Wednesday June 29th 2016
We’ve looked at the mechanics of a good stroke, but the way you position your body has a huge effect on how well you can transfer power from your body to the boat. We’ll start at the bottom:
Feet - If balance is good in the boat, having your feet in the middle and pointed up (not angled out) gives you the best reach as your knees don’t impede your forward extension. This is necessary in the bow anyway, where you often have to stack your feet in order to fit into the boat. In the stern try putting your feet in the middle like this. When you need maximum control of the boat (such as when leaning aggressively) you may need to add more contact points with it by bracing one or both legs against the sides.
Legs – Your legs should be extended in front of you with your thighs almost parallel to the gunwales. Normally your knees will be a little higher than your pelvis. This is quite subjective so find the extension that is most comfortable and gives you the best leverage.
Pelvis – Very important! Think of your pelvic girdle as a bowl full of water. You want to position your “bowl” as if you are gently pouring the water out in front of you. The natural tendency is to angle your pelvis too far back, holding all the water in your “bowl”. You lose a large amount of reach sitting like this and it promotes arm paddling as opposed to using your core muscles.
Torso – Positioning your pelvis correctly will get your torso in the proper position. In your profile you should have a forward lean from the hips. Keep your back straight, however - don’t hunch to get that lean. You’ll know you’ve got a good forward stance if your runny nose were to drip onto your knees.
Arms –Your arms should stay out in front and your upper hand should circle in front of your face during your stroke without dipping too far down (this means you’re driving your stroke too much). Your lower arm should never collapse too close to your body. Think of maintaining the “paddler’s box”: the rectangle created by your arms, the paddle, and your chest.
Your arms should not have too much extra movement during your stroke. If you cock your wrist or elbow when you take the paddle out of the water, for example, you may get tendonitis issues.
Common bad habits
Wednesday June 22nd 2016
Shallows are difficult to navigate. The boat tends to bog down and the waves get harder to ride. If you understand how to make the best of shallows, you can use them to pass boats and make up a lot of time in a race.
Concentrate on a good stroke in shallows. The first third of your stroke is most important.
Try to anticipate shallow sections. Get your boat speed up so you can “pop” the boat: this means surfing your own wave, and if you manage it you will travel far more quickly. You’ll feel when this happens: your stern will rise up and your speed will instantly increase. Suddenly it will feel much easier to paddle. Popping the boat is easiest when the water depth is minimal – if it’s more than two feet it’s called “sucky water” because the boat feels bogged down and is difficult or impossible to pop.
When a wave moves from deep water to shallow water, it does two things: it travels more slowly, and the wavelength gets shorter. This results in steeper waves that are closer together, which changes where and how you ride wash.
If you are riding side wash, you may find the right place to ride is farther back on the wave. It can be difficult to stay here due to the shorter steeper wave and often you get shunted away from the lead boat and slide down the wave. That’s why everyone sprints before a shallows section – the easiest place to be is out front.
Wednesday June 15th 2016
Wash riding is an essential part of canoe racing. Getting on the wash of a slightly faster boat is the best scenario in a race. You can ride wash with other boats for hours on end, taking turns leading. It makes your boat go faster while allowing you to rest somewhat.
There are two ways to ride wash: on the side of another boat, and behind another boat. The ride is best closest to the lead boat, and diminishes the farther away you get.
This is the safest place to ride as you can always slip into the stern wash if you drop off the wave. A wave comes off the lead boat at an angle – Bob Vincent likens this to a V of geese flying. To ride this wave you want to be close to the lead boat and a little behind. The bow paddler works to keep his/her body positioned between the lead boat’s bow paddler and centre thwart (however in shallow water this position changes). The stern and bow paddler work together to keep the boat parallel to the lead boat.
If you push too far ahead, the lead boat’s bow wave will push your bow out. If you fall too far behind, you may find the stern getting pushed out (feels like the bow is getting “sucked in” to the lead boat). There is a sweet spot: find it and work to stay there.
If there is a headwind, or for some reason side wash isn’t working for you (or you fell off), ride the stern wash. There are 3 to 4 good waves behind a boat that you can ride. Ride close to the boat in front for the best ride. Bow and stern paddlers again work together to keep the nose of the boat in the turbulent water behind the lead boat’s stern. If you are loose enough in the boat it will naturally want to follow the lead boat.
Wherever you ride, if you lose control and are going to hit the lead boat, call “contact!” so they can anticipate this, but try not to let this happen! The more you affect the lead boat the less they will want you riding them and they will try to dump you.
Wednesday June 8th 2016
Keeping a level boat is essential for maximum speed. However, you’ve got to make some compromises when steering. Steering strokes (such as mini-draws) are necessary, but be aware they bleed speed (make you slow down). Paddling on the same side as your partner can steer the boat while maintaining good speed in some conditions. But to turn a boat with finesse you must understand how leans work.
When you lean a boat, it carves in the opposite direction. To turn right, for example, lean left so the left gunwale gets close to or touches the water (depending on how sharp you want to turn).
Use a lean on it’s own for small adjustments (such as while riding wash), but also use it to augment the other steering strokes you are doing.
Leans are usually initiated by the stern paddler. It is essential that the bow paddler stays loose enough in the boat that this is possible. It is very difficult to steer a boat if the bow paddler is “holding” the boat. In that case, the stern paddler ends up “muscling the boat” to try to get it to respond. A good team works in unison to allow the stern paddler to lean the boat without effort.
It takes some practice to learn to lean smoothly, and every paddling pair works differently together. For me in the stern I merely think of relaxing my hip on the leaning side, look to where I want the boat to go, and it naturally carves. (This is assuming I have the ultimate bow partner.) A good bow paddler stays loose in the hips, reads the water and the situation to anticipate when a lean may be needed, and maintains that lean even while putting in correctional strokes on the opposite side. It is very awkward to be paddling or pulling a draw on one side while letting the boat lean away from that side, but it is essential for the lean to have effect!
So to put the last few weeks all together, let’s do a buoy turn:
A team that is able to steer with effective leans won’t lose much forward momentum, will be able to turn more quickly and efficiently, and may beat the field in the next race. :)