“What is Paddling! PART TWO”

The angle of the dangle!

The paddle blade should be presented to the water at very specific angles. Anything outside of these angles causes drag at the worst, or at the very least, a loss of power, and somewhere in between drag and loss of power, is spending your energy trying to make the boat go where it can’t (an OC6 is too big for a single bad paddle stroke to lift, sink, or sweep sideways – however the number of paddlers that spend their energy trying – albeit unintentionally – to move the boat in these directions is pretty staggering!).

Of course if you are paddling something smaller than an OC6 it’s pretty easy to drive your canoe up, down, sideways (is there somewhere else to go? If there is then I’m sure someone can make their boat go in that direction too!). You don’t want to send your canoe in any direction except forward!

To make the idea simple, the paddle blade should be vertical in the water (from all directions you look) and presented “square” to the water.

So, what is “vertical” and “square”?

(pictures back in post soon – sorry….)

These pictures are, of course, an exaggeration – they are to demonstrate the concept of vertical and square! At the forward reach and entry point the paddle angle should be no less than 45 degrees to the water and it should come up to almost ninety degrees to the water very quickly (as the boat moves up to the paddle at the entry point).

Bury the blade to the point where the blade joins the shaft (NO DEEPER!), before “pulling back”. Since the boat moves up to the blade as it is going to and into the water, it is very important that you get the feeling of “forward to the water”, or grabbing the water an inch or two forward of where you first thought the paddle would go in, or never being satisfied with just letting the paddle drop (which allows the stroke to halve in potential length – because of the boat travelling forward).

The top hand has to come over to the stroking side to get the paddle close to vertical when viewed from behind or in front of the canoe. If you keep your top hand too far to the opposite side the paddle angle will be very flat (it will turn into a sweeping stroke that would turn the boat to the opposite side if it could – in an OC6 you might turn the boat from seat one and five a bit, but everywhere else you are just wasting your energy).

The paddle should be square and vertical and drawn in a straight line beside the hull of the boat. It should not go down, out, up, or tip first anywhere! (Much more on this later!). Technically the paddle does not move (or barely moves) in the water. So the idea is to draw yourself (and your part of the canoe) up to the paddle, in a straight line, with the paddle maintaining the same depth, angle, and distance from the hull and water feel throughout the stroke.

Of course, with the limitations of the human body, this vertical angle cannot be achieved as in the silly drawings, however, again, its best if you think of the principal as the simplified version. HOW to achieve these things with your body will come later – often just getting the concept of what REALLY happens is enough to help paddlers start to adapt a better technique quite naturally (more in future articles).

Water feel!

Since “water feel” is a feeling it is much more difficult to teach than the biomechanics of something! In the words of a very wise man I know “some people can train all their life and still not attain enlightenment”.  I think of water feel a little this way as well. Many people mechanically try to do whatever their coach tells them. This is fine, however, without an internalizing of understanding of the principals, a paddler is not able to adapt (to different crews, different water conditions, different wind conditions), blend (adjust the power phase of their stroke to match the person in front of them and the way the boat is moving), and paddle in any seat with the different seat roles required.

A person who has water feel can determine the amount of pressure they need to apply to each stroke to remain “locked onto the water”, and make adjustments to that pressure midway through the stroke so as to maintain the blade “fix”. They can do that without thinking it through, it happens on autopilot, and adapts in moments.

They can also notice the “quality” of their stroke. How well it has locked onto the water, if it successfully moved the boat up to the paddle with the smallest amount of effort, if there was any drag at the catch or exit. They tend to be more gentle with the water than a person who has less water feel. Perhaps they look like they aren’t doing much, but they seem to go fast or to make a boat move.

A paddler with water feel naturally “accelerates” the paddle in the water. In “What is Paddling Part 1” we discussed the fact that when you apply pressure to the body of water on the paddle face that body of water begins to move. To maintain the effective lock on the water the paddle must “accelerate”. If it doesn’t, it actually is just dragging!

Many people think of acceleration as pulling harder through the stroke. Without water feel this will result in the blade slipping, or being forceful with the water (doesn’t necessarily result in moving the boat!), and usually using more energy than is required.

I like to think of it as simply as applying just 1% more pressure on the blade.

Remember, the paddle IS NOT MOVING! (Well, it is but ever so slightly!), so the pressure increase on the paddle should be ever so slight and incremental as the stroke progresses. Don’t think too hard, just think 1% pressure right to the exit!

Boat Run

The boat (any boat) travels the very fastest just after a well done and cleanly exited stroke. (The moment the paddle is not in the water).

From this peak of speed the drag forces of the water begin to slow the boat (hull design, displacement, etc., all determine the rate of deceleration after the exit of the blade).

The next bit of slow down occurs when the paddle is put into the water at the catch.

Unfortunately, for many people, the stroke itself creates as much drag as the force they are applying to make the boat move forward! So they work hard but don’t move the boat as well as they could with that much effort!

The idea of developing good technique is to get the boat to run freely as much as it can. The effort put on the blade should be relative to the speed of the boat, and with water feel, will accelerate the boat at the exit and then be allowed to drive freely for that moment.

From acceleration, through to the exit, and on to the recovery, comes “separation”. Separation IS NOT a pause at the exit or before the catch (I have heard schools of thought as to where there “should” be a pause). There is no pause!

Separation comes from a combination of water feel, acceleration and relaxation on recovery – not a slow recovery, just a swinging, free, easy, relaxed getting the paddle back to the fully extended position ready for the next stroke. Separation comes from the rhythm of the stroke – going forward to the catch, burying the blade, accelerating a vertical blade, exit at the hips, relax back to the full extension, reach for the catch……..

This rhythm is like drawing an oblong box in the air, with different colours for each part of the oblong. It sounds like the whirring of a rowing ergo, varroommm – mmmm – varroommm….. It is two toned – one tone for the ON of the stroke, and another for the RELAX of the recovery. It is two speed, again, feeling faster on the stroke and feeling slower on the recovery (note the use of the word “feeling”, rather than “being”!). And this oblong box with many colours has colours available for all water conditions!!!

The opposite (lack of rhythm, and a lack of boat run) feels more like drawing a circle and all in one colour! It is often described as a wheel, or “spinning the wheels”. This lack of rhythm and separation makes the boat heavy, makes every stroke hard work, and doesn’t have any options for adapting to different water conditions.

Summary – What is Paddling!

What is Paddling Part One and Part Two is a conceptual look at the basic principals of paddling (anything). Just understanding these principals, alone, will help in the execution of your paddling stroke.

If you focus on these guiding principals you will naturally begin to do the right things with your body (and with your body’s strengths and weaknesses) to perform a more effective stroke.

As we develop this site more there will be more and more detail on all aspects of paddling and paddlers can take the parts that are appropriate for them and discard the parts they don’t need.

Here are the main ideas:

– Move the boat not the paddle.

– The stroke is ALL in front, never behind – you pull yourself UP TO the blade in the water, not push off it!

– The blade should be vertical in the water (body limitations aside!) from all directions.

– Water feel is developed, not learned!

– Acceleration is an essential part of water feel, but it must be done gently – 1% at a time.

– Separation is a facet of boat run, water feel and good technique rather than having a pause anywhere!

– Rhythm comes from reaching for the catch, a vertical paddle, acceleration, and a clean exit in front of the hips, with a relaxed, easy recovery!