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Tips and Techniques - Linkage

Linkage - The Paddler's Power Tool

Linkage with the paddle is an often-misunderstood concept. The mere act of holding your paddle does not mean that you are linked to it—it means you’re holding it! Linkage is about the parallel connection between the paddle shaft and your shoulders, combined with torso rotation. By keeping the shoulders aligned  with the shaft, your torso will have to rotate to follow the motion of the paddle. I call this “facing your work”. It promotes the use of your strong abdominal muscles, which will in turn, give you maximum power for your strokes. The whole idea is to get away from relying on your weaker arm muscles.

How do you know if you’re achieving linkage? Picture a box with the paddle shaft forming the bottom, your shoulders forming the top and the arms as the sides. The goal is to keep the top and bottom planes of the box parallel. The box can (and will be) at different angles depending on the stroke. I frequently demonstrate this in my classes by slipping a pole through the armholes of each student’s life vest and then video their strokes. The pole gives them a visual plane to reference with the paddle shaft.

To achieve maximum effectiveness, your arms should be slightly bent. If you allow your arms to become fully extended they will actually be weaker. Try this: hold your paddle horizontally in both hands with your arms bent. Have someone push down on it while you resist. Try it again with your arms out straight. Notice how much stronger they are when bent?

Here’s a good example of how linkage can improve the stern draw. Picture this common scenario: It’s surf city at the local play spot and you’re out there doing your stuff when the wave starts to blow you off to your on-side. You go for a stern draw but there’s not enough power to bring you back—the surf is over… What paddlers typically do wrong in this situation is to keep their shoulders perpendicular with the keel line and then reach as far back as possible with their arms, trying to pull the boat back with a stern draw. This rarely works, especially if the wave has any size to it.

Let’s do the same move with linkage. While keeping the paddle linked with the shoulders (with arms bent), rotate the torso so that your shoulders are parallel with the keel line. Make sure the shaft hand (arm) stays bent; if it is extended or straight you’ll lose the power of the stroke. Plus, it leaves you in a weak position that promotes shoulder injuries. Now as the surf heads for your on-side, use the full strength of your abdominals to draw the stern back in line—and you’re back on the wave! The power of the stern draw comes from rotating the torso and paddle together, not pulling or pushing with the arms. 

Work on applying this technique to all of your strokes—it will give you power when you need it most.  


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