Canoe Poling Tips and Technique

If you have discovered the power of canoe poling, you know that streams can be two-way streets and a canoe can be pushed upstream far beyond what is possible with a paddle. Rivers can be enjoyed in a simple up-and-back trip from the put-in, eliminating the need for a car shuttle.

Poking upstream in calm water is a great place to start, but as you progress, you may wish to confront stronger current. This is where poling gets technical.


Get in Position

Facing upstream in the eddy, stand with your feet square, one or two feet behind the center thwart to lighten the bow. A good rule of thumb for all upstream work is to keep the bow sitting higher in the water than the stern. Position the canoe very close to the eddyline and almost parallel to it, with the bow pointed slightly into the current.


Plant the Pole

Plant the pole on the eddy side of the boat. That is, the side away from the current you’re entering.


Push and Tilt

As you push across the eddyline and enter the current, tilt the boat away from the side where your pole is planted. This will carve a turn and counteract the tendency to get flushed down- stream. Tilt the boat, don’t lean your body— stand up straight and tilt the hull by weighting one foot.


Recover and Plant the Pole
 behind you

As you muscle your way into the current, be sure to plant the pole well behind your body. In fast water, by the time you recover and plant again, your boat may have lost its forward momentum and begun drifting backward.

It’s typical to find that by the time you start pushing, the pole is now planted right beside your body and you’re just pushing yourself sideways. The common beginner scenario is a series of these sideways pushes on alternate sides of the boat, resulting in some flailing around and finally washing out the bottom of the rapid. Get in the habit of planting the pole well behind you to set up the proper angle, even if it means drifting back a little in order to find good purchase on the bottom.

These four basic tips apply in virtually all situations. Start poling in gentle current and work towards more advanced techniques for steeper drops.

Matt Swift is an American Canoe Association poling champion living in Blacksburg, VA. He discovered canoe poling in 1988 as a way to explore the shallow streams of Southwest Virginia without having to set up car shuttles.


This article originally appeared in Canoeroots & Family Camping, Fall 2011. Download our freeiPad/iPhone/iPod Touch App or Android App or read it here.


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