Skills: Taboo Breaker

Running sustained rapids in a canoe requires both dry lines and fancy boat work to keep water out when colliding with breaking waves. Wave blocking is one of the foundation skills that define success in open canoeing—reducing the water in your boat cuts down on pulling into eddies to empty and keeps you light and maneuverable throughout your run.

Recently a friend asked how I had run a series of haystacks while keeping my boat dry. Wave blocking was the trick, but to do it, you have to break an age-old taboo. I explained that you tilt your canoe upstream just as you strike the foam pile at the top of the breaking wave. This presents the belly of the canoe to the frothy part of the wave and knocks it out of the way. The combined height of the canoe’s sidewall and tilted hull reduces the likelihood of scooping water and having a wet ride.

To guard against the usually fatal faux pas of tilting upstream, reach downstream past the wave crest and plant a draw stroke to pull you up and over it. A vertical paddle shaft is key. This will maximize the bite of the blade in the current and give you the stability needed to hold your canoe upright during the impact with the recirculating water at the wave top.

Keeping your body upright is essential. Avoid leaning upstream; instead, tilt your canoe with knee pressure on the upstream edge. By keeping yourself centered over the canoe, your stability will be main- tained by keeping equal pressure on the paddle reaching downstream and knee pushing upstream.


Positioning the canoe broadside to the wave helps stabilize the block as well. Having the wave strike the canoe amidships prevents the canoe from being suddenly turned by the wave. Striking a wave at an angle may result in the sudden twisting of the hull as the wave tries to turn you parallel to the crest, increasing the risk of an upset.

Wave blocking works—it’ll keep your canoe dry, allowing you to run longer rapids without having to pull over and empty. Best of all, when you get to the bottom of a wild set of rapids, success can be measured by how little water is in your canoe.

Andrew Westwood is an open canoe instructor at the Madawaska Kanu Centre, member of Team Esquif and author of The Essential Guide to Canoeing.

This article first appeared in the Summer/Fall 2013 issue of Rapid Magazine. For more great content, subscribe to Rapid’s print and digital editions here


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