Beginner Tandem Woes

If I buy a kayak I would call it Divorce Maker. I have only paddled 10 times- half on a one person and the other times tandem with my dh. I am not positive, but I think our strokes might be canceling each other out or something! Today we were out on a peaceful pond but we kept going in circles along the way and having to work very hard to get out of the loop. I have never had that problem when paddling alone, so I am wondering if it was the wind, our rental kayak, or our paddling! My dh prefers to sit in the back, and I know for sure that he is hardly ever paddling in time with me. I try to sync with him, but my neck gets sore turning around. We clack paddles a lot. I am a beginner and don't know what I'm talking about, but it seems to me that the person in back would have an easier time following strokes than the person in front. Any tandem advice or experiences would be much appreciated.

Your right as usual

– Last Updated: Aug-18-07 1:31 PM EST –

The person in the back should sync strokes with the front and is responsible for steering.. The front should keep a steady cadence.

You're much better off having your own kayak.

When we go out in the canoe . . .
I use a double bladed kayak paddle and let the bow paddler relax. It’s much better than trying to get my wife or 10 yo son to learn to paddle. I don’t mind and I get a better work out.

My two kayaks are solos. I’m thinking of selling the canoe and getting a tandem kayak, but only to put my 5 yo son in the front and my wife and older son in the solos. I’m not in anyway interested in tandem paddling.

You and you’re husband are better off solo for the reasons you detailed, and that it’s more enjoyable to look to your side to converse than it is for the bow paddler to turn around. I would also think that in rougher water, if one were to go swimming, it would be nice to have one still in his/her boat. Just a thought.

you are right, solo might be better
Yes, yes, yes. I tactfully told him to take a break (he was getting much more tired than I felt after 1 1/2 hours) and I paddled by myself from the bow. It was rougher to do than when I am in a solo kayak, but it was easier to go straight. It was more relaxing than paddling at the same time, though! To avoid clacking paddles with dh I had to keep my strokes way up front instead of closer to my center of gravity, and my biceps started to burn right away. I hope I am right that it was our mismatched paddling rather than some strange conditions on the water today. I will try solo next weekend.

What is “dh”?
I hope that doesn’t stand for “darn husband”, but that’s the only thing that comes to mind . . . .

I think it stands for “dear” husband. My husband is so much better than I am at virtually everything, but I have a feeling I will be a better paddler than he with the proper instruction and practice. I just can’t wait to take lessons on self rescue, etc.!

The Front Paddler
is the motor, the back paddler is the one who steers and matches the front paddler’s strokes when not steering. That’s how I explain it to folks who are new to paddling. I have a tough time paddling tandem anymore but with practice it can be a great time. Good luck and don’t give up.


front paddler
Doug, do you mean that the stronger person is the one who should be in the front? I mean the more powerful paddler?

I Have Always…
…had the heavier paddler in the back otherwise the bow gets sluggish and hard to respond. I have typically always taken the bow seat as I only weigh in at 145 and most of my paddling buddies are a bit more than that. :wink: In a recent canoe race my partner and I counted out X amounts of strokes on one side and then one of us would call out, “switch” meaning switch sides for paddling. You might want to try this and see if it helps get a disipline going. It is still going to be the stern paddlers job to keep the canoe going on its course by steering with corrective strokes. It takes practice and is probably why I paddle solo.


Paddling in sync on the same side of
the boat is very important. The length of the strokes should be nearly identical. If your paddles are hitting you are far from being in sync.

I would put the more skilled paddler in back and the less skilled in front.

The front paddler sets the cadence; the rear paddler handles directional control.

Make sure you are both sitting straight up in the middle of your respective seats. Leaning to the side by either paddler turns the boat.

This works for us; maybe for you too.

Good luck; tandems can be fun if the partners have a common rythym.

forget tandems
sounds like your dh is a lillydipper—unless you want to dump the wuss, you had better get your own kayak, then you can’t blame anybody else.

Tell your hubby that I said…
if he loved you he would paddle in synch with you, and since he is the one in back, it is up to him to make sure he is.

Also tell him that it is his job to let you know if your cadence needs to be faster or slower.

Also tell him that I said that if you guys are banging paddles, it is solely his fault for not doing what I said above.

Any one can paddle solo, but it is a team effort to paddle tandem.

The both of you need to forget about going fast.

You need the basics of paddling together.

Look at it like making love.

Slow and in synch is beautiful and brings you closer together.

Fast and out of sync is nothing more than slam bam, thank you mam, and then you both go your separate ways. (for mixed couple paddlers only)!



Not always.
it is supposed to be that way in canoes, but it didn’t work true for “the Bride” and me.

We tried that, when we first got into racing, with me as the power paddler in the bow, and for a full season all I did was complain, and we were ready to give up. Then I happened to read where a few of the top notch mixed tandem racers had the female in the bow, and we decided to switch.

Since we have switched for the past five or six years, there have been very few races that we haven’t won, and although we get older every year, we seem to get better.

This is in regards to canoes, but it has worked the same for us in a tandem kayak also. We paddled a tandem kayak on three different Alaska multiday camping trips.



We sold our divorce boat.
My wife and I after paddling solo kayaks for a year decided to add a tandem to our fleet. After 9 months, my wife said, “either that boat goes or the marriage does.”

Ten years later, we still paddle, but in singles. Two type A personalities don’t cut it in a tandem.

Last year while on vacation we paddled a tandem twice for the first time since we sold ours. We’re both still glad we sold it.

wow! awesome
I hope I can persuade my hubby to try the bow seat next time so we can try it out! I already tried suggesting it, but he correctly pointed out that we have seen lots and lots of couples tandem in canoes and kayaks, and we have yet to come across the male at the bow and the female in the stern. So my hubby thinks the bow seat is the “sissy seat” of sorts. But your experienced advice and success might help him to give it a try. Or, I will really work hard on the single kayaks if that fails.

tandem boats
My wife and I bought a tandem to train for the yukon river quest. I am the bow paddler, Ann is the stern. It works. I have a smooth stroke rate and more power. The bow seat has a better “catch” than the Stern seat. Now we can race mixed tandem or race solo.

Also when I am in the bow I can’t see or comment on her (imo ) mistakes. And when I do comment she can’t hear me because I am in the bow facing away from her.

heavy end into the wind
In the canoe, I try to make the end that is facing the wind heavier than the downwind end. The wind tends to blow the lighter end of the boat downwind. You can paddle with the light end facing the wind, but you will be doing a lot more correction strokes.

~~Chip Walsh, Gambrills, MD

Guy in front

– Last Updated: Aug-20-07 10:21 AM EST –

Seen it in lots of canoes, occassionally in kayaks but I don't see a lot of tandems to start with (that oughta tell you somethng right there). If your husband hasn't ever seen it, you guys aren't paddling enough yet.

I love my tandem.
We bought a Necky Manitou II a few months ago and have been having a great time with it so far. We tried a number of shorter boats and clacked and circled and looked generally stupid. We wanted a big enough boat to put a kid in between us anyway and the Necky answered that description well. It’s 14.5 ft. We decided right away that a rudder was essential for us, though. Makes life much easier when paddling together. My dh is much bigger than I am. I’m in the bow seat.

red flags
you cannot turn around to look at him to get your paddling in synch. You have to paddle slowly and steadily and HE paddles in synch with you.

So either you aren’t steady and slow or he can’t follow you but turning around to “follow him” doesn’t make sense.

It’s quite ok for him to pick and chose strokes inbetween your STEADY strokes for directional control,that doesn’t mean he’s not paddling in synch with you. It means the person in back is providing steering strokes as needed. If you AREN"T steady then corrective strokes can’t fit inbetween yours and your blades will hit.

It’s unclear what you are paddling but if you’re hitting paddles I’m assuming it’s a rec. kayak.

In a rec. kayak with closely spaced paddlers it takes more skill to not hit paddles than a big sea kayak double with cockpits farther apart.

Try SLOWING DOWN and paddling in a very PREDICTABLE cadence. You’ll be surprised how smoothly and effortless you can keep a pace once you’re in synch,if you’re flailing and he’s flailing then it’s entertaining and painful to watch.