Whitewater is a game of angles, and running waterfalls even more so. As you progress your kayaking skill level, it becomes important to consider the vertical plane as well as the horizontal. It is time to think about how you want your boat to enter the water at the bottom of a drop and make angle work in your favor.
Learning how to set your angle on waterfalls is a lifetime investment in the health of your spine, so here are a few golden rules and good habits to get you started.
1) Gauge the situation.
Determine how tall the drop is, how deep the pool is and how aerated or green the water is. Find out whether there is a hole at the bottom and if any moves need to be made after landing. These things will guide you in your entry angle plan of attack.
2) Pull on the final stroke.
Shis is simple—the sooner and harder you pull on the stroke, the flatter your boat will end up. The later and gentler the pressure, the more vertical your boat will end up. This paddle stroke is a critical part of both setting your vertical angle and stabilizing the boat on the way down. It is your connection to the river as you enter the vertical realm.
3) Finish your stroke halfway down the drop.
This applies to any drop of any size. Depending on the size of the drop, once the final stroke is finished, you can tuck for impact, toss the paddle away, or ready your next stroke to skip over a dangerous hole.
4) Always land in the front seat.
Every kayak technique works better from the correct seated position. Landing with the spine aligned and an upright, slightly forward posture will give you the best result for avoiding injury as well as the ability to react immediately. Landing leaning back is bad for myriad reasons—just don’t do it.
5) Spot your landing on big drops.
This concept holds true in every sport. If your goal is to tilt your boat past 50 degrees vertical, watch the pool below. This will give good clues for when to pull on the final lock-in stroke, as well as a frame of reference for when to tuck for impact.
6) Hinge theory.
In situations where your back may be in danger from a flat impact, it is helpful to punch both hands forward and throw your head and body as far forward and close to the boat as possible. The theory is that your body is a big hinge. If the hinge is open, you’re sitting straight up and your spine will compress on landing. If the hinge is closed, you’re leaning all the way forward and spinal injury is much less likely.
There you have it—my six tips for waterfall angle success. Remember, there is no golden height beyond which back injuries happen. There is also no experience or joy in the world that compares to flying off a horizon line.
Chris Gragtmans has run drops on five continents but always lands in his hometown, Asheville, North Carolina, where he is Dagger pro team manager.