This is the second in a series of posts about whitewater kayaking and some philosophy beyond the basics; ideas and concepts meant to help intermediate paddlers improve and get more out of the sport. As parts are added, these links will go live:
Part 1: Technique
Part 2: Momentum
Part 3: On or Across the Water
Part 4: Group Management
Part 5: Fear Management, Part 1
Part 6: Fear Management, Part 2
Part 7: Focus
Not to get too technical, but momentum is a vector, meaning it has a magnitude and a direction, both of which must be controlled to achieve the desired result. The beginner sees a rock and paddles away from it; the intermediate sees open water and steers for it; the zen master floats away from the one and towards the other with hardly a stroke.
|Momentum towards the eddy.|
If you start right of the eddy (exact distance will depend on strength of the current and your own speed) and are already moving to the left as you approach the top, your momentum will carry you across the eddy line and into the eddy itself. The same is true of any target - if you want to avoid a rock, one of the best places to be is right above it with momentum heading away; if you want to hug the inside of a river bend, start on the outside and paddle towards where you want to go. It's not enough to know where you want to be, but you also have to know which way your momentum should be carrying you when you get there.
|The paddler is headed (and pointed) left and doesn't need|
to paddle hard to avoid the hole on his right.
A wave will deflect you in the direction your nose is pointing. A wide stroke against that wave, on the downstream side, will accelerate the change in direction and move the boat across the river. Catching a blade in a passing eddy will slow the boat and allow the water to take the paddler on its path, whereas a driven boat will cross currents with little change in momentum. Sharply edging a boat away from the current increases its affect, while flattening the boat will minimize it. Use these tools to let the water move you from one side to the other, always with an eye far downstream, adjusting to the next goal well before it arrives.
Once you can hit your target with your desired momentum, try repeating the performance with fewer strokes. The fewer strokes you take to accomplish your goal, the more you'll have to let the water do the work. Play around with edging and boat angle, slow your strokes down and pay attention to the flow of water around the paddle. The same tricks that allow you to leisurely move around on easy rapids are the ones that will let you handle harder rapids when the slots are narrow and the water more powerful.