The Value of Neutral and the Art of Boat Control
By Sharell Benson
I enjoy giving one word book reports, much to the aggravation of some of my bookish friends. In the case of our BCU 3 Star Training conducted by 5 Star Coach, John Carmody, I believe he will have an appreciation for my one word summary as the word NEUTRAL. This word needs further explanation. In the art and form of boat control the word NEUTRAL holds all of the power and dynamics for individual paddler safety and empowerment. First of all by keeping the wrist in a NEUTRAL position, you are reducing the risk of injury. Secondly, by attaining the skill to drop the paddle into NEUTRAL position at the side of the boat you are demonstrating the technical aspect of using the paddle to keep the boat going in a straight line without slowing the trajectory. The NEUTRAL position allows the practiced paddler latitude to fluidly move from one stroke to another in response to environmental conditions.
NEUTRAL wrist was the building block for Carmody’s training as he helped eight students deconstruct typical strokes through realignment of wrists and elbows along with an emphasis on torso rotation to create a triangle of stability that has been proven through Carmody’s scientific testing to be 17-23% stronger than a bent wrist paddle grip. It makes perfect sense that protecting your wrists and shoulders results in fewer injuries and improved group experience while paddling in a dynamic environment such as Lake Superior.
As training progressed from the building block of NEUTRAL wrist to the application of NEUTRAL paddle placement for rudder maneuvers, I was amazed that by looking in the direction I intended to move and then exponentially rotating my body the boat turned much more efficiently and gracefully, I might add. No paddle angle was required, it was all about maintaining the triangle of stability (these are my words) and rotating the body accordingly. I had never experienced the beauty and momentum of a well executed stern rudder before. The next step of our progression involved changing our rotation and hand positions to experiment with what was possible and advantageous for each of us. When we tried our hand at surfing waves in Little Sand Bay all of our newly acquired knowledge on the value of NEUTRAL came into play without injury or incident. We had become adept at safety and group awareness. Even though I had relatively little experience with waves, my new found skills helped me control the Aquanaut as necessary. Like any fine thoroughbred on the track, it was important to let the Aquanaut have her head as our boats are proven to be lots smarter than their operators.
While it was very apparent that our core team of instructors have been mentored by Carmody, I found his coaching style and emphasis on individual experimentation of the technical aspects of stokes and maneuvers paired with actual conditions on Lake Superior to be of immeasurable value in advancing my own understanding and paddling capabilities. I look forward to working on refinement and testing the value of NEUTRAL as introduced. I also came away with three words, not only one, that will take me a while to sort out and experiment with:
I hold the conviction that I need no additional codes for reaching my ultimate goal of UNCONSCIOUS COMPETENCE (Carmody’s words). The training was fun, even exhilarating! As the weekend wore on there was less white-knuckled paddle gripping and more ear to ear grins as we each made break through discoveries. Other highlights were the rudiments of weather forecasting by utilizing prevailing patterns and trimming the boat by moving incrementally on your sit bones plus many secret kayaking tips that I will let John reveal when you take a class from him. I believe I can speak for all students that we received more than we expected and we all went home with elevated spirits and very tired bodies. Thank-you to John Carmody, Jeff Forseth, Michelle Forseth and Peggy O’Neal for their coaching, patience and for sharing some of their vast knowledge for the rigors of BCU 3 Star advancement.