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Catch before Unwinding. How?

Posted by Greg on February 3, 2012

Q:  What would you suggest to someone who wants to unlearn unwinding before the catch and start to get good muscle memory for catch before unwinding.

Because the kayak is already moving I find myself unwinding – irresistibly! ;-(  before catch. Apart from visualizing spearing a salmon, do you have other advice, tips, tricks, dry/ wet exercises etc to catch before unwinding?

A: When I do video analysis of students a common error is unwinding before the catch, or in other words, starting to apply power before the paddle is completely buried. This is a common power leak.

If you are “pulling” before the paddle is planted, not only is your stroke shortened (giving you less time to generate power), but the catch is often poor too (drawing air into the water — ventilation, and creating turbulence and making noise — “plop!”).

How short is a “model” stroke? For a wing you should be starting your exit when the blade reaches your knees and the blade should exit when your hand reaches your hip.  Since the stroke is so short, you can’t afford to waste any of it. A Greenland paddle also exits when your hand is at your hip, but the blades are long, and will exit behind you.

The long blades of a Greenland paddle mean that your catch needs to be quick and precise, otherwise the stroke will be almost over before you have fully buried the blade, especially if you prefer a vertical stroke for speed.

Trying to “unlearn” existing muscle memory can be frustrating, but it can be done, so be persistent. When learning a new “choreography”, start slowly and deliberately until if feels natural. Being aware of what you are doing is half the battle. When you find yourself falling back into old habits (and you will), just bring your new-found awareness back to your technique, or go back to the drills.

Sequencing Drill — Wind-up and Catch: (kayak moving very slowly or stationary):

  • Fully wind up (spear the salmon position)
  • Quickly bury the paddle blade into the water  ONLY (no other movement)
  • Remove the paddle, fully wind-up and perform on the opposite side.

Wind-up & Pause Drill: (kayak can be moving at speed)

  • Fully wind up (spear the salmon position)
  • PAUSE FOR A FULL SECOND (in the air)
  • Plant the paddle blade completely into the water
  • Feel your stroke-side foot engage the footbrace and apply power.

These drills will help isolate each movement, improve your catch, prevent applying power too soon, and are also good for working on your balance.  Even on a normal stroke when I’m not doing a drill, I pause very briefly after winding up to prepare for a good catch.

A kayak ergometer is a very useful tool for working on these drills. You can perform them either very slowly or at speed, without worry about balancing and capsizing.

When you plant the paddle, do so fully. Wrap a piece of bright tape around the shaft where it meets the blade (Euro or Wing). You should bury the paddle to this tape mark, and no more, no less. Strive to keep the blade at this depth throughout your stroke.  For a Greenland paddle you plant the blade almost up to the pinky finger of your pulling (lower) hand.
You can help keep the paddle at a constant depth by allowing the paddle to flare naturally away from the hull during the stroke, while maintaining good posture. This is only possible if your mechanics are sound and the paddle length is correct. Too long a paddle makes it easier to get the blade in the water for the catch, but the paddle may go too deep at the exit.  A paddle that is too short is just the opposite.

The website below has some good coaching tips, excellent images of the different phases of a stroke, and some additional drills that you might wish to try: http://members.westnet.com.au/dshunter/Good%20Technique.htm

  1. m from overseas Said,

    Hello Greg
    Thanks so much for this bubble free paddle advice, absolutely brilliant!!
    M from overseas

  2. Greg Said,

    You are most welcome. Please keep me updated as to your Progress! Greg

  3. Brian Mycroft Said,

    There is an article that applies to the “catch”, albeit about outrigger canoe strokes, on the dynamics of an effective catch at http://vivaa.ca. It explains the dynamics of a paddle going into the water and stroke length etc. Also there are current articles written by Imre Kemecsey.