My Brush with Royalty

When I started making Echo Paddles back in 1998 I must admit it was a rather modest ambition- to make some high quality paddles in small numbers.  I though I would use them myself and perhaps some friends would ask me to make some.  That was about it.

Almost 20 years and over 1200 paddles later, I am both shocked and honoured to have the support and commitment shown to me by the paddling community.  My latest honour was to make some decorative paddles for the Ottawa Riverkeeper gala to be presented to Sophie Gregoire Trudeau as their 2016 Honourary Riverkeeper and to Ottawa’s Mayor Jim Watson as the 2016 Water Leader award.

Sophie Gregoire Trudeau with l'Avant

A you can imagine, this was a big deal for a guy who started making a few paddles in his garage for a bunch of dirty paddlers living out of their vehicles.  Jess and I managed to gussy up a bit (the kids didn’t recognize me without epoxy and varnish stains on my clothes) and head out to the gala for a beautiful evening on the Ottawa River and our brush with Canada’s royalty.DSC_5138 Andy & Sophie- Mike Beedell Photo copy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DSC_5039 copyIt was an absolute pleasure and honour to attend and meet the distinguished guests.  In my life I have found myself in some incredible places and situations, wondering “what am I doing here!?” and this was certainly amongst them.

A beautiful evening, wonderful people doing great work for one of Canada’s major river systems, and some paddles I am proud to share with the community.

To see details of the commissioned paddles click here.

Myths about MITH

This one is going to be a rant.  Something I have needed to get off my chest for a while now: MITH is not the new PAT or MAT!!!!!!  Okay, that feels better.

There has been some (much?) confusion over what MITH is and is not, and what happened to PAT, so I would like to clarify things for instructors and students alike.

MITH is a method to get a canoe to carve a turn.  Period.  It can be done in lakes, ponds, eddies, river current, anywhere at all, but it is definitely not specific to moving water.  It is a tool, like a stern pry is a tool, that is not exclusive to moving water.

I was teaching an introduction to flat water canoeing recently with Becky Mason.  Her students had for the most part never set foot in a canoe before, and in a 2 hour, wet your whistle clinic, she had MITH as part of the progression.  Need I mention again that MITH is not specific to moving water?

PAT was specific to entering current.  So, if MITH is not the new PAT, what is?  The short answer is the use of wave troughs on entering current.

Let’s look at PAT or MAT and take each former teaching point in turn:

P (power) or M (momentum)  Momentum is probably a better term here as power suggests we need the strength to overpower current as if we are the outboard motor. Momentum suggests something more like air-speed to a pilot- momentum in relation to the current if not actual movement upstream or even up in the eddy.  In using wave toughs to enter (even little tiny ones) you are gaining momentum from gravity as you enter onto the face of the trough- no need for power.  In the video here I am not using much of any momentum in the eddy to enter current.  In fact, as I enter current I am sideslipping with a sculling stroke to slide my boat onto the face of the wave where it gains all the momentum necessary.  So, power or momentum is a relative thing and not a prerequisite when entering current.

A (angle)  Here’s where I feel we did a complete disservice to our students.  The angle of entry into current was always referenced to the eddy line and it changed depending upon the speed of the current.  This essentially was saying, “make it up, and once you are good you will just know”.  That’s bad instruction.  In using wave troughs to enter current, the angle of entry keys off the trough line.  That’s it.  Do no look a the current, do not look at the shore, do not look at the dog on the shore…  you get the idea.  Entering at 90 degrees to the trough line gives you control when you enter current. Again in the video here, you can see that my boat enters current perpendicular to the wave trough and I do not get blown away by the current.  In fact, I have options- I can slide across river (as I do in the video), I can stay put and surf, I can initiate a turn and head down river, or I can turn back to the eddy I came from.  This allows control of my destiny- many options rather than simply chasing my boat downstream until I regain control.  So angle still plays an important role when entering current, but it is now consistent and keys of the trough and not the eddy line

T (tilt)  When entering on a wave trough, I am actually flattening my boat and consciously not tilting.  In our MITH turn progression, we learned that tilting a canoe will tighten the carve- great if we want to turn downstream.  But, as stated above, this gives us one choice upon entering current- turn downstream, often quickly and out of control.  Going in with a flat boat allows us to skip across the eddy line and keep the canoe facing upstream, leaving all options still open.  So on entering current, we are actually not tilting the canoe!

Here is a video demonstrating the use of wave troughs to enter and slide across current.  Notice the lack of power- a sculling motion to simply drop onto the face of the wave, flat boat upon entering, and the canoe is perpendicular to the wave trough- the eddyline is not important.  You will notice that once established on the wave trough, I do a small stern pry initiation stroke to open up past 90 and slide across current.  I then tilt the canoe and perform an s-turn.It’s a MITH turn , but only after I have entered current not using MITH.

Using wave troughs to enter current goes against everything PAT ever stated. Sometimes you need no power at all, your angle is always the same- 90 to the trough line, and you don’t tilt upon entering current.  But when you use a wave trough to enter, you gain control and stability that was not possible with the PAT method.

If there are no wave troughs and just current, you may need to revert to PAT, but again not to MITH for entry.  MITH will carve you downstream immediately, whereas PAT (without tilt) will still allow for some control.

Okay, rant over.  It’s off my chest.  But I hope this goes a way to clarify some of the misconceptions that I run into every season.

 

Paddle an Echoee with Andy!

Join me at MKC this July 25-29th to pick up your new Echoee and for a week of instruction in your new boat!  Who better to learn this new boat from than the builder?  We will work on the precision paddling that the Echoee allows you to achieve- carving, catching waves, keeping your boat dry, surfing, water reading and use, and more.

AndyEchoee2015

We are currently taking Echoee orders that can be delivered at MKC at the start of the course, making delivery simple!echoeebanner3

Andy has been working with high end paddlers and instructors for over 20 years and is recognized as one of Canada’s premier and most sought after open canoe instructors.  A Paddle Canada moving water instructor trainer and an MKC instructor for many years, Andy has honed his teaching skills along with his paddling skills and can help you improve your paddling.  Take your solo boating to the next plateau with the Echoee and instruction.

Contact Andy or MKC to secure your spot.  Spaces will be limited so book it now!

Starlight- The Evolution of a Classic

You already know the boat.  Bluehole Canoes designed it and made it famous, Evergreen Canoes continued the tradition, and now Echo Paddles is taking it to the next level.  The Starlight is the latest offering from Echo- the classic Starburst whitewater tripping canoe in the same composite lay up as the Echoee.  Just like the Echoee, we have taken a great boat design and made it even better!

20160515_101725 20160515_101634 20160515_101509The Starlight is light- a 35 lb raw hull, and stiff- just as you have come to expect from the latest composites, making it an absolute pleasure to paddle and portage alike.  Tired of carrying a 90 pound canoe across back-breaking portages?  Tired of watching the bottom of your boat oil-can under every wave, robbing both hull performance and your hard fought forward strokes?  Tired of trying to patch that old, beat up plastic boat with yet another layer of unlike material that simply will not adhere?  Sounds like you have been waiting for this one too.

Available with vinyl or wood trim and outfitted with a deep dish carrying yolk  and form bent seats in ash or cherry  (all  made by Echo Paddles as well-  but that’s another blog post!), the Starlight is as beautiful to look at as it is to paddle.  This ain’t your old camp canoe.  This is a performance machine, just as you have come to expect from Echo Paddles.

We have teamed up with Composite Creations and Mike Yee Outfitting to create these boats.  Three well respected Canadian companies that stand behind their products and have been supporting the paddling community for many years now, partnering to create high end performance river running and tripping canoes- what could be better?

The Echoee and the Starlight are available through Echo Paddles and The Complete Paddler and we will be out on the rivers of Ontario and Quebec this season with demos, so drop us a line to find out where we will be so you can take one for a spin!

Road Test

The first Echoee prototype has been popped out of the mould.  With gunwales and outfitting it is a wonderfully svelt 30 pounds!  I have had it out for a couple test runs to see what it can handle and how it feels.

I have put it through some proper testing, over ledges, into holes, bumping down some rocky class 4’s, and finding lots of rocks in eddies.  So far it has performed and held up wonderfully.  A few dings and dents, to be sure, but nothing like the catastrophe we may have suspected from a carbon fibre river runner.

In my last post about this boat I was advocating a paddling style more like a surgeon than a linebacker, but I have chosen to tackle the test runs with reckless abandon- more Knute Rockne than Norman Bethune.  A crack in the stern plate, due to a more brittle lay up than necessary, and a few cracks in the chines were all easily repaired and it is good to go again.
I am tweaking the lay up and the resin content, but things are looking quite promising for a durable, light river runner to be on the market for late spring/early summer this season!

Performance wise, it is a winner.  Having a light boat accelerate out of an eddy in one stroke is a great experience.  Having a stiff hull with no oil canning bounce over waves is exhilarating.  And it carves in and out of eddies as you might expect from the snappy chines we have all loved in the Ocoee.  The Echoee is a great improvement on what was already a wonderful boat to paddle.

This one is custom coloured in a classic 80’s acid wash look (actually just coloration from the mould as I left the finish clear to show the lay up), but future ones will be painted- unless you still have enough hair to tease into your best Billy Idol and the retro look works for you! I can’t even do a proper mullet anymore…

If you have been thinking about a new boat then get in touch.

 

 

The Death of Royalex; The Evolution of Paddling

The open boating community has been holding its collective breath this winter, waiting to see what will replace Royalex as the next wonder material for canoe hulls.  The exhale became a huge sigh of despair when Esquif announced the other day that they are, sadly, shutting down production of some of the world’s best open canoe designs.  Devastating news, for sure.

What does this mean for us?  What’s next for the world of paddling? Do we need to go back to cedar strip/canvas canoes? Horse collar life jackets? Flannel paddling tops?

Nope.  There’s another option.  I’m sad, for sure, about seeing another Canadian family company stop production, but I’m also giddy with excitement because I think we’re about to enter a new era of paddling. The death of Royalex opens up the potential for  an evolution in paddling.  Let me explain.

Royalex has been awesome.  It has allowed us to bash our way down rocky rivers and creeks, fling ourselves off of waterfalls, push our boundaries without much thought to style or skill.  This is super fun.  Hell yea.  And we can still do that, using some of the great plastic creaking boats.  But with the death of Royalex  we river-runners have an opportunity to up our game.

I’m a creator and an instructor at heart.  I teach people how to finesse their way down the river, read the water and use it to their advantage.  Rather than guiding folks down so that they can get to the take out and put another notch on their belt, I want them to actually paddle the river- work with the water to get where they want to go,  avoid obstacles and stay in their boats.  For this we need a particular type of boat.  And I’m gonna make you one.

I have long threatened to start making canoes.  Well, now my urge to create is tingling.   I’m about to start making composite white water play boats: carbon fibre, kevlar, fiberglass – materials I know well from paddle making.  Like Royalex boats, they will wear out, they will break, but unlike Royalex they will be infinitely repairable.  If you have had a paddle tuned up by me you  know what I mean; your paddle has come back to you as good as new.

This boat will not be indestructible but it will be durable.  And it will be repairable.  And it will be high performance. And light.  You’ll have to be ready to learn to paddle it. But it will blow your socks off once you get the hang of it.

Canoes that demand we paddle with skill and precision may be just what we need right now, and the huge strides in composite technologies over the past 20 years mean that what’s old is new again – but this ain’t gonna be your father’s old slalom shell.

Be sure to sign up for updates so you can be the first to hear about the evolution of this new boat.  Prototypes will be ready this spring. Sign up using the form below.

Sit Back and Enjoy

Less is More Part 4

So you have recognized patterns, identified the weaknesses in current to use to your advantage, done your homework and placed your boat into the right water.  And you are still getting blown away by the current.  What gives!?

Here’s a secret weapon: raise the bow on entry to current.  Affectionately known as boofing the eddy line, it does several things as you cross the eddy line.  First, it will prevent the bow of the canoe from engaging oncoming water so quickly, second it will put you into a stern rudder position for control, and third it will allow you to flatten the hull on entry.

Let’s look at these three in detail.  As you are crossing the eddy line, your last forward stroke should be placed on or just before the eddy line itself and propel you across the eddy line and into the wave trough.  We saw in Place Your Boat that once you drop into the trough you no longer need forward strokes, and indeed they may be counter productive as they will drive you up the back of the oncoming wave, negating the momentum you gain from gravity.  No need for forward strokes means you can sit back and weight the stern of the canoe, raising the bow.

Raising the bow upon entry prevents it from engaging downstream current until the canoe is fully into the trough.  Remember that most of your canoe is still in the eddy current- going upstream, and engaging the bow in downstream current will cause an abrupt and out of control spin downstream.  Lifting the bow clear allows the canoe to skip across the eddy line and remain perpendicular to the wave trough, providing the control for and easy ride.

Here’s Jamie putting it into play:

Oh so smooth

Sitting back now puts you into a stern rudder position of great power and control- now isn’t that enticing?!  The stern rudder allows you to control your path across the wave trough and even return to the eddy if you have the need.  You can maintain a perpendicular angle to the trough and surf, open it a couple degrees to slide across the trough, or open right up and proceed downstream- now that’s being in control of your destiny!

Finally, flattening the hull on entry keeps the canoe from carving downstream.  We know from our flatwater practice (remember that?) that more tilt on the canoe means a tighter carve, less tilt straightens our path, so take that tilt off if you don’t want to head downstream just yet!  Sitting back into a stern rudder position is very stable and allows you to flatten your canoe without fear of flipping upstream.

Is this just for solo boats, you ask?  No way, try in a tandem, it works!  Especially in the shorter boats where paddlers are close together, but getting the bow paddler to sit back and the stern paddler into a ruder, while both flatten the hull will work wonders.

Okay, now you have another secret weapon in your pocket.  Try it.  Play with it.  It will change your life.

Place Your Boat

Less is More Part 3

So how’s that homework going?  I know, I said we were going to work less.  The good news is that now that our homework is done we are getting to the easy bit.

In Recognizing Patterns we discussed how various river features create weak spots in current- ie, slack water behind a hydraulic, that we can use to advantage.  Another one is a wave trough that provides forward momentum to the canoe even when we are facing upstream- oh, that wonderful gravity!  Your homework is meant to put you in the right place to use the easy water, in this case a trough.

Placing your boat into a trough means having enough momentum to cross the eddy line and drop the bow into the trough.   Too much momentum and you will ride up the back of the upstream wave and now you are going up hill, against current- not a recipe for working less.

You will know immediately if you have nailed it as you will actually feel the boat get caught up by the trough and drop in. If you are solo, you can sit back and look like a star, and if you are tandem, the bow paddler can now raise their paddle in triumph- no more need for forward strokes, gravity is doing the work now!

Hey, this trough thing is easy!

By recognizing patterns and then doing your homework you will quickly size up a rapid and decide upon your course of action.  Using a trough to enter current is key to entering under control and therefore working less.  The control you gain is then leveraged to access other areas of easy water or weaknesses in current- a wave trough can transport you to an eddy or slack water behind a feature.

Placing your boat into easy water is key to working less and to successful lines.   One could argue that in an open boat it is crucial or, as one former student said, “when yoiu use these troughs it’s pretty easy; and when you don’t it’s pretty well impossible”.  I couldn’t sum it up any better than that.

Do Your Homework

Less is More Part 2

It’s probably been a while since you heard this phrase but, yes, you have some homework to do.  Making it look easy- and therefore working less, is all about doing your homework.

I used to teach for the Canadian Outward Bound Wilderness School, working primarily with 15-18 year olds, mostly boys.  I don’t have to tell you about the work ethic of this population.  Much of their motivation is to do nothing, have chill time, but there are many things to do on a wilderness trip that tend to get in the way of that.  I used to try to impart that the way to be lazy was to get all your work done quickly so that you now have time to chill while waiting for the rest of the group.  This strategy of getting your work done early so you can be lazy applies to moving water as well.

Your homework is all done in the eddy before you ever enter current. This means your work will be done early so you can be lazy later.  In Part 1 we looked at recognizing patterns and making a plan.  In the standard whitewater pattern we saw wave peaks and troughs, and these troughs are what we will key off.  Your homework is to set up to enter the current where the wave trough meets the eddy, with your boat perpendicular to the trough line– let me repeat, perpendicular to the trough line.

You need enough momentum to drop the bow of your canoe into the trough, but not so much that you ride up the back of the next wave upstream.  Timing is everything as they say, and it’s no different here.  You will pick a trough to enter on (reread Part 1 on finding patterns and calling your shot) and locate the exact point of entry where it meets the eddy line.  Now work back from there to find the arc your boat must take to enter that exact spot with at 90 degrees to the trough line.  Next work out just how much momentum you will need to drop the bow into the trough without riding up the back of the oncoming wave- phew!

Trough meets eddy line here, enough momentum, right angle, okay homework done

If your homework is not done (and done well) in the eddy there is no point in entering current- remember, plunging ahead and hoping for the best is never a good plan and in 20 years of teaching on the river I have never seen anyone make their intended line that way!  The good news is that if you have not done your homework well you are still in the eddy and you can simply back up and start over rather than just going anyway.  There is plenty of time to do your homework.

I have often said that 90 percent of paddling moving water is getting into and out of current with control and by doing your homework in the eddies you will be well on your way to achieving it- and 90% is an A, if I recall from my school days!

Recognizing Patterns

Less is More Part 1

The first step in making your life easier on the river is to have a plan.  And by a plan I don’t mean plunge in and hope it all goes well- hope is never really a great plan.  We want to act upon the river rather than be acted upon by the river.  This is to say be in control of your destiny rather than at the mercy of the current.

Okay, that all sounds very fine, but how do we do it?  By finding the patterns in moving water we will define our route into current, across or down the river, in and out of eddies.    Moving water follows very consistent patterns, and by understanding and seeing those patterns we can quickly assess options and plan to use the water to our advantage.

A rapid requires three components: volume, gradient and obstructions.  When water speeds up and is squeezed between obstructions it will form a rapid, the pattern of which is the classic smooth tongue or downstream vee, followed by a series of larger to smaller, evenly spaced standing waves or wave train.  Behind the obstructions forming the rapid will be eddies.  That’s our standard whitewater pattern.

When looking at a rapid- from shore or in the boat, we can quickly find these patterns and routes through.  Any time we see a deviation in the pattern- a rogue wave that is not evenly spaced or too big for it’s location, a hole or hydraulic, etc., it represents another obstruction that we must take into account.  This translates to one of two things: avoid the feature or use it to advantage.

What we are looking for within the patterns are the weak spots and easy water.  Standing waves create wave troughs which become gateways to enter current and transport waves across river, holes and pour overs cause slack water below them,  an obstruction will create an eddy.  By recognizing the patterns we can plan our route to take advantage of these slower and smoother water areas.

Mmm, looks smoother over there…

Let’s say I asked you to make your way across a wide stretch of river to an eddy on the opposite side.  You may say it’s not possible, it’s too far and you will get blown downstream.  After looking for the moving water patterns and easy water that results, you might find that there is a great wave trough that takes you half way across the river.  That’s a great start!  Now, looking upstream from there, we may see a pour over creating some slower water below it or even an eddy that can be paddled up.  From there you might find yet another wave pattern that, once you have attained up river in the eddy, allows you to catch another trough to the target eddy.  Without reading the river and recognizing these patterns this move would not have been possible.

By understanding moving water patterns and finding the easy routes within, you become like a billiards player calling your shot- use this wave trough across to this eddy, ride the backwash of that hole to that downstream vee, and so on.  You will never look at a rapid the same way again, and you will be well on your way to precision paddling.