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Tips and Techniques - Improving Your Side Surfing

Improve Your Side Surfing

Here are some key points that will improve your side surfing and make it safer.

Keep your elbows below your shoulders and out in front of your body plane. They should be down low and close to your body (left photo). To surf on the off side, you will have to rotate your body to face the foam pile. Avoid raising your grip arm elbow; some people call this a chicken wing—it leaves your shoulder in a vulnerable position (right photo). 

Stay relaxed with your weight centered over the tailbone (left photo). This will keep your weight off the paddle and free it up for maneuvering and or bracing as needed. The natural tendency is to lean out with the body to heel the boat. Instead, use your lower body to control the lean (heel) of the boat, leaving the upper body free to attend to paddling.

If you start to lose it and are going to flip, be sure to pull in your arms (you don't want to be in a position like the photo on the right) in order to protect against shoulder dislocation. You should also tuck your body close to the front float bag to protect your back and head from impacting the river bottom. This will also put you in a good position to set up for a roll.

To practice, find a small, friendly hole (look for one with a smooth and regular foam pile) and work on body and arm positions. See if you can just sit in the hole and control the heel of the boat with your lower body, keeping your nose over the tailbone. Then pay attention to your elbows¾they should be out front, low and close. When you're ready, let the hole flip you on purpose to practice tucking and rolling.

As you get more comfortable with the inevitable flips, try rolling back up while you're still in the hole. Depending on the size of the foam pile, you may be able to get a "power assist" and keep right on surfing!

Spend some time studying different shaped and sized holes. Remember that not all big holes are nasty where as some small ones are. Also keep in mind that today's slicey little kayak play boat designs are not a good indicator of how your open canoe will handle a particular hole. I've watched those little critters slide right through sticky holes that I wouldn't want to visit...

Remember that side surfing is more about your body controlling the boat as opposed to the paddle controlling it. And don't forget to relax and smile while you're in there, it's supposed to be fun!

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