Scraping off the rust

Spring is in the air these days in southern Ontario, and that’s got me thinking about the upcoming paddling season.  In my last post about plateaus, I referred to the frustration of hitting a plateau and not being able to progress past it.  But what if you are having trouble even paddling at the level you were at last season?!  Moving past your plateau will mean, of course, reaching it again this season and then progressing.

Here’s the problem:  It’s spring and the snow is melting, the rivers are flowing.  You have not been in your boat since last fall.  You are weak, the water is strong.  It’s also cold, pushy big, and carrying a silt load from the banks that makes it even pushier.  It’s the most challenging time for paddling and you are completely out of paddling shape.

Here’s the cure:  Flat water.

Yeah, I know not very sexy.  But if you want to be ready for the spring season, you need to get in your boat and start working those paddling muscles. I also realize that there is not a whole lot of flat water right now, since even moving rivers are still frozen up.  So if you are not amongst the fortunate who are making their way down to ALF this March break, you are looking for some open water that is not the crazy flowing river yet  (a small creek, pond, dock with bubbler, ferry channel, ice fishing hole…).  Short of that, it will have to be on the river when it starts to flow- between sets there is perfect water that is flowing but flat.

Whoa, this is pushy!

Calm Water Drills

I hate to say, but it’s time to work on forward strokes.  This isn’t about achieving the forward stroke but reacquainting with your quiver of forward strokes and when to use them.  Calm water takes away the distractions of churning rapids and the necessity to stay upright, breathe, etc.  You are free to focus on how the strokes affect your boat.

Set up an onside carve and play with making the arc wider.  See how far you can push it without losing the onside carve.  Now tighten it.  See how tight a turn you can make to your onside while still paddling onside.  Now you are working your strokes- at the front of the boat, pulling past your knee, in tight to the boat, sweeping out.  These are your forward strokes.  Okay, now the same thing offside.

Next take it to gentle current.  Your goal here is to surf where there is no wave.  In a gentle current, set up an onside carve and maintain that carve to keep your position in the river- don’t get pushed downstream.  Kick it over to your offside carve and do the same.  You are now carving back and forth across current both on and offside, without losing position down river.  This takes practice.  And boat edging.  And good strokes.  And it will get you into the game this spring.

This is carving and it’s the building block to everything else in paddling a canoe in moving water.  If you want to have control of your destination in the river this season, practice this. If you want to enter the current under control, practice this.  If you want to catch that surf wave, practice this.  The water will be big and pushy this spring and you will be rusty, but being in control of your carves will allow you to use the power of that water and no longer be at the mercy of it.


Andy Convery is a Paddle Canada and ORCKA moving water instructor trainer and MKC instructor.  He can be found teaching on the rivers of Ontario and Quebec throughout the paddling season.  Check out the calendar of events for a course this season.


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