Boofing is one of the most important skills to develop as you step into the realm of class IV and V. It allows you to punch through and get over larger, more powerful features that would otherwise swallow you whole. While everyone claims to have discovered the one secret to perfecting your boof, the fact of the matter is that there are many, MANY, aspects of the stroke that must work in harmony with one another in order to maximize success. One thing that EVERYONE’S “secret” to success has in common is timing.
Learning to perfectly time your boof is a painstaking process of trial and error. You can start to think about it in a number of ways. I started off being told to look for the lip of the drop (or rock, or wave, or whatever it is you’re trying to get over) and grab the falling water on the back side of it. While this provided me with a definitive landmark to aim for, I often found myself pulling my stroke too late because I was so focused on where I needed to put my paddle. The result? I plugged everything. Hard. Pulling a late boof stroke is an awesome way to discover what lies beneath a hydraulic.
Eventually, someone noticed my frustration and told me that I should pull my stroke earlier. “Okay that makes sense,” I kept telling myself. I tried placing and pulling my stroke before the lip of the feature. This almost always resulted in a slight initial elevation of my bow followed promptly by a stern tap or a very quick diving of my bow and ultimately, yep, a big ‘ol plug. Interestingly, pulling my boof too early somehow felt better than pulling it late. I attribute this to the small bit of success elevating the bow prior to going deep (which was not present with the late stroke). Eventually I realized there had to be a happy middle ground between too early and too late. But how was I supposed to tell when that perfect moment was?
Plug after plug, I slowly started to narrow in on something that I thought was right. At this point, the thing I struggled with most was how to definitively tell when the right moment was. Sometimes I’d nail it and soar over a foam pile, sometimes I’d find myself in an all too familiar whiteout situation. As I continued to play around with my boof timing, I discovered 3 things: first, you can almost always FEEL when the perfect moment is (or, more likely, when it *was*, as by the time you’ve felt it, it’s too late to set up and pull a boof).
Second, ANTICIPATION of that moment is paramount to your success. If you set up for your boof (paddle vertical, weight forward, eyes up) before that moment arrives, you’ll be ready to unleash a powerful stroke when the time comes. Lastly, you almost always have to WAIT longer than you think for the perfect moment to arrive. Every drop is different. If you pull your boof too early, it’s almost impossible to take a second one. Waiting for it, while scary the first few times, allows you to anticipate and feel the perfect moment.
What does this moment feel like? It can vary from drop to drop, boat to boat, paddler to paddler.
Personally, I’m convinced you can actually feel a point where your boat starts to lift up as you approach the lip, even before you’ve done anything. Immediately after this feeling, your boat starts to drop fast, so be ready. If you can recognize this lifting feeling in your seat and hips and take advantage of that momentum with your boof, you’ve given yourself the best chances to pull your bow up and over whatever feature lies in front of you.
As I mentioned earlier, learning to boof is a process. A long one at that. Be prepared to spend some time saying hi to all the fish below the surface before you get it dialed in perfectly. You could be the strongest, most physically and technically proficient paddler on the river and still struggle with boofing because you pull your stroke too early or too late. While there are TONS of different mechanics that go into a successful boof stroke, waiting for the right moment is perhaps the most important.