Getting Unstuck — Peel Outs and Eddy Turns On and Off the Water


Eddy turns and peel outs are essential skills for whitewater kayaking.  Catching eddies allows us more control because we can stop, scout, take a break and regroup.  Peeling out of eddies allows us to re-enter the current in control and gives us time to set up for our next move.  The key components to eddy turns and peel outs are:

1.  Angle = 45 degrees relative to the downstream current or current inside the eddy.  When we have the right angle we expose just the right amount of our kayak to the current which, in turn, does the work of turning our kayak for us so we don’t have to.

2.  Edge = Lifting our upstream edge when we’re peeling out and lifting our downstream edge when we’re performing an eddy turn.  Lifting the correct edge allows the water to hit the bottom or our boat so that we don’t flip while performing this skill and allows the current to turn out boat.

3.  Speed = Taking good, strong strokes to gain some momentum, but not paddling so hard that you blow your angle and edge…

4.  Look where you want to go.  Self explanatory!

As a kayak instructor I drill people on these skills on the water all the time.  Practicing them helps to create better reading water skills, balance, effortlessness and control.  Plus, good eddy turns and peel outs are a lot of fun!  Almost anyone can paddle straight down a class II and III river, but they’re missing out on a lot of fun and are not learning to paddle to their potential.  Beginners often resist eddy and ferry practice because it can feel unstable and challenging, but if they stick with it, they find themselves feeling confident and even having fun!

Interestingly enough I’ve realized that the components of eddy turns and peels are just as relevant off the water as they are on the water.  Take the peel out for example…  We’ve all experienced times in our lives when we’ve felt stuck.  Perhaps we feel uninspired or maybe we’ve been repeating habits and patterns that make us unhappy.  In these times remembering the elements of a good peel out can help us get unstuck.

1.  Set your angle = Pay attention and set your intention.  Ask yourself:  “What do I want to look different in my life?”  Allow yourself some quiet time so that the answer bubbles up from inside of you.  You know what’s best for you so trust yourself and set the intention that you want for your life, or for this year or this month or just for today.  It can be as simple as:  “Today my intention is to find 3 things to be grateful for.”

2.  Find your Edge =  Find your balance.  Take time out in your day to find your center, your balance point.  Sit quietly or go for a walk or bike ride or paddle!  Instead of constantly sending your energy out to everyone else, save some for yourself.  You can only take care of others if you take care of yourself first.  Going a step further, you can find your balance on edge — don’t be afraid to challenge yourself, to push your limits just a little.  Step outside of your comfort zone and hang out there for a bit and you’ll find that what you were so afraid of isn’t so bad after all.

3.  Speed = Start moving and move in a different way, in a different direction.  If you’re on the river and you get stuck in an eddy you don’t say to yourself:  “Oh, I’m stuck, I guess I’ll just have to stay here all day.”  If you said that you would never get off the river!  Somehow you find the courage, strength and determination to paddle out of that eddy back into the current.  You may not be sure of how you’ll end up at the bottom of the rapid, but you take initiative and you go for it.  Same thing when you feel stuck in life.  Big projects start with one little baby step, and then another and then another….  You don’t have to paddle like crazy, just start taking some strokes and the momentum will build on itself.

4.  Look where you want to go = It’s important that  when you have a goal that you’re reaching for that you don’t sabotage yourself by telling yourself stories about how you can’t do it.  I love the quote that says something like:  “Whether you believe you can or you can’t you’re probably right.”  Keep your focus on where you want to go, on what you want to create in your life.  When you hear yourself starting to doubt, coming up with excuses or being negative you can simply say:  “That isn’t true for me anymore.”  This is a very powerful statement!  Just because something went one way in the past doesn’t mean that it has to repeat itself.  We all have the power to choose where our attention is focused.  Using affirmations can help with this.  Find an affirmation that is believable to you and say it over and over.  Stick it on the fridge or somewhere you can see it.  It can be as simple as:  “Everything I do I do with ease.”  Keep it simple and keep looking where you want to go.

Eddy turns can be important to.  Maybe you need to catch an eddy to take a break, rejuvenate and find your balance.  Stopping to take stock of what’s going on in your life is important.

As I mentioned, I drill my students on the water on this stuff and it take some practice to refine peel outs and eddy turns so that they feel effortless.  If I had given up on kayaking after my first trip down the river because I couldn’t eddy turn or peel out or stay upright I wouldn’t be where I am or who I am today.  On the river I’m sure that you get out there and practice as much as you can, even if you don’t feel like you’re getting it right all of the time.  The same thing goes when applying this stuff to life.  Don’t give up when something doesn’t work out the way you want it to.  Keep going back to the basic steps mentioned above and recognize the lesson.   Being open to the learning will help you do it differently next time.  With practice peel outs and eddy turns become effortless both on and off the water.