Taking your first stroke: The basic idea & technique

Now that you’re finally in the canoe, the hardest part awaits you. You have to take that first stroke. If you’re around other paddlers and this is your first time in a canoe, make sure you have the paddle the right way, because that’s the easiest way to make a fool of yourself. Hold it not like you think you should – the angle of the blade faces towards the front of the canoe. Try and paddle with your blade flipped around and you’re only going to be pulling your canoe down with every stroke, paddle the right way and you should be lifting the boat with every stroke. If you’re starting on the left side, put your right hand on the top of the paddle, and your left hand about six inches above the blade.

Power comes primarily from two motions, the twist and the lean, and secondarily from the drive of your shoulders. Your arms should not be involved at all except to hold the paddle. In order to keep your arms from trying to help out with the stroke (though you may think they are huge, your biceps and triceps are teeny muscles compared to your lats, lower back, and core), you should try and keep both arms straight throughout the stroke until the recovery. To begin the stroke, reach out with straight, but not locked, arms, and make a triangle (with your arms as two sides and the shaft of the paddle as a third). Your body should be leaning forward and in a complete twist, with your back facing the side you are starting on. As you begin the stroke, drive down relatively softly in order to not cavitate (turbulence around the blade – try to keep it silent) and waste energy. You want to bury the blade completely in the water by leaning into it and by driving down with your top arm. Without breaking your bottom arm, drive down with your top shoulder, keeping your hand about level with your forehead, drive back with your bottom shoulder, and unlean and untwist till your paddle reaches your hip, then take it out. Take the paddle out any way you like, but the best way seems to be to take it out sideways with straight arms rather than breaking your arms and bringing it forward – but use whatever motion feels comfortable. Return to your starting position slowly, letting the canoe glide, get your body coiled, and drive again.

Before you go out and paddle make sure you either watch an experienced paddler or at least watch some video clips. You will never fully perfect your stroke, but it will rapidly get better with time. The most important things to remember are: keep your arms relatively straight, power comes from your core through twisting and leaning, and, in my mind most importantly, DO NOT CAVITATE. Make your stroke as silent as possible, any bubbles or any noise in the stroke is wasted energy. Everybody has vastly different strokes and there is no such thing as the perfect stroke. Different water conditions, different canoes, and different body types all call for different strokes. By getting out on the water as much as possible you’ll learn a variety of strokes that you will instinctively be able to apply in different situations.

information from:

Tips from John Puakea – Hawaiian paddler & canoe builder

The Catch or “planting” the blade

Paddlers must learn to plant their blade before they un-rotate/un-twist (sometimes given the misnomer of pulling). Otherwise, you are wasting the entire front part of the stroke.

Planting the blade must be done with quite a bit of force, but mustn’t be in a downward motion. It must be like spearing a fish or sticking the paddle through a mail slot. Your paddle should enter the water at a 45 degree angle forward of vertical. Planting the blade should be done almost completely with the arms and shouldn’t involve the body much. The body becomes involved during the un-rotation/un-twisting.

Power Phase

During the power phase of the stroke, if done correctly, much of your body weight can be on the paddle which will hold up your body weight.

Maximum effort on the power phase of the stroke should be right before the exit. This helps ensure that the power doesn’t slack off during the power phase.

End of Stroke

Leaving the paddle in too long creates drag and slows the boat down.

Working hard does not ensure that you are going to go fast!

“You can take your paddle and attack the water with it, straining every muscle in your body, throwing up big rooster-tails behind you, or you can slice your blade into the water, anchoring it solidly and using your entire torso, pulling it smoothly and evenly with much better results.”

-Kanu Culture by Steve West

Sea Changes