You want your kayak to go where you want it to go. If it does not, you will be paddling against the current and doing a lot of extra work. That is why tracking is so important. It’s all about how the kayak flows through the water, avoiding obstacles and attaining your desired destination. So what’s tracking in Kayaking?

Tracking in kayaking is a technique of using the paddle as a rudder. It allows you to slowly maintain your course and speed across waves or jostling rapids without fear of broaching.

In some cases, tracking also works for clearing water out from beneath you on the way downriver to gain speed and power from it – this is called portage surfing.

The ability to do tracking comes with practice and skill. Still, if you cannot keep a straight line or find a shore, this article will describe how you can alter your paddling technique and improve your kayak for tracking to overcome setbacks.

What You’ll Need:

Tracking requires a position of the kayak that is somewhat different from that needed for keeling. You first need to rest it on your lap and get yourself into a kneeling position in front of the cockpit.

The bulkhead part of the kayak should rest on your knees, and you can use your feet (with flips, flops, or sandals) as a wedge between the base of the kayak and your feet.

This helps to keep the kayak stable, but be careful that it is appropriately balanced before setting off. If it tips too far, you will find it hard to stay upright when paddling.

Kayak Leaning

When paddling with tracking, the kayak should be at its leanest. In other words, you want the stern to be lower than the bow.

This means that you probably won’t fit in a standard kneeling kayak, but that is no problem – all those extra inches already make it pretty stable, so there will be no tipping.

However, if you have a full kneeling kayak, ensure its bulkheads are upright rather than leaning toward one side.

If it does, sit more upright in your cockpit and let your feet adjust to the new action of the boat to keep it as stable as possible.

Track & Portage Surf

Make sure you have a nice smooth edge and a flat patch on the paddle. You can test this by holding it in front of you, perpendicular to your body, going with the flow of your kayak if possible.

The kayak will be effectively tracked if there is an air gap around your paddle. However, if you find that the blade scrapes, then this means that it’s not flat enough and will need some work before attempting a portage.

A good trick is to get someone to hold the paddle while you are standing upright in water – as long as they hold it still horizontally while they stand still, then they shouldn’t be able to feel any scraping action.

If there is still some movement, use a piece of wood or a plastic chopping board to flatten the edge for a few seconds. If it’s still not right, put the paddle tip in the water and bend it back.

Keep going like this until you finally get one side completely flat – this should last for about ten to fifteen minutes of even gentle paddling.

A well-made paddle will also help accuracy, so if your paddles’ makes are traditional, make sure that they have been made by hand rather than machine and take extra care to get them perfectly straight before use.

It may be a good idea to ask an experienced friend to make the paddle if you are struggling to get the position right – it’s likely that they will have a different idea of how best to do this and could put their twist on it.

The above should pay off in smoothing the track and making it look more natural. The point here is that you want to try and keep your kayak as close as possible to flat when paddling, or else you will end up with a bigger wave break or jostling rapid that can easily knock you down upsetting your basic position.

If you find that your paddle is constantly scraping on the water, then you should do some work on it – remember, though, that if you are doing a pop-up, then you need to make sure that it has enough flex to get up quickly and well.

Tracking Technique

Now that you have your paddle well-flattened and your kayak below slightly leaned, the main technique for tracking can begin.

You can use the blade of the paddle as a rudder – this does make quite a bit of sense, given that almost all paddles are essentially fixed blades during use – however, specific rules about this will help to keep things simple.

The key thing to remember is to use the trailing edge of the paddle rather than the leading edge.

In practical terms, this means that if you are facing straight forward in a kayak and paddling, you want to use the back half of your paddle – from where it meets your hand down towards the blade.

This isn’t just for ensuring that there’s some extra leeway in maneuverability and tracks but also helps to stop water from getting up into your kayak.

If you have a full face mask on, then your paddle will be out of the water and near impossible to use while at the same time taking on water.

The other issue when using tracking is that you can end up with the paddle flapping horizontally in front of your kayak. As previously mentioned, the paddle doesn’t have good contact with the water, so it will be much harder to control.

If you feel this is happening to you, try to twist the paddle in your hand as if turning a door knob – this should stop your paddle from hitting anything.

The other issue here is often misjudging your paddling power, so you’re not using enough force to stop it from slapping around.

As long as you have a fair amount of power, this shouldn’t matter – keep going until there’s no action left in the paddle, and then take it out of the water for a rest.

Tracking is a great skill that takes time to master. However, it will pay off with increased paddling speed, and there is no need to worry about falling off the kayak while doing it – even on a rolling rapid, you can have your total weight in the kayak, unlike other techniques that may require you to lift your legs off the floor. With practice, you’ll soon be able to get tracking right – good luck!