|The high brace is definitely the most powerful of the recovery strokes. In fact, a good paddler can even use the high brace to recover when their boat is almost completely upside down! The problem with the high brace is that it's easy to rely on it too much, which can put your shoulders at risk. So the first thing to keep in mind is that despite its name, you need to keep your paddle and your hands low and in front of your body. For the high brace you'll use your paddle in a 'chin-up' position and use the power-face of your blades to contact the water.
Starting with your elbows low, roll your paddle up until your forearms are almost vertical. Now reach out over the water at 90 degrees, with your inside arm low, in what is sometimes called the 'nose pick' position. It's important that this hand stay low so that your paddle blade is as flat to the water surface as possible when it makes contact, offering you the most support. As you fall toward the water, slap the surface with your blade to provide the support needed for your body to upright the kayak.
It's critical to understand that the slap of the paddle just provides momentary support. It's your body that's responsible for righting the boat. As you flip, the only way to right the kayak is by pulling up with the knee that is going underwater. The only way to pull up with this bottom knee is to drop your head towards the water in the direction that you're flipping. Doing this is extremely counter-intuitive, but it's absolutely essential for righting the kayak. Your head should be the last thing to come back up on a well-executed brace. If, instead, you lift your head up, you'll inadvertently pull on your top knee, which simply flips you even more quickly. To ensure your head drops towards the water, try watching your slapping blade as you brace. It's hard to lift your head if you're looking down.
As you slap the water with your blade, drop your head towards its surface and pull up with your lower knee to right the kayak. Remember that looking at your active blade is a good habit to get into as it helps keep your head down.
To finish the stroke, slide your paddle inward, roll your knuckles forward and slice the blade out of the water.
The High Brace - Sea Kayak Technique Video
In this episode of Sea Kayaker TV, Ken Whiting explains how to perform a high brace, one of the most valuable self rescue skills a sea kayaker can learn.
Photos ©2006 Rochelle Relyea