When you are learning something new, it can seem sometimes like there is too much information to take in. It doesn’t matter if it is learning to roll, to paddle, to do a freestyle trick, to boof, all of these things contain multiple aspects that all go together to make them work. And to make matters worse, each individual aspect can be further tuned and refined as you go on, to make them even better. In other words, once you think you’ve learnt how to do something, there is always a way to make it better, more refined, more efficient, or to get an altogether better result.
If for example you learn to roll and you then manage to come up, you might think you’ve learnt to roll. You might have rolled in the same way for 20 years, or you might have paddled using a particular way of doing the forward stroke for 30 years. There’s a common myth that you should leave well alone what works for you. But to say this means that you aren’t accounting for the fact that if you really examined things you might actually find a much better way, and then wonder why you’ve just spent the last three decades doing things the way that you have.
But whether it is learning from scratch, making refinements, or outright improvements, it can’t all be done in one go. The best way to learn is to break things right down into much smaller chunks. Let’s take two of the examples I mentioned above. The roll and the forward stroke.
The common components of all rolls could be (in no particular order);
- Headgame and being comfortable under water
- Waiting for the right moment
- Paddle dexterity
- Activation of the correct muscle groups
- Correct use of the head
- Being relaxed enough and using the correct muscle groups to allow the paddle only to act as passive support
The components of a pure forward stroke could be;
- Correct paddle length
- Connectedness to the boat
- Power starting with the core
- Full use of torso rotation to power the paddle movement
- Rotational reach/wind up for the catch
- Vertical paddle
- Move the boat past the paddle, not the paddle past the boat
- Not allowing the paddle to go too far back and end up lifting water
- Keeping a quiet paddle
- Don’t drop the top hand
- Engaging the next stroke quickly and smoothly
Clearly if you tried to think about all of these things at once you’d end up throwing your paddles away in frustration. Yet sometimes this is exactly how some people try to learn!
Break it down and learn to cook
Learning is a process and can be summed up by comparing it to learning to cook. You wouldn’t try to create a meal worthy of a Michelin starred restaurant if the extent of your culinary experience was that you were only just capable of making yourself beans on toast.
Likewise you wouldn’t make a cake by taking all the required ingredients, smashing them all randomly into a bowl, and then placing them into the oven expecting an amazing cake to emerge after half an hour.
Sometimes each of the component ingredients need to be put together first, in stages, and then combined for the final cake or food recipe.
Sometimes this could be drilled right down to the slicing of an onion. A recipe might call for an onion to be finely chopped. You also need to make a fine distinction between chopping an onion and slicing an onion. But if you don’t know those differences, or how to do them properly, then you might not be able to prepare that onion adequately for the recipe you are preparing.
The loop conundrum
Currently I am trying to learn to flat water loop my freestyle boat. Learning on flat water is often harder than when the water is helping you. But it allows me to break movements down and understand them without having to be concerned about simultaneously dealing with the hole/wave.
So for the loop I need a few things, each of them taking time, and sometimes frustration to learn. To do a flat water loop properly I need to able to do the following:-
- A double pump
- A bow stall
- The ability to balance and have control over the bow stall
- The ability to ‘pump’ the boat to generate momentum for the aerial launch
- Once the boat is airborne to throw the body forward and under the boat
- To immediately throw the body back and my legs forward and over myself.
- To keep the body going back all the way to the completion of the move.
I can do pretty much every part except the last two, and yet they are the most important. At the moment I keep twisting the boat to the side because I keep naturally going for a roll position. It’s a habit I need to get out of.
To help with this, during coaching session with Lowri Davies, she got me to try doing the movement without the paddle so I could really throw my body and arms back. It was moderately successful and showed up some important things I also need to think about and do.
This is an example of how although I know from a general perspective that I need to throw my body back to help open up and push my legs forward, the actual process of learning the movement can be broken down. Another aspect to this was getting the stern stall as well, which allows me to practice that last part too, as well as some dry land exercises and other tips that were suggested to me by Bartosz Czauderna and Sam Ward (not dropping names, just want to give credit where credit is due).
The key thing is not to get too frustrated, no matter what kayaking technique you are learning (easier said than done, I know). But to break things right down and look at this process as something to be enjoyed on its own.
Sometimes if you reach a stumbling block, it can be worth going back to the beginning again to see if you’ve missed something, because quite often something not going quite right at one point can be traced back to the stages before it.