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Hinge Theory: Avoiding back injury on large drops

Reposted from the Dagger blog, written by Chris Gragtmans

The past two years of extreme kayaking have been absolutely crazy to witness. From Tyler Bradt running 186 foot Palouse Falls, to a ridiculous season this year in Chile, to some serious progression on the Oregon and Cali fronts, the sport of kayaking has been pushed by a lot of people. The simple fact is that more people than ever before are running gigantic waterfalls.

One of the keys to stepping up your game on the big drops is having a plan B. One of the most important things that any creekboater should learn is how to brace for a dangerous flat impact. This can occur from a bad bounce on a slide or from landing flat in green water off of drops that are above a certain height. People have broken their backs on 20 footers… you need to be careful.

When all else fails, the technique that I would recommend is referred to as Hinge Theory within my circle of friends, although I am not sure if that is a commonplace term elsewhere. Basically, you need to think of your back as a giant hinge. If you sit up straight and fall like a sitting duck, your lower vertebrae can compress and/or fracture. The idea is to lean far forward instead, so that you slam your body (and sometimes nose, unfortunately) against your boat. Your back therefore pivots like a hinge and doesn’t break. Surf on down the Dagger blog for Pat Keller's first D of Linville Falls, where he put this technique to good use.

There are two types of hinges that I use on a regular basis:

Hinge #1 - General Purpose Brace for Impact
  1. Place paddle on or very close to your deck between your knees and stomach
  2. Flick elbows high
  3. Lean aggressively forward
  4. Bow your head with respect to the river

*This one is great for drops with flat rock landings. Combine with a dropped bow to glance off flat rocks. Learn this if you ever paddle the Horsepasture in NC*

Hinge #2 - Sheer and Utter Panic
  1. Punch paddle and both hands straight out forward
  2. Lean forward as far as you can
  3. Bow your head
  4. This one may very well sacrifice your nose, but that heals faster than your back.

There is one very important thing to note here. The hinge needs to pivot from the bottom of your spine and your hips, rather than just slouching and rolling your back. Keep your back as straight as possible. See the images below.

Slouching - Don't do it!

Hinging

Credit: Trent Thibodeaux

Credit: Jakob Kafer

I hope that this has been helpful. Be safe out there and good lines!

Chris Gragtmans