This kayak technique article on how to edge for tighter turns was originally published in Adventure Kayak magazine.
Most people have been introduced to the technique of edging but have never fully mastered when, why and how to perform this skill. Edging aids in quickly turning your sea kayak by changing the shape of the boat’s hull at the waterline. Most kayaks turn more efficiently toward the dry, or raised, edge (shorter waterline) but there are exceptions so experiment to see what works best for your boat. This is a dynamic skill—for edging to work, you need to have paddling momentum or make use of currents.
Edging requires a controlled shift (slightly forward and to the outside sit bone) in your body position relative to the kayak’s balance point. Proper boat fit is essential: Your feet should be firmly placed on the foot pegs in a comfortable but secure position; your knees and thighs should make full contact with the boat; and your spine should be erect and snug against the back band or seat back.
The single most important factor in edging well is your posture. Sit up tall and think about your body as two separate parts: your head and torso (above the sprayskirt) and your hips and legs (below the sprayskirt). To edge, rather than lean, the two parts must move in isolation from each other.
When you are ready to start a turn, look toward the direction you want to go. This engages your torso and sets you up in a powerful position for a sweep stroke or bow rudder.
Next, point your toes on what will be the wet, or low, edge side of the kayak. Pushing the foot peg maximizes your contact with the boat, stabilizing the edge and giving you a solid platform from which to drive your turning stroke.
The last step I call the “one cheek sneak”. The one cheek sneak involves actively shifting your body weight overtop of your sit bone on the wet edge side. This weight transfer is what causes the boat to edge. If you had a sheet of paper under your bum cheek on the dry side, you would be able to pull the sheet out. In an ideal position, your chin is over your dry side thigh. This is where body separation really comes into play—while your lower body does its thing, your upper body stays centered over the kayak’s balance point.
Hold this position and allow your kayak to carve the turn.
The one cheek sneak requires excellent core control. Any activity that engages your core will improve your edging. For me, yoga has helped significantly in increasing the core strength that is essential for confident edge control. Try poses like side plank or prayer twist that require good balance and engagement of core muscles.
Christopher Lockyer is an aspirant BCU level 5 Sea Coach and Paddle Canada level 4 instructor based in Halifax, Nova Scotia. www.committed2thecore.com
To encourage the conservative edger, or to give stopping points before a splash, I like using the concept of edge levels.
It’s arbitrary, but 4 is my magic number.
1. Weight shift to one buttock. The legs are still free to drive the rotation of the upper body if paddling is sustained. It’s comfortable, yet already makes a difference in turning.
2. Knee contact on the high side. Edging comes from the core, but the knee can give a reference, adding control and increasing the turn.
3. Limit of balance. Using the weight shift, the knee if desired, or the cheek sneak, take the kayak to the highest edge you can maintain. Breathe. This point differs, influenced by clothing, meals, pre-paddling stretching, etc. Edge 3 grants tighter turns while still using the paddle purely for propulsion.
4. Splash! Four is useful for extremely sharp turns where the paddle is giving support, such as a low brace turn (on inside or outside edge) or a pivot with a supporting blade angle. It’s useful for snorkeling, too.
Define the edges for yourself. Try it with your eyes closed. Try paddling in a straight-ish line on edge level 1, 2…3? Try initiating a turn and gliding on edge level 1, 2, 3…4? Hold a low brace an inch over the water for security.
Choose different edge levels in different circumstances. In addition to making sharper turns, edging adds a new dimension of fun to your kayaking. —Ginni Callahan, BCU level 4 coach & ACA level 5 instructor, Cathlamet, WA / Loreto, Baja
There are many ways to describe the body positions required to effectively edge your kayak. Reading about them is the easy part; translating what you read into a physical movement or posture that is effective at accomplishing your goal can be difficult. For this reason I like to present different options for paddlers to play with; some will work for you, some might not.
Two additional descriptions of body positioning for edging include: 1) dropping your knee on the wet, or down edge, side of the kayak, and 2) doing a side-tummy-crunch on the dry, or high edge, side of your kayak. By dropping your knee away from the underside of your deck and down to the hull of your boat, you lower your weight in your kayak, which helps increase stability and makes holding an edge easier. With the side-tummy crunch you incorporate muscles from your seat to your upper torso, which helps you hold the edge. The side-tummy-crunch also makes you shift your weight sideways to stay centered over your kayak’s balance point. —Meaghan Hennessy, Paddle Canada level 2 instructor trainer & BCU level 3 coach, Vancouver, BC
It’s also worth noting that a little edge done well goes a long way. Keeping the edge consistent throughout the turn greatly increases your efficiency. Edging can be used to turn the kayak on its own, but can be used to even greater effect when combined with sweep strokes, bow rudders and other turning strokes. Tighten the radius of your turn by driving the boat with your lower leg and engaging your abdominal muscles.
As Christopher states, you also need speed to use edging effectively. Practice combining speed and edging by completing a Power Circle: edge left (left edge down), forward sweep on the left and forward stroke on the right. Continue in a circle. Practice on both sides by tracing a figure 8 on the water. Then try a spiral. —Michael Pardy, Paddle Canada level 3 instructor trainer, Victoria, BC
Edging is all about changing the shape of the kayak’s hull in the water, so that turning can be accomplished with minimal effort of the paddler. I agree with Christopher that most sea kayaks will turn more efficiently towards the raised edge, and to be able to edge with ease the paddler has to pay attention to both contact points and posture.
I liked the way Christopher described a controlled shift of the lower body. I coach my students in a similar fashion by asking them to lower a leg to the bottom of the kayak and actively press it into the hull, which helps them to shift their weight to one side and to more effectively stabilize the kayak on edge. I would argue that merely pressing a foot into the foot peg is not as strong of a position as actively lowering a leg onto the hull to increase contact points and increase the desired weight shift.
I agree that a tall upright posture is integral in bringing the upper body mass over the lowered leg and sit bone, further aiding in edging a kayak—this is what Christopher calls the “one cheek sneak.”
I would add that a kayak is best edged by first changing the shape of the body as described, which in turn changes the shape of the hull as it moves through the water, and lastly effecting the turn by adding the complementary blade movement. —Shawna Franklin, BCU level 4 coach, Orcas Island, WA
This is a great and thoughtful approach to edging. I especially like the focus on posture and the idea of your chin-over-thigh position. I also like the concept of the “one cheek sneak” but from an ongoing, personal, un-published research project on edging I would add that actively dropping the down-edge leg creates more stability and allows the spine to align more over the lowered sit bone.
I also personally advocate that to be able to get a good posture, you should move your lower spine away from the back band and not be “snug against it” as Christopher suggests. Furthermore, Christopher mentions, “looking where you want to go.” I wholeheartedly agree with “looking,” but would caution that if this action includes a twisting of the torso, hip mobility will be decreased and therefore limit the degree of edge that can be obtained. I would first edge with hips and an active leg drop and then twist at the torso. —Leon Sommé, BCU level 4 coach, Orcas Island, WA