Don't be a Buoy-Head
Use a J-lean Instead

I don't remember where I first heard the term Buoy-Head, I suspect it was a derisive comment, unfortunately it struck a cord and has stuck with me - like a bad jingle that you can't get out of your head. The original reference was to people that sit bolt upright in their boat and sway back and forth with every movement just as a buoy does. At some point their centre of gravity falls outside of the boat and over they go. Unlike a real buoy we don't have a big heavy weight below the waterline to keep us upright and dry. Admittedly we will all tip over eventually but letting the boat move underneath you, like riding a horse (or a camel as I learned recently) gives us a little extra breathing space.

When canoing I encourage people keep their knees down, not necessarily kneeling but at least lowered and apart. If you keep your hips loose this position will let the boat roll underneath you allowing you to keep your noggin over the boat instead of the water - the technical term is a J-lean. This does not mean you can abandon braces but it does extend your possibilities.

The name J-lean comes from the shape of your body as the boat is tipped or edged up onto one side. Your hips rotate sideways and your upper body and head stay over the boat - forming a 'J' with your body. Many expert paddlers can edge their boat and keep it that way while paddling and executing various manoeuvres. Edging your boat will make most turning manoeuvres much easier. Practice is really important along with good flexibility for executing and holding a good J-lean. While paddling use your abdominal and oblique muscles to tip and hold the edge on both your paddling and off-paddle side. Practice on calm water to get the feel for the motion and build confidence, then when the water does come up in current or waves it will be second nature to let the boat rock and roll underneath you.

In the winter, at work, or where ever, practice your J-lean with a Pilates Ball; core strength and flexibility are the key.

Additional references:

Ford, Kent. Lean the Boat, Not Your Body!. in: Kayak Touring: Canoe & Kayak Techniques, ed. Dave Harrison, Stackpole Books, 1998

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Last modified: Sun Nov 14 09:19:20 2010