Words: Corran Addison
Photos: Christine Pinsonneault
No matter how good you think you are, everyone is more off balance on their offside than their onside. This applies to both your paddling side and your feet. I’m not going to go into the merits of standing in a ‘kung Fu’ stance here – that was covered in a previous article that you should refer back to. So for arguments sake, you just need to assume I’m right and you want to be standing Kung Fu and not ‘side by side’ parallel. You know I’m right, just go with it.
Now on a personal note, I should point out that I almost never switch side paddling and every time I do, I immediately regret it. There are two reasons for this. One involves history. Way back when, before you and I were even able to paddle, there was this Olympic discipline called C1. Back then (this is the early 1970s), C1 paddlers switched sides depending on the angle of ferry, which side they were eddying out on and so forth. C2 paddlers would coordinate this by calling ‘hut’. Then along came two forward thinking paddlers: Jon Lugbill and Davey Hearn. These two realized that switching made no sense. It was more efficient to always have the same top hand and bottom hand and to paddle cross bow when necessary.
There were several reasons for this, but one of them was ‘dead time’. When you’re switching hands, you’re not paddling and if you’re racing that’s a time loss! If you’re just trying to stay on your board, that ‘dead time’ is a period where you have no control, and no possibility of control. At that moment you cannot take an emergency stroke, brace or anything. In a sport where balance is critical, having that crucial paddle blade to complete the ‘balance tripod’ of your two feet and a powered up blade is a large part of success. Invariably, you fall more while switching, or immediately after. So I don’t do it. Develop a good C stroke and it’s completely unnecessary.
But this creates an interesting problem when entering offside eddies. I’ll circle back to this.
‘Power’ vs ‘control’
While standing in your Kung Fu stance, you have a subtle ‘power’ vs ‘control’ foot difference. The back foot ultimately is the load bearing foot. 60-70% of your weight is on this, depending on what you’re up to, sometimes even as much as 90%. Your front foot is your control… this is the foot that allows you to subtly control lean angle. Often this front foot is on the ball of the foot rather than flat, and this provides a very sensitive, fine-tuned lean angle adjustment control (which also equates to subtle balance adjustment).
When leaning the board, the high foot is also the one that gives you the most lean angle control, while your back foot is how you power that inside edge down creating that lean.
By now you’re starting to get the picture. You want your front foot to be the high foot while edging – at least when it’s somewhere critical like blasting into a powerful eddy, or out into a very fast current. But since we’re not standing parallel but Kung Fu, this means that you can only ever apply this to eddies and ferries on one side.
Enter the switch stance
I have found, that while it takes too long to switch the paddle from one side to the other in a hand exchange (rather than a cross bow), you can switch your feet in a split second. In fact, in the photo sequence you see here, we tried several times to capture the moment when I’m mid exchange and we couldn’t – it’s too fast. It’s Michael Jackson on a paddleboard as you move those feet faster than Elvis can follow.
However, timing for this is critical
Too early and you’re off balance immediately after the switch while still in the downward moving current. Too late and it’s too late to be of any help. The rule of thumb is that you make the switch the instant the nose of the board contacts the eddy (or current) you’re entering on your offside so that this awkward feeling switch stance happens at the moment of maximum converging power and turning of the board.
Circling back to the paddle, I also make the switch an instant before I cross the paddle over into a cross-bow power pull into the eddy (or power stroke out into the oncoming current). I land my feet, and once planted, immediately reach the paddle across the bow (the timing is so close that from the side it appears that they happen together, but they in fact do not). Once again, my ‘tri-pod’ is there for both balance, and power to pull me into the eddy.
Now, there is an argument against this
What if you’re boofing a drop and landing in the eddy at the base, offside? Surely if you’re boofing (and using one of my boards that has the Stomp Hook to keep you connected) you can’t make this switch the instant the nose contacts the eddy. In reality you’re still airborne and the idea is to stay connected, not be leaping about on the deck.
The truth is I don’t have an answer for you. But I suspect it’s choosing the lesser of the two evils. Which will be worse – not using the stop hook and staying connected, or having your back foot as the control foot as you enter the eddy? My gut reaction (based on some trial and error) is that it’s better to stay connected. Try to use that same connection to keep your balance as you enter the eddy without having to switch. But the truth is it might simply be personal preference, or someone will come along and find a better way.
For 99% of your ‘off side’ eddy turns however, the switch stance is the way to go. The exception however, is if you’re doing a pivot turn on the tail of the board like a slalom kayak, where I’ve found that because you’re standing more surfer stance than Kung Fu in order to get the nose up, it becomes unnecessary to switch because of your body geometry relative to the trajectory of the board. Just watch Barry Keenon and Eric Giddens to see this done beautifully.
And that, my friend, is how you nail offside eddy turns without a paddle switch.