Whitewater Technique: The Seal Launch

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The ‘seal launch’ is a term used to describe the act of getting back into the river by launching your kayak down the face of or over the edge of a rock. I’m not sure how it got that name, I’m assuming that seals do something similar when they dive back into the ocean.  Seems like a strange comparison, but it’s part of the whitewater kayak culture.

It’s an important and fun skill, especially in class IV and V when it can be  a necessity. There aren’t always nice banks or beaches from which you can slide back into the water easily and you may have to seal launch. Even if you don’t ever paddle class V, you can still find some fun seal launches on class III and IV rivers that are just fun to do for the sake of doing them, like Lunch Rock on the Nantahala (pictured below). There’s nothing like launching yourself down or off a rock into the water.  It’s like running a little waterfall… except there’s no water. It’s fun, really!

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Here are the seal launch basics:

1.  Make sure that you find a secure spot to get into your kayak on the rock. You don’t want to be teetering on the edge of the rock too much or on a slippy part of the rock. There’s nothing worse that flying off the rock before you meant to without your sprayskirt on because your kayak wasn’t in a stable position. Get a friend to help hold your kayak for stability if you need it.

2.  Use one of your hands or a boof stroke to propel yourself off the rock or to pick up speed if you need it. You can also ask a friend to give you a push.

3.  Once you’re, going commit to it. Don’t second guess yourself and lean back or try to stop once you’re going. It’s better to commit and keep your weight forward and balanced.

4.  Look at where you want to land.

5.  If you’re seal launching from a height then you’ll probably want to push down on your heels so that your bow hits the water at a 45 degree angle. You’re most often seal launching into flatwater so if you land totally flat it can be jarring.

Remember to have fun with the seal launch! It may seem scary or intimidating at first, but if you’re with a group that you trust on a river that’s within your ability it’s easier to trust yourself too and enjoy it. You may want to watch a few people do it before you go so that you can make a more informed decision for yourself. On the Girls at Play Intermediate Trip in Mexico (pictured below) we offer to lower people using a rope on one of the seal launches down a slopping rock. This way paddlers can choose if they want to be lowered the whole way or want to be let go of and experience the slide. It’s exhilarating!

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Join us in Costa Rica this winter for and scout out some awesome seal launches with us. For more great technique tips like this one, check out Anna’s Instructional DVD, Whitewater Kayaking with Anna Levesque.