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It’s tempting to just try and throw a loop once you have a good bow stall or a nice feature, but here’s how I would approach it if I was doing it all over again (and no, the hero image for this article isn’t me, much as I wish it was! It’s the amazing Harry Price during the World Championships this year at HPP)

I recently wrote a piece about how important drills were for developing skills, and in the course of writing it I mentioned how you could implement a drill breakdown for a flat water loop. Here’s a closer look at what I’ve been doing.

Because I don’t have easy access to a decent hole like inlet gate at HPP or at CIWW the only practical way I can learn freestyle tricks is on flat water. Unfortunately, this means that I’m not exactly Dane Jackson when it comes to being on a wave or in a hole, but it does mean that I have to make an effort properly understand the tricks I’m practicing, because on flat water you simply don’t have the water flow helping you along. It also means that when it comes to trying the move on moving or white water, being able to perform the trick is more about the skill of getting the right position and timing on the feature rather than needing to learn how the trick works. In other words, when you take the trick to moving water, getting it nicely on the flat means that you eliminate the pressure of learning the trick from scratch in a higher intensity environment. It’s not a magic bullet, but it will smooth the process.

Anyway, back to the loop. I’ve been practicing the flat water loop for what seems like an eternity. It’s got to be around five years at this point, and for at least three of them I’ve been at an impasse. I just cannot get the damn thing to be straight. My loop often ends up as a sort of weird Space Godzilla hybrid, and it’s down to a high number of factors all conspiring to ruin it.

The result has been a lot of frustration. The saying goes that if you practice something 100,000 times you master something. Unfortunately in my case that saying has merged with a slightly more down to earth one, “practice makes permanent”. In other words, by carrying on the practice of many thousands of wonky loops without any way to correct it, I’ve simply been reinforcing bad habits.

So I decided to go right back to the beginning again and build my flat water loop from the ground up. In order to be able to do that I had to break down the move into its component parts and find a way to isolate them. By far my biggest issue has been with the second half of the loop. This is the part where you need to open up your body and really push your feet to the end of the boat, and then keep pushing until you are back upright again. Get this second half right and even the wonkiest loop can be straightened off on landing. Instead of keeping my body straight I have a tendency to go out to the side like you would when performing a sweep roll.

Another aspect that has caused me problems is that I don’t sight something up stream during the launch phase, and, crucially, I have a curious habit of turning my hips when I go for the launch, which makes the boat twist as it launches into the air.

Solving such problems is not easy because a loop has to be done very quickly. Each movement is ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ fast, so correcting the issues is nigh on impossible. Or is it? I needed to break it all down and go back to the very basics, but the question was how?

The key came from an exercise that Bartosz Czauderna had me doing at inlet gate at HPP. He took the launch part of the loop out of the equation and instead got me to bury the nose in the incoming water and focus on keeping the boat straight as it got flipped forward, and then focus on the second half of the loop, pushing my legs into the end of the boat. In moving water you can complete the movement and get back upright again, just as you would had you launched into the air. The important thing is that this exercise lets you focus on the important components of the loop without the pressure of getting a good launch. It also lets you see where potential issues are.

We can do the same with a flat water loop. The only difference is that by doing this drill on the flat rather than into oncoming water is that you will finish upside down. However, you can still practice all the elements. I’ve been practicing this drill for a while now and it has improved my flat water loop a lot. I haven’t completely eliminated the twisting motion, but when I watch my video feedback I can see exactly why the twist is happening, and I can now work on eliminating it.

Here’s a video showing my usual wonky loop followed by the drill and then my loop as it stands now.

Drill breakdown

Here is how the drill goes:-

  1. Begin from a bow stall and get stable.
  2. Stand up high, pushing with your feet and sight an object on the river bank straight ahead of you. This section can be practiced as an entire drill on its own to develop the launch.
  3. Immediately throw forward as straight as possible.
  4. Immediately extend your hips and push both feet really hard into the end of the boat. Keep pushing with the feet until you end up in a back deck roll neutral position.
  5. Roll the boat up with a back-deck roll.

The drill in detail

Part 2 of the drill, as I mentioned, can be practiced entirely on its own to ingrain the need to sight an object upstream when you are about to launch. It also helps develop the idea of really standing up on your feet.

Part 3 lets you see if you really are throwing forward. From a personal training point of view, I have found that I do in fact start to throw forward pretty straight, but for some reason my hips turn towards the left as I stand up ready for the throw. This happens every single time, so it’s some sort of physical ‘tick’ that I do*. Without this drill I wouldn’t be able to see the problem as pronounced as it is, so I can now work on eliminating the issue and build ‘correct’ movement memory. One addition I am going to make when I practice the drill in the future is to emphasise pushing/throwing my arse into the air as I throw forward rather than just relying on the forward motion of my torso. This might assist in keeping it straight and add a bit of core tension due to the physical linking.

Part 4 is extremely important. It is important to keep pushing with your feet and extending your hip/pelvis and to keep doing so until you are lying underwater up against the back deck of the boat. The second half of the loop is one of the hardest parts to do, and a lot of people, including myself, don’t push fast enough, hard enough, or long enough.

With a flat water loop you don’t have the water to help you, so on landing you will often – assuming you’ve thrown the move straight enough – end up in a stern stall. You need to get into the habit of continuing the push until the boat is upright again. This drill helps hugely with that ‘movement memory’. In fact until I practiced this drill the second half of my loop rarely ever worked properly. Even if your initial throw is wonky, by doing a solid second half of the loop move you will often be able to straighten the boat off on landing.

Something else that is important about this section of the drill is that you’re given immediate feedback on how straight your initial throw was. If it was wonky or you make the movements weak you will often end up on one side of your boat rather than squarely up against the back deck. Likewise if you manage to extend your hips/pelvis and really push evenly with both feet, you will manage to square up somewhat, which in an actual loop will result in a fairly good angle correction.

Watch any good freestyler and you’ll see that quite often their flat water loops are wonky in the air, but because they have a really good second half to the move they often recover it and get it straightened on landing. Obviously the aim is to try and get the loop as straight as possible from the beginning, but a solid second half can cover for a multitude of sins.

Conclusions

This drill should help anyone develop their flat water loop, and all you need to begin with is a stable bow stall, although if you can get a consistently straight bow plough you could conceivably do the drill from that start point as well.

You could also practice the launch bouncing as a completely separate drill. This would entail practicing the bouncing motion to get height, but you could also incorporate standing up on your feet and sighting an object straight ahead at the end of it. This will help you build the timing you need, because another common issue is that people rush to throw it before the boat has properly been rejected from the water.

One last note: Like all drills, don’t expect to do this only two or three times and expect results. You’ll need to do this drill to a high number of repetitions over a period of time, particularly if you are using it to learn the flat water loop from scratch. For myself I will usually perform five or so repetitions before trying a proper loop to see how things are progressing.

*Since writing this article I have simulated the standup section of the movement in front of a mirror at home, and I have found that as I stand up and pull on the paddle I tend to push forward slightly with the right hand side of my hip. In the boat this translates into a left hand twist of the boat before I have even taken off. Yet I still throw forward towards what was the original facing position of the boat. The stand up portion of the drill will allow me to practice rectifying this, but I need a simple movement key to do it so that I’m not having to ‘think’ too much. Part of this will be practice at home on dry land.

2 comments on “A simple drill to help begin or develop a loop

  1. orbitfish says:

    Excellent content! Firmly believe that practice makes permanent. However, I have inconsistent flat water cartwheel and can’t bowstall! Even in my MixMaster 🙄 Definitely need to do some drills to get that consistently.

    1. kayakjournal says:

      Thanks, glad you liked it! I will also go through a cartwheel breakdown as well since I have been going through some on/off consistency issues with my own cartwheel. But I have made some recent discoveries that have made things a bit easier for me. The good news is that if you can sometimes do the cartwheel, you should be able to do a bow stall. I’ll try to write something up in the coming week or so.

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