How to Loop a Whitewater Kayak

The most out-control-feeling freestyle trick on the river, the loop is also one of the most impressive and fun things you can do in a kayak. The nice thing is that, despite its reputation, the loop is actually not that hard to pull off. Its all in the timing.


Getting set-up

To set up for a loop, ideally you want to surf up onto the pile above the deepest and stickiest part of the hole: deep so your kayak won’t piton when you pearl the nose in and sticky so you won’t flush out of the hole. You also need to be high enough on the pile to build up some momentum as you dive the bow towards the green water. Sounds fairly simple, but in a turbulent hydraulic it can sometimes be a tall order to intentionally end up in the right position, which can make the set-up the hardest part of a loop.

Sinking the bow

From up on the pile you want to lean forward to dive the bow of your boat into the green water, where it meets the pile in the seam of the hole. The deeper the bow goes into the water, the more potential you have for catching some big air. If the green water is coming into the hole really fast or the pillow of the hole isn’t very steep it can be hard to get the bow to pearl. In this case it some times helps to “hop” the boat a little from stern to the bow as you head down the pile so that the boat hits the on-coming green water at a steeper angle and is less likely to plane out into a surf. A very important part of your body to be aware of here is your hands. As you sink the bow, be sure to bring your hands up in front of your body and out of the water. Otherwise, it is very easy to get your paddles stuck in oncoming green water or the pile.


Standing up

The transition from initiating the bow by leaning forward to leaning back and standing up on the pegs as the boat begins to ender involves a bit of critical timing. Many paddlers tend to stay forward too long and throw themselves under the boat too soon, without capitalizing on the full potential of the green water to throw a kayak up out of the hole. The trick is to begin leaning back as soon as the bow begins to sink and stand up on the pegs as the boat begins to ender. Knowing when is too early to lean back (which prevents the bow from pearling and causes the boat to plane into a surf on the green water) and when is too late (which results in little-to-no air and a bottom-of-the-hole calamity that isn’t very pretty to watch) takes practice, practice, practice. Again, keep your hands in front of you and you paddle out of the water as you stand up.

Throwing it down

A good way to think of “the throw” is to picture the boat moving around you instead of you forcing it around. What you are trying to do is to make the boat move in a circle of the largest possible diameter (hence the name of the trick). Standing on the bulkhead or pegs of your boat as it begins to ender, you will feel the river push you and the boat up out of the hole. The idea is to let that motion bring you as far out of the hole as possible without throwing you so far back that you land behind the pile and flush out. When you feel the boat almost to its maximum height out of the hole, throw yourself forward into a summersalt letting the boat carry its momentum up and over you as you go upside down in the air. At this point you should be thinking, “holy friggin !*#!$!! this is fun!” If you get lots of air, you can think it twice.

Sticking it

In an ideal world and hole, you would complete a full 360 rotation and land sitting upright on the pile, pretty sure that you did indeed rule the universe. This can happen, but usually doesn’t. You will probably not rotate all the way around and so will need to do what amounts to a sit-up mixed with a roll to get the rest of the way up. Its kinda of tough to explain this portion of the loop, but it helps to experiment with loosening your stomach muscles for an instant as you complete your rotation and land back in the hole. When you feel the pile “catch” the kayak, tighten your muscles again and sit /roll up (other paddlers may have a completely different take on this part, but this seems to help land more loops and stay in the hole).

Trying to remain humble

Difficult.

About Chris Emery

Chris Emery is a mutt. Half woodsman, half geek. He spends as much time outdoors as possible. On rainy days, he writes and publishes STRAY.
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