Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Torso Rotation

Doug and I have been at Nuga Nuga National Park on the shores of Lake Nuga Nuga for seven days now. This is unprecedented for us, but, nonetheless enjoyable. The paddling on Lake Nuga Nuga is endlessly enjoyable due to the plethora of bird-life, and, the few “peaks” around the lake, the lake shore and the surrounding grasslands have provided plenty of opportunity for walking, all without needing to drive (we hate driving) anywhere. We have about one more day of food left with us and will stay until that is done before moving on to the Great Walk in Carnarvon National Park.

Yesterday, I did a couple of long walks – one around the lake shore for a distance, and the other up Moolayember Creek – and didn't get in my kayak at all. Today, it is quite windy, there are even many white-caps and almost surfable waves on little Nuga Nuga Lake, but I decided to do some kayak skills practice in the sheltered bay near our caravan.

A while ago I read about a drill to teach torso rotation on the forward stroke. The basic idea was to lay a broom handle along your shoulders under the shoulder straps of your life jacket and then, if you were not rotating enough on each forward stroke, your paddle would bang against the broom handle.

Before getting back into sea kayaking after a reasonably long hiatus, I had never heard of “torso rotation” but now all the kayak books mention torso rotation (wind-up) as the most important feature of the forward stroke. Given that 90% of sea kayaking (maybe more) consists of paddling forwards, having an efficient forward stroke is clearly advantageous.

Ever since I read about torso rotation I have tried to incorporate it into my forward stroke, and, I guess I am reasonably successful. But, the annoying thing about torso rotation, at least for my body type, is that as I rotate my torso with each stroke, my head rotates along with it. After a while (not a very long while) I start to feel a bit dizzy and have a bit of a headache as my brain seems to rock around in my skull cavity with each forward stroke (think contra-coup). Hence, I do tend to reduce my torso rotation over time (not that much time). When the paddling is difficult, say beating into a headwind, I find myself concentrating much more carefully on getting good torso rotation as it is much less tiring than using your upper body to pull the kayak along. But, at other times, having your head swinging about like Tarzan in the jungle is actually fairly irritating. I've noticed that none of the books that talk about torso rotation mention anything about this head swinging problem. Theoretically, you could keep your head aligned to the front, but, for me, that seems to take more coordination than I have available.

In any case, I tried the broomstick under the life-jacket this morning. My first foray was unsuccessful as my life-jacket stays squarely front and centre even when I've rotated my torso so far to the back that I can reach my own rudder. So, I came back to shore and had Doug bungee the broomstick to my shoulders. He was quite concerned lest I tip and end up skewered into the bottom of the lake in some weird side-ways crucifixion.

My second attempt was much better but full torso rotation still seemed to engender considerable head rotation and I had to paddle slowly to avoid either getting dizzy or getting a headache as my head swung from side to side like a demented ACDC fan. Correction strokes were awkward, not because my paddle hit the broomstick, as according to all the books (!) I have my paddle low to the water on correction strokes. But, trying to rotate my torso, lean the boat into the paddle side and do a sweep stroke again overwhelmed my coordination skills. I did the lazy thing and dropped my rudder down so that I wouldn't need to make any corrective strokes.

Later, I went back on the lake again for my routine (if a breathtakingly multi-coloured sunset can be called routine) sunset paddle and found that I was able to torso rotate while keeping my head looking (mostly) towards the front. So, in all, the whole broom handle episode seemed quite worth while.

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