. This is a good time to review "Sculling" so you understand when I say climbing angle of the blade.
Begin the stroke with your hands in normal paddling position. This stroke is best done with your torso. Remember to push on your right foot when doing a right side stroke. It is also recommended that you practice this stroke with your rudder &/or skeg out of the water (undeployed). Either one can actually inhibit a tight turn.
When ready, present the blade on the water in front of you as close as you can get to the kayak by your foot. I like to present the blade almost flat on the water so I can get support since I am beginning to edge and lean. You can see my kayak's blue deck is under the water line. As I start sweeping my blade I keep a climbing angle on the blade so the blade will provide support and climb toward the surface.
I will continue sweeping the blade toward my stern while maintaining that climbing blade angle. The blade moves toward the surface as long as I continue to sweep.
If you look at the pictures you can see my top deck is under the surface of the water and my balance point is actually over the water. If I did not have a climbing blade angle I would not get the support I need and I would capsize.
The more I can edge my kayak the more turn I get. So it behooves me to lean out over the water. I am actually using a moving brace that provides turning power.
The edging will continue as long as I feel support from the blade. If I use less angle on the blade (more knife edge) I get less support but more turning power. If I want more support I can keep the blade more as a brace but I will get less turning power.
You will be adjusting the blade angle as needed throughout the stroke depending on your desired turn and the amount of support you need to remain upright.
When I get to the end of my stroke I will move my body back over the balance point of my kayak and decrease the amount of edging. You can see some of my orange hull appearing as I decrease the edging.
When my blade comes out of the water I need to be back over my kayak. You don't have to come back over the center of your kayak because many of you can partially edge your kayak and still remain balanced over it. If you are performing multiple supportive sweep strokes you may wish to keep some edge as you recover from the stroke.
I find I get the most support from my stroke from the catch (when the blade enters the water) through the 90-100 degree point.
Let's look at the sequence again from a slightly different viewing angle. This perspective will show you how much I am leaning over my capsize point all because I have support from my blade.
As I said earlier this is a full body stroke. You will feel the torso rotation if you do this stroke correctly. This stroke is an excellent stroke to demonstrate the feeling of torso rotation on your trunk muscles. Pressing on your foot pedals will give you more leverage for greater power for rotating your body.
If you use just arms you put your shoulder at risk at the end of the stroke. Keep watching the blade and it will help get that extra torso rotation at the end of the stroke.
As I do this stroke I challenge myself to see how far out I can sweep the blade. The larger the arc from the paddle the more leverage there is for turning power.
Remember this stroke is an excellent method for turning while going forward. It can either bring you back on course or it can turn you if you want to alter your course. It is all done with forward momentum. Novice kayakers often use a paddle rudder to steer their kayak. While a paddle rudder is effective it also decreases one's forward momentum. Using the supportive forward sweep stroke keeps your momentum going while providing directional control.
If you wish to turn in place, you can use the supportive forward sweep stroke in combination with the supportive reverse sweep stroke. Just do a forward sweep on one side and a reverse sweep on the other. Continue using both strokes until you are pointing in your desired direction.
The supportive forward sweep stroke can be used in other ways and with a number of combination strokes that will be discussed in other articles. It is a great stroke to use when conditions get rough and you want support while paddling forward. Instead of paddling with a high shaft angle lower your hands and do forward supportive sweep strokes on both sides and you will continue moving forward. The climbing angle of your blades will provide support during the stroke. I often use this stroke after I punch through a wave. I keep moving forward yet I get support in the rough surf zone. I will dig deeper once the water clears from my eyes and I feel balanced again.
I suggest you begin your practice in calm water so you can play with your balance point. Once you feel confident that you can do this stroke then try it in confused water conditions. Once you perfect this stroke you will find it very comforting on those rough days.
Photos from: ABCs Of The Surf Zone
Wayne Horodowich, founder of The University of Sea Kayaking (USK), writes monthly articles for the USK web site. In addition Wayne has produced the popular "In Depth" Instructional Video Series for Sea Kayaking.
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