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How to Backflip your Kayak:


I’ve seal launched the 20′ point at Rock Island for 20 years, I’ve also watched paddlers try backflips off ramps and waterfalls and also over-rotated off high dives and cliffs of all sorts.   I knew it was possible.  Too bad the threat of landing on my head from 20′ up kept me from trying it.    Enter Dane Jackson and his 17 yr old fearlessness and acrobatic prowess..  as soon as he mentioned he wanted to try flipping off the 20′ Seal Launch across from the powerhouse I knew he would succeed.

The rest is history – he stuck it first try and the next day did a couple in a row to convince EJ n Nick to give it a go.   Now we’ve been ‘flipping in’ as often as not just because it’s so fun.

Want to try it yourself?

What you need:


1.  A diving board, overhanging cliff or platform from 10′ to 20′ high above at least 8′ deep water. (A high dive works great but it’s easier to go off the side than the end and then I worry about pogoing into the pool-side or low-dive… pick the right pool!)


2.  A short kayak:  I’ve seen 8′ boats go around but the 6’ers rotate faster.


3.  Acceptance of the fact that you may very well land on your face, and a plan for what happens if you over-rotate and land flat ( higher cliffs in lighter boats especially!).


What you DON”T need:

1.  A paddle – all you can do is hurt yourself with it as your instincts on how to use it will lead you to ruin – and possible break your paddle and nose.

2.  Help – let a friend get you balanced on the edge if you want but once set, perform the motion yourself so that it’s repeatable and also so there is no one else to blame.

3.  Second Guessing:  when you start to lean back, the boat is going to fall off the edge, commit 100% to looking for water so the boat will come around and hit first.


Once you’ve found a launch spot, are sitting backwards in a short boat, and have just chucked our paddle into the pool below… now what?


1. Push yourself to the edge so that even when leaning way forwards the boat teeters when you sit up at all.  You want to make sure there is no delay in the rotation once you start.


2. Star from leaning forwards to stay on the rock, then raise yourself up and back – arms up overhead – all the way to the stern deck.    Think ”Look for Water” to make sure you go all the way back in one smooth motion.


The falling sensation takes over right when you stop moving back and you may have the impulse to sit up or look to the side for water – resist!  Have faith in inertia and keep looking for the landing…


Reward:  There’s the water and it’s not nearly as far away as you though.


3.  Now it’s just a matter of pulling your legs under your head just as you do on any backflip in any sport… except that you are falling vertically like a rock and the kayak weights a lot more than any skis, snowboard, or wakeboard you’ve ever ridden.   To deal with these factors remember 3 things:

a.  The rotation of the kayak already happening allows you to ‘snap’ the bow under your head much quicker than you think.

b.  The water is coming faster than you think so that’s a good thing.

c.  You are not going to stop rotating even when you hit the water  so landing just a little over-vertical can be a really good thing – and anything beats coming down flat, which will hurt from this height.


Backup plans:  If your take-off is scrubbed and you are falling down without enough rotation, you are going to land on your head.  Congrats – it’s not as bad as you think!  Look at the water and put your hands in front of your face and just ‘dive’ in.  An Overthruster, implosion bar, or Happy Thruster can be of great service about now for us guys, and you might even eject, but chances of serious injury are slim.


If you throw too hard and are coming around hot and early, you have 2 options:

1.  Lean back towards the back deck to slow your rotation and hope to ‘stomp’ the landing – at the risk of your spine if you should fail, OR

2.  Tuck knees into your chest tight, hold on to your kayak,  turn your head a quarter turn so you don’t scrape your nose, and get ready for impact.


If you’ve done some backflips on a trampoline or diving board this is going to feel strange at the top but natural once you see the water.   Seems like almost everyone that tries it once ends up doing it a lot, so theres a great chance you will too.


If nothing else, it’s a great way to make your next roll-session in a pool a lot more interesting… for you and everybody watching.


Have fun!

Clay Wright

photos by Stephen Wright

look for water

Keep looking!

pull your feet under you