By Alex Matthews
Because the low brace is so quick to deploy, it’s usually the first instinctual defense against instability. But the high brace is an even more powerful recovery stroke, and it can get you back upright again from an even deeper degree of boat angle. In fact, a good paddler can use a high brace to recover when their boat is almost completely upside down.
The only potential problem with the high brace is that it’s easy to rely on it too much, which can put your shoulders at risk if your technique isn’t on point. So the first thing to keep in mind is that despite its name, you need to keep your paddle and your hands low and in front of your body when doing a high brace.
The flat water drill for a high brace looks like this:
To set up, hold your paddle in a ‘chin-up’ position. You’ll be contacting the water with the front or ‘power-face’ of your paddle blade.
Starting with your elbows low, roll your paddle up until your forearms are almost vertical.
Now reach out over the water with your paddle at 90 degrees from the boat. Keep your inside arm low. It’s important that this hand stay low so that your paddle blade is as flat or parallel to the water surface as possible when it makes contact, offering the most support (if your paddle is vertical, it will knife into the water providing no support).
As you fall toward the water, smack the surface with your blade to provide the support needed for your body to right the kayak.
Understand that the loading of your paddle on the water’s surface just provides momentary support, and that it’s actually your body that will right the boat. As you flip, the only way to right the kayak is by pulling up with the knee that is going underwater. The only way to pull up with this bottom knee is to drop your head towards the water in the direction that you’re flipping. While doing this is very counter-intuitive, it’s essential for righting the kayak.
Your head should be the last thing to come back up on a well-executed brace. If, instead, you lift your head up, you’ll inadvertently pull on your top knee, which will flip you upside down even more quickly. One trick to ensure that your head drops towards the water is to watch your slapping blade as you brace, as you’ll be less likely to lift your head if you’re actively looking down.
As you slap the water with your blade, drop your head towards its surface and pull up with your lower knee to right the kayak. Remember that looking at your active blade is a good habit to get into as it helps keep your head down.
To finish the stroke, slide your paddle inward, roll your knuckles forward and slice the blade out of the water.