Sarah Boudens
Credit: Mark Barsevskis
Canadian female paddler Sarah Boudens
There's always room for improvement. Here, three top paddlers provide tips on how you can kick your kayaking up a notch.

Choose your spots

Even though a whitewater slalom course might be 1,600 feet long, Sarah Boudens, Canada’s top female paddler, breaks it down into inches. It’s not make the eddy, it’s hit the eddy, right there. It’s not catch a wave, but surf the first wave, not the second one, to an exact spot. Miss either by a couple of inches and it’s the difference between slipping through a gate cleanly and hitting it for a penalty, between winning a medal and finishing fourth. So instead of just bobbing down the river, you have to keep focused. “Don’t leave an eddy without a plan,” says Boudens. Start by picking a goal from each eddy—a wave to surf or the next eddy to hit—and from there pick another. By always having a plan, your paddling technique, river reading and boat-scouting skills will benefit.

Mix it up

Shayne Vollmers is a Vancouver Island schoolteacher who not only paddles class V but also bags first descents. He attributes his success to a combination of regularly cranking up the difficulty and then taking things easy. On the weekends, he likes to hit the hard stuff. “It keeps me on my toes and in the right frame of mind,” he says.  But during the week, he cools things down with a yoga session. “It really helps my body stay limber and able to take the abuse I throw at it on the weekend.”

Back things up

Most of the time it’s on purpose, and sometimes it’s an accident. Either way, kayakers spend a lot of time backwards. But that doesn’t mean most ’yakers have good backwards sense. “It’s a lesser developed skill, for sure,” says pro paddler Tyler Curtis. “But backwards awareness is really important.” To increase his, Curtis does his entire warm-up on flatwater paddling backwards: “It’s a good way of warming up your muscles and helps you prepare for when you’re backwards on the river.”