The bow stall is one of those tricks that has no purpose on white water, but for flat water trickery, not only does it look cool, but it is the precursor for being able to perform many of the aerial moves (that I haven’t quite got yet!)
The bow stall is one of the most sought after flat water tricks to do as a result. So here are a few tips on doing it. There’s no magic bullet though, other than sheer dogged determination. Although for some people it might only be one ingredient that is missing.
I practiced for over three years before I got it. But that was because I was only missing one small thing.
Lastly, once you do find the balance point, expect to go from being able to balance from one second up to much longer fairly exponentially over the following weeks of practice.
The right boat
It helps to have a boat suited to the purpose. A boat with too large a volume in the wrong place for your weight will make it much harder. It’s not impossible to do – I’ve seen quite small paddlers bow stalling boats two sizes up from their ideal! But they were very experienced and skilled playboaters.
The fast track way
The fastest way to learn the balance point is to have someone lift up and support you from the bank or side of the pool in the bow stall position. This takes away the variable of having to do a successful double pump each time to practice it. You can practice moving your body subtly back and forth once you and your spotting partner have found the balance point of the boat. Your spotter can let go of the boat, but keeping their hands close by so they can lightly grab it to stop it tipping over.
The double pump way
This has a longer learning curve than the one above, and it is how I learnt it. It’s frustrating, but if you persevere you will get it!
But don’t rely on a forward double pump. I got my first proper bow stall from doing a back stab and cartwheeling onto my bow! Try it, it’s not as difficult as you think.
The ploughing ender way
This is a more straightforward way to get on end than the double pump and might be a good method if you have the right boat.
Recognising boat position
This is important, but it’s amazing how in the heat of things this observation gets lost. You need to recognise the point at which your boat is coming to the vertical balance point from the double pump etc. It’s important because recognising when your boat is achieving peak ‘teeter’ point is key to recognising when you need to get your paddles out and away from you.
No boat has the same balance point. They are all different. And if you use an inflatable thruster it will be different again. I’d recommend using one and practicing with it because later on you will want it to help you with aerial moves.
Keep your body quiet
Keep falling on your head from the double pump as the boat comes up to vertical? You could be doing one of two things. You could be leaning forward with your body, or standing up on your feet and leaning back too much.
Keep your body as neutral as possible and rotate it into the bow stall. As the boat comes up to vertical sometimes what feels like neutral is actually leaning forward too much. So you might have to lift the body a little. Not much, just a bit. You don’t want to be leaning back either.
Use your head
Looking at the bank is hard from a bow stall position. But at least try and look out and away from your boat as you do the double pump. If you look at your bow you will likely end up going on your head. Remember, the boat usually goes where you are looking with both your head and body.
Yes, I know you’ve read elsewhere that leaning back is supposed to make you fall on your head while going forwards flattens the boat out. Mainly this is true. But not always, such is the voodoo of the bow stall!
As the boat comes up to vertical (technically it will be around 45 degrees when the bow stall is being performed, but let’s just call it vertical for ease) you need to get your paddles away from you as soon as you can to help with balance.
This is not because you will be balancing on or using the paddles as a crutch. It’s simply to get your hands and arms reaching away. You can do a bow stall without paddles, so most of your balance comes from micro adjustments of your body. Not from using the paddle.
Note that when I say you need to get your paddles away from you I am taking about reaching out towards the bank, not down towards the riverbed.
There’s a sweet spot as to how far to reach. Too far and your body will start to change from neutral and you’ll likely flatten out.
Making a focus on this movement also ensures that once the boat starts to come up to vertical you are getting the paddle as flat to the water as possible.
How to reach out
Contrary to what a lot of people starting out try to do, you don’t need to try and reach out with both paddles/arms at the same time.
When you do the double pump, and just before the boat comes up towards vertical, start to reach out with your front arm/paddle first, quickly followed by your rear arm. In practice it’s a fast, yet controlled 1-2 movement.
If you can already double pump, there’s a lot to think about doing here. With the 1-2 paddle movement I spoke about above, stand on the bank and go through the double pump movement and into the reach out sequence above to get the hang of it before you try it in the boat.
The bow stall is one of many frustrating flat water tricks. Enjoy the process. Some people will get it faster than others, but there’s nobody who isn’t capable of it. You just need to be like a dog with a bone and keep trying it!