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Reading Trajectory In River Rapids

Oct 28, 2007
Understanding the basic trajectory of your kayak when you get into the water is an incredibly important part of enjoying your kayaking experience. Without that basic understanding you'll be nothing more than yet another random piece of flotsam being tossed around by the river.

Trajectory itself is a vital term as well as a necessary sort of math in the sport. Your trajectory is a combination of the angle at which you're facing, the speed of the kayak, and the speed or direction of the current. Y need to know where you're going and by paying close attention to these factors you'll be ready for whatever the river might throw at you.

The basics of angling and speed for maneuvering are instilled in kayakers at a very early stage. Most beginners know the basics. Getting out there into the midst of a heavy rapid can often cause you to forget or stop paying attention to the details you're trained to look for. You're going to have a trajectory no matter where you're headed in the river. What's most important is that you understand what that trajectory is and how you can affect and change it to suit your needs.

If you've ever seen a particularly threatening obstacle and merely paddled harder, you've experienced first hand the need for understanding trajectories. Instead of angling your boat properly and applying the proper amount of speed, you attempt to brute force your way away from a rock and this is not only dangerous but much less efficient. In extreme cases you might need to traverse the entire width of a rapid between rocks. The only way to accomplish this is to properly angle your boat, apply the proper speed and hope to cut off the downstream trajectory a bit.

But, keep in mind that simply changing your angle does not change the direction in which you are going. Facing past that rock does not mean you are going to go around the rock. Trajectory is a combination of all three factors and they must be combined properly to ensure they work. Imagine for example that you face your kayak upstream and start paddling. You have the angle right and you have the necessary speed (your paddling), but the current is going the opposite direction. It's negating your trajectory and forcing you back downstream.

So, the question arises then of how to establish the right trajectories while kayaking to make certain that you go in the direction you want. It's a long process of learning how to read the water and assess all of the necessary variables, plus the nature of your specific kayak. It's a matter of practice and timing. When you've practiced enough you'll soon be able to feel the difference in pull and paddling speed and the resulting trajectory you can derive from your direction.

Imagine driving your car at 60 miles an hour and trying to take a 90 degree turn without braking. It's the same basic concept. To successfully make that kind of turn you would need to start very wide and use a lot of space, utilizing the forward momentum of the car and the careful turn of the angle in the wheel. Anything more sudden will only result in a crash.

Understanding the trajectory of your kayak is a skill that comes with time, but when you finally grasp the importance of the process, you'll find that you can enjoy your outings much more because you'll spend less time trying to overcome the river and more time just enjoying the rapids.
About the Author
Tony Brian is a freelance writer for outdoor sports magazines and a contributing writer for Body Sport Paintball, specializing in paintballs and paintball-clothing.
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