Of all the skills paddlers use when tackling the white stuff, it seems to me that looking for future water is probably the most useful, if indeed not the most important. The ability to be comfortable and confident in your boat, looking where you want to go rather than at your boat, paddle or anything else, frees you up to pick your line or choose your feature and focus on attaining it with minimum fuss. This works at two levels. Firstly turning and looking with our head initiates, with an active engaged posture, movement through the rest of the body, bringing our chest around to the new direction, engaging our core muscles and hips and in turn allowing us to apply pressure through the opposite knee and foot to drive the boat through the desired turn. The outcome should be that our boat is edged so that the new waterline shape aids the turn. You’ll notice how in a white water kayak, the opposite knee lifts, putting the boat on edge as we catch the water with a vertical bow rudder and allow the boat to carve around the paddle in a classic break out.
The second level however at which this works is by ensuring we engage our non-visual senses in our skills development. By not looking at our blade or boat we optimise the kinaesthetic learning, the sensory feedback or feel from all of the touch points we have with them: feet, knees, backside, hips and hands. The more we practise, the more we learn how to balance edge, speed, angle of approach and positioning of the boat and blade to achieve the desired effect on each turn. And as we practise, we reach a point where we realise that it’s the head and body that initiate the turn with the paddle playing only a minor, literally supporting, role.
To see this in practice I like to encourage students initially to perform bow rudders on flat water. After a few turns around a course – a figure of eight is great – I ask them to focus on the head and knees, creating a positive initiation with the head and a dynamic edge by holding the paddle horizontal in front of them and then turning sharply so the paddle is parallel to the centreline of the boat – and still horizontal. If you haven’t tried this you’ll be amazed at how quickly the boat turns, without the blade being in the water at all. As with any turning stroke, a short positive sweep on the opposite side just before you initiate the head and body action helps.
Building confidence in balance and edge control is a key part of the white water development journey. Looking for future water helps us focus on that journey physically and in our heads.