This guide documents the key skills that need to be developed to take an athlete from 'good' to squad and team standard (should they wish to go for a team place). The skills acquired are valid irrespective of whether an athlete has team aspirations or not - they are the foundations for enjoying the sport of wildwater racing to a greater degree.
This article is based upon the experiences of coaching squad and team paddlers from a number of backgrounds. As documented in the Wildwater Racing Manual, the foundation skills for elite paddling are based in 3 areas. This article will highlight the skills and drills which make the most difference. Once these skills are mastered - there are many more to continue to improve upon as documented in the WWR Manual.
The whitewater performance is a result of two major factors:
- The ability to make a boat move quickly
- The ability to transfer that boat speed onto the whitewater
This article highlights key skills that address both.
Core Flatwater skills
Forward paddling technique. The modern forward Kayak and Canoe technique is complex and requires time to develop. If it is possible to work with a flatwater coach to develop forward paddling, then this is of great benefit. Remeber there are some key differences in the flatwater and whitewater stroke:
- The whitewater stroke is a little longer and smoother with the power. This is due to the acceleration being slower on a WW boat, and allows for steering to take place as well as power.
- The fittings of a WW boat are more restrictive than a K1, focus more on hip drive in the WW boat to overcome the fittings.
- The WW boat is wider, shorter juniors and women will need to compromise their stroke to work around the boat.
It takes time to re-inforce changes to a paddle stroke - ensure enough time is taken to put the changes in place before winding up the pace. A session of 2 mins 60% 2 mins 70% 2 mins 80% max for 6 miles is a good way to reinforce the technique. It's likely the technique will start to break down at the end of the 80% - you can then drop back down to 60% to reinforce the good technique again.
Core whitewater skills
The skills mentioned here have been key for a number of team paddlers to make the step from good to world class, they are as applicable to the aspiring athlete as the world champion.
1. Wet Hands - This is the first and key adaptation to paddling on flatwater to whitewater. The blade needs to be fully in the water to provide drive and stability. The little finger of the hand should be in the water well before the cockpit. This solid connection also encourages more agressive forward paddling - improving boat control in the whitewater.
2. Soften the transitions - It is often overlooked that paddling down the river we encounter turning forces and flow changes which affect the ww boat. By understanding the flow changes and making the boat 'soft' we maintain more boat control and increase speed. At it's heart these are the core skills of break-ins and break outs, but the applications to the river make these very powerful.
3. Steering Drills - The motor co-ordination to be able to change direction in a single well timed stroke is vital to be able to tackle toougher and tougher courses. The steering drills train the co-ordination necessary. Use them in a session 1 min normal paddling (threshold)1 min of drills - repeat each drill 3-4 times.
Hopefully this article has given you some ideas for where you can improve. This article focusses on drills that can be undertaken either on flatwater or on easy flowing water with some well defined breakouts. By improving these core skills, the important task of paddling rivers and getting a wide base of experience should be an easier one.
This is not to say that these are the only skills that need to be developed, just the ones which frequently make the most difference to the paddler. There is still a need to get on as many different types of rivers as possible to give yourself the greatest range of experience to draw upon. By understanding the water better we will be able to transfer more of our flatwater speed onto the whitewater.