Stroke Style for Short Canoes

 In the past decade short solo canoes have bobbed into the whitewater scene. Now, short and long solo boats share the river in about equal numbers, and we expect to see four new sub-10- foot canoes hitting the rivers this year. Paddlers are attracted to these canoes because they are responsive, lightweight and well suited for technical rapids and popular low-volume creeks. They offer canoeists something different and are simply fun to paddle, once you figure them out.

Short canoes require adjustments in paddling style to maximize the performance of their unique hull features. Sure, these tricks work in long boats too, but the response time of a short canoe is almost instantaneous, and the effort required to accelerate and pivot is so much less than in longer and heavier boats.

Short canoes tend to be slower and have less glide, so you will want to reduce the use of speed-sapping friction strokes like the stern pry and J-stroke. Instead, paddle by carving an inside circle and use bow control strokes to adjust your direction while maintaining forward momentum. This will allow you to focus on dodging rocks and driving your canoe through converging currents.

Use the slower hull speed of the short canoe to your advantage. Cruise through a rapid at a relaxed pace, then when you need to manoeuvre, accelerate using on- or off-side forward strokes. These canoes are so responsive that simply adding one efficient correction stroke will completely change your direction. Anticipate this using the opposing forward or cross forward stroke to finish the move.

Playing with stroke length can help too.

A long stroke tends to turn short canoes. Why? Think about your traditional stroke with lots of torso rotation and reach. In many of these short boats you’d be engaging your paddle literally at the bow of the canoe—a long way from its sensitive pivot point at your hips.

Short strokes produce straighter paths and allow a quicker stroke rate. Typically most people paddle a Rival something like this: Long forward stroke—glide—stern correction—recovery—long forward stroke—glide—stern correction. However, an Esquif Spanish Fly is more like: Stroke— stroke—stroke—off-side forward stroke—stroke— stroke. With so little glide, if you need to get somewhere, you need to be always driving these little boats forward.

Some view short canoes as less stable than comfortable-feeling traditional solo canoes, when in fact, they are just more responsive to tilt.

The ease of tilting can actually keep you more stable because you can engage the boat’s edge by using leg and hip movement within your outfitting, and avoid risky body leans more commonly used in large canoes.

In short canoes you can easily use outside edge control for lightning fast pivot turns. By gently pressing down the outside leg to engage the outside edge, you can hold spectacular and dynamic draws to manoeuvre the tightest turns and mid-stream changes in direction. With your body held vertically throughout a turn you are less likely to capsize as the smaller and lighter boat can be securely gripped through good outfitting.

Low volume rapids filled with rocks, waves and slot moves are the playgrounds for which short canoes are made. Adapting paddling skills to short canoes is new and different and will expand your horizons of fun and excitement on the river.

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 originally appeared in Rapid, Early Summer 2010. Download our free iPad/iPhone/iPod Touch App or Android App or read it here.


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