Canoe Instruction

At the recent Adirondack Canoe Symposium a student (of another instructor) insisted that a side slip was not a static maneuver. He insisted that after the placement, the paddle had to be slowly moved toward the bow, while still loaded. When asked where he had heard this, he cited me as the source.

I don’t recall ever having said or taught that, but if at some point I did, I stand corrected. There was apparently some mention of the instructional thread that ran on this site a couple of years ago. I looked up the old thread and found my opening post (no pun intended) on the side slip. I’ve copied it below.

"The maneuver I use most, is the side slip. There are two variants, drawing and prying. For now we’ll stick to the drawing side slip.

The great thing about side slips is that they allow your to move the canoe laterally, without changing course angle. You can use it to slide up to a dock, slide past a stump in the middle of a lake or line up on that perfect slot at the head of a rapid. The neat thing is there is no zigging and zagging as would be necessary to maneuver using turning strokes.

So let’s get started.

The canoe must be moving forward with relation to the water. This may be obvious on flat water but in moving water the canoe must be moving faster than the current. If paddling upstream you need to be making some progress against the downstream current.

There is no initiation necessary for a side slip though a brief short draw can help to get things moving. With the hull running straight the paddle is simply sliced or placed neutral (blade parallel to the keel line)at the center of rotation. The leading edge is then turned slightly away (opened) from the gunnel. The trick is finding the center of rotation. It will likely be at or a bit behind your hip. Too far forward and the boat will turn toward your on side. To far aft, and the boat will turn toward your off side. The exact point will be a bit different from hull to hull and will also vary with your stance in the boat. With practice, you’ll develop a feel for it and make an almost instantaneous adjustment when necessary.

You can ride the slip as long as the canoe has any forward momentum. As the boat slows, you can open the paddle angle a bit. A neat trick if you need to turn toward your offside before you’ve run out of momentum is to slide the paddle forward a bit and change from an open angle to a closed angle (forward edge pointed toward the gunnel). You’ve now converted the drawing side slip to a wedge.

Key Points

  1. The boat must be running straight at the time the paddle is placed. If the hull is turning, it is likely to keep turning.
  2. No heel is required however, raising the onside rail just a bit helps, especially on hard chined boats.


    After placing the paddle but while it is still neutral (before opening the leading edge) a short quick draw (just a couple of inches) will help to get the boat moving.

    Like all other maneuvers, side slips can be done in all quadrants, but that’s for another time.

    I’ll try my hand at a riddle here (though I don’t think I can compete with Charlie’s).

    Why does converting a drawing side slip to a wedge work well, while converting to an axle does not?"

    The only exception I can think of pertains to the prying side slip. I have found that it may be extended a bit, by moving the paddle forward as the boat looses momentum.

    Marc Ornstein

Terminology problem

– Last Updated: Jul-21-12 2:56 AM EST –

"At the recent Adirondack Canoe Symposium a student . . . insisted that a side slip was not a static maneuver. He insisted that after the placement, the paddle had to be slowly moved toward the bow, while still loaded."

I said a similar thing to an instructor at the 2009 Adirondack Freestyle Symposium. The instructor said I was wrong. I wasn't, and neither necessarily was the student at the 2012 Symposium. The problem is that many paddlers, including some instructors, get too hung up on particular versions of terminology, which can end up in confused communication.

The non-terminological substance of the matter is how to move a canoe sideways without yaw. If the canoe is already in motion, you can move a canoe sideways by four different static paddle placements and four different dynamic paddle movements (plus blends of them). You could, substantively, call all eight of these paddle techniques (and their blends) a "side slip" of the canoe.

Is one of these eight moves "THE Sideslip"? That's dependent on the terminology you choose, which can and does differ among paddlers and over time. I think the broader concept of side slipping a canoe -- why, when and how you do it -- is much more important than what you call each of the eight techniques.

However, some people (including instructors teaching from a syllabus) prefer certain terminology for consistency. Thus, for example, some may insist on limiting the term "Sideslip" to sideways translations of a moving hull induced by static paddle placements, while using terms such as "Draw" or "Running Draw" to describe sideways translations induced by a dynamic pulling on the paddle.

You have described the static sideways maneuver thoroughly, and I suspect you call it a "Drawing Sideslip" to differentiate it from a "Prying Sideslip". In either case, to avoid yaw, the face of the paddle -- what Patrick Moore calls the "fulcrum ray" -- must be pointed exactly at the boat's center of lateral resistance. (More terminology, which some people use, some don't, and others use incorrectly.)

There are two problems with the static draw and pry sideslips.

First, the static placement of a pitched blade by the hip slows forward motion because it puts on the brakes. A paddler may sometimes want to slow forward motion -- if, for example, he is about to crash into a river rock. More often, however, the paddler probably doesn't want to slow forward motion just to translate sideways. To better maintain forward velocity while moving sideways, the dynamic draw (on-side or cross) can be the superior move.

Second, the static sideslip will only work when the boat is in motion. If the boat is still, it can only be moved sideways (on-side) by a dynamic draw. Thus, again, the dynamically loaded draw can be not only a valid slipping technique but the superior technique.

For these two reasons, the student's preference for a dynamic paddle "side slip" may have been quite reasonable on substance, while the instructor may have been focused more on a terminological quibble.

In river paddling, I slip sideways probably most often by a dynamic forward/drawing blend stroke, which pulls in toward the CLR at about a 45 degree angle. This not only doesn't slow forward velocity at all while imparting a sideways slip; it actually can increase forward velocity while slipping sideways around the downstream horrible. Of course, an instructor in the Adirondacks might insist that this move is not a "Sideslip". So be it.

"It's not what you call it; it's how it feels and makes the boat move." -- Marc Ornstein, paddling near a rotting pig carcass, Lofton Creek, Florida, March 2010.

Glenn, As usual I can count on you
to bring additional perspectives to the table. All of your points are well taken. There are numerous iterations of the side slip. Further, blending elements of each of the iterations creates more variations and so it goes.

I vaguely remember the pig carcass on Lofton Creek. I don’t recall the quote, however it’s consistent with my general philosophy and instruction within the “Creekin” format. I’ll assume the quote to be accurate.

The point I was making applied to a specific situation that was clear or should have been clear at the time. The instructor was teaching a basic maneuver which in this case was a static side slip. Terminology and it’s consistent meaning is important in that context. One cannot teach basics and keep everyone on the same page if each of the various students and the teacher are speaking a different “language”.

Within the context of the basic Freestyle curriculum there is a definition of a static side slip. To the best of my knowledge, the instructor described and modeled it correctly. Intentionally or otherwise, the student did a variant of it. In real world paddling, that variant may have been appropriate. In the context of the class it was incorrect.

Let’s compare this to basic white water instruction. When describing an eddy turn, the instructor will generally inform students that they should lean or heel the boat in toward the turn (similar to an axle in FS). If the student heels or leans away from the turn (a post), he is likely to be called out on that. Are there situations where heeling away is acceptable, or even preferred? Of course. That such a variation exists, deserves a brief acknowledgement and perhaps mention that it may be discussed at a later time. Given the then current context however, The instructor was correct.

My intention in the original posting was to clarify to that student (I believe he frequents P Net) and others who were present, that I agree with the instructor, that a pure, static side slip (prying or drawing) involves a static placement of the paddle. Any movement of the paddle, fore or aft, and prior to the conclusion constitutes a variation on that maneuver.

Thanks for providing me the opportunity to clarify my initial posting.

Marc Ornstein

I may be the culprit
I suggested to an intstuctor that the prying sideslip needed to be constantly moved forward as the manuever progressed to keep the bow from swinging toward the onside. I also said that from reading posts on the subject that I believed Marc was of the same opinion. My appologies if that is not so.


It seems so

– Last Updated: Jul-21-12 12:47 PM EST –

As I reread Marc's original post this is what I find:

"The only exception I can think of pertains to the prying side slip. I have found that it may be extended a bit, by moving the paddle forward as the boat looses momentum."

Marc Ornstein

I think we're all on the same page here.


I’m glad you found the original quote.
I suspected that I had written something to that effect, but couldn’t find where.

To reiterate, the classic prying side slip involves a static placement at or slightly ahead of the canoe’s center of rotation. (I generally find that point to be near or perhaps slightly ahead of the front seat support.)The leading edge of the blade is turned slightly inward (toward the boat). It is held static in that location.

Referring to the quote that Peter unearthed, it can be extended a bit by sliding the paddle forward as the boat slows. In effect, we are doing a short piece of a prying scull. Since there has been no (turning) initiation, and since the bow is now pitched downward, moving the center of rotation forward (because the paddler has leaned forward to move the paddle)the boat continues the slip without turning.

This really gets to the essence of FreeStyle and advanced canoeing in general. Although we teach and learn distinct, well defined maneuvers, in the real world, we blend one into another as necessary, with infinite nuances.

Marc Ornstein

it’s Fun!
Every though symposiums teach correct and technical canoeing, even a clumbsy paddler like me can learn to make a canoe behave, the instructors are VERY patient and it’s a blast on both the ponds and the river days…jesse

Adjusting the sideslip
At some point I was taught that the position of the paddle might need to be adjusted forward as the hull slowed to keep from turning. Something about the pivot point changing as the hull slowed down?

I believe I was taught that before I attended AFS in 2009.

So it might have been Foster, Knight, Westwood or one of Foster’s deciples I learned that from.

My sideslips, most often used paddling whitewater, are constantly adjusted fore and aft.

I don’t believe that makes it a dynamic manuver though.

Perhaps we’re splitting hairs here but
I’ll take a stab at what may be a distinction without a difference, or is it the other way around?

If the paddle could effectively be repositioned to adjust for a changing center of rotation and if that repositioning could be done without creating additional pressure on the blade by virtue of the repositioning movement, I’d agree that it is still a static maneuver.

If on the other hand, additional pressure was created on the blade by virtue of the forward movement (in relation to the hull) of it, then it becomes dynamic.

Perhaps in this instance both were occurring.

None the less, the issue came up as part of basic instruction for a prying side slip. In a prying side slip the paddle placement is defined as static. It is practiced that way by the vast majority and functions well that way without further paddle movement. As I understand it, the argument that was made at the time, was that forward movement of the paddle, after placement was a necessary part of the maneuver. It is not.

Tom Foster
Indeed, Tom Foster had an instructional video on VHS (never released on DVD to my knowledge) titled “Whitewater Bound” in which he notes that when side slipping with a static or hanging draw stroke, it is often necessary to adjust the paddle blade position forward as the boat speed slows in relationship to the current, in order to keep the bow from turning to the offside.

Agree, it is easiet to achieve,
however,not the only way. The paddle angle can also be adhusted as the boat momentum decreases, but it is a much more delicate operation. It is far easier to shift the paddle placement forward.

Tom Foster also co-wrote the ACA FreeStyle Instructional curriculum; he does know his stuff…

Adjusting position or angle

– Last Updated: Jul-24-12 1:23 AM EST –

I'm going to address static sideslips in moving water in a separate post. This one will just address moving the paddle foward or changing the angle as a static sideslip peters out.

Theory gives an answer. Personal experience may not, because it may unwittingly confuse dynamic (or kinetic) stroke forces with static forces, as Marc is perceptively cautioning about.

For a static sideslip to be yawless, the theory is that the imaginary fulcrum ray must always be pointing at the center of lateral resistance (CLR), which can colloquially be thought of as the pivot point. If the CLR moves aft as the boat slows down -- a very, very interesting issue, which I don't fully understand but which I think is true -- then the fulcrum ray must be constantly re-aimed at the moving pivot point.

Logically, this can be done by keeping the same blade angle and moving the paddle, or by changing the blade angle while keeping the paddle in the same position, or by some combination of both.

However, I'm very skeptical that the paddle force remains static if the paddle is moved forward.

If you are doing a static draw sideslip, the open angle paddle has to be placed behind the CLR, perhaps aside your hip or even further aft. As the boat slows, the CLR would move aft and a paddle keeping the same open angle would have to be moved FURTHER AFT, not forward, to keep preventing yaw.

If you are doing a static pry sideslip, the closed angle paddle has to be placed forward of the CLR, perhaps at or even in front of your knees. As the boat slows and the CLR moves further aft, a paddle keeping the same closed angle would again have to be moved FURTHER AFT, not forward.

(Do I have this geometry correct?)

Of course, this would all be reversed if the CLR actually moved forward as the boat slowed down. That would be extremely interesting and would cleanly explain the forward paddle correction.

Otherwise, if the CLR moves aft or doesn't move at all, I think the forward motion correction as a static sideslip peters out reflects one of two things. Either the paddler has positioned the static paddle too far aft to begin with and is adjusting when his error becomes yawingly apparent, or else he is simply juicing yaw in the other direction by a dynamic force stroke. It's a dynamic reverse sideslip stroke, which adds some anti-yaw sideways movement at the cost of quicker braking.


half of a half of a hair or two

– Last Updated: Jul-24-12 6:05 AM EST –

I do love splitting hairs ;-)

I'd say that the side slip is always static and if the paddle movement becomes dynamic the maneuver becomes a sculling draw or pry.

In any sideslip the only time it is necessary to move the paddle fore or aft is to counter undesirable yaw.
On quiet water, better paddlers than I can hold a steady position pretty consistently. Sometimes even I can do that if my initial placement is perfect. I do find that much more difficult doing a prying sideslip than a drawing sideslip.
On moving water, where currents are constantly changing direction and strength and where holding the boat angle is perhaps more critical, it is good to be able to adjust the yaw by moving the paddle fore and aft as needed.
For practical paddling I would argue that getting a good feel for that adjustment is more important than learning that elusive perfect placement.

Introducing a bit of pace…
When a well-trimmed canoe is shifting at any respectable pace, the leading stem will be pinned in a “bow wave”, and the trailing stem will become loose.

To sideslip… we need to concentrate on getting that leading stem moving. We might do that prior to the sideslip (through heel or however) or with a sharp catch on a draw/pry and subtle drive through the knees… but our blade then needs to be angled and positioned to haul that leading stem across.

As the canoe slows, the bow wave weakens… and everything changes… including what we need to be doing with our blade!

Some folk seemingly prefer sideslips with minimal pace on the boat, which might allow all of this to pass unnoticed… but I’m keen on the old Mike Galt line: when you think you’ve mastered something, go out and test yourself by doing it at pace, and beyond the wind line, and in some waves / current.

Ps. By the same token, I’m not keen to see folk hung up on going “dead straight” into a sideslip: the canoeist’s skill surely lies in getting that leading stem wanting to head in the right direction (albeit as marginally as practicable)… and in having the “feel” to adjust dynamically, as the manoeuver progresses!

My canoe is going straight, or sideways

– Last Updated: Jul-25-12 6:15 AM EST –

but my head is spinning.

I enjoy the theoretical discussions. Up to a point, I like to know why something behaves the way it does. I used to have a pretty good idea of how cars operated and could not only drive, but repair them. That was in the days before they had computers with more capacity than a NASA spaceship. Now, before I get my fingers off the ignition key, a myriad of calculations have occurred, adjustments made and a report has been sent to OnStar. None the less, they still drive pretty much the same as they did back when.

This discussion has gotten into that realm. Too many variables to keep track of and we haven't even factored in the obvious, such as wind and currents. Heaven forbid I should find myself in an asymmetrical hull. What if I shipped a bit of water on my last maneuver (Anyone who knows me, knows I'd never do such a thing) and it sloshes a bit in the bilge?

I really do enjoy the discussions. Clearly I'm participating. Perhaps I was the instigator, but when push comes to shove it's a matter of developing a feel for what the paddle is doing and the micro adjustments necessary, the moment the blade tip enters the water. There is no other explanation as to why some folks can plop themselves into an unfamiliar boat and nail a side slip on their 1st attempt.

Marc Ornstein

Marc’s riddle…
As no one has yet responded tot Marc’s riddle, I thought it might be time to chime in…

The wedge converts nicely from a drawing sideslip due to the fact that it utilizes a bow jam that pins the bow in a braking position, affording the stern to continue unimpeded on its original travel to the onside. Hence an excellent initiation for a wedge.

As the wedge is the one turning manuever that turns to the off-side, the prying sideslip therefor affords a nice conversion into an axle, or post, as the bow becomes unpinned; the stern continues in its original travel path to the offside, hence a nice initiation to a post or an axle. As my body weight tends to ride hulls a little deeper, I do not manage to execute a post from a prying sideslip with any degree of consistency, as my momentum is gone after I flatten the boat out to then change the heel, however I have had sudents that can nail it most of the time. Axles work pretty well, though.

All fun little things to play around with…

Danger: static sideslips in current

– Last Updated: Jul-25-12 6:12 PM EST –

I want to make the case that a static sideslip can be a useless or even deadly move in whitewater or swiftly moving current.

First, some more terminology. The clearest thinker and best writer on sport canoe instruction I have encountered is Patrick Moore. Thankfully, a fragment of his teachings survive.

There are only six possible generic movements of a hull (five of them within the control of a paddler): rotation around and translation along each of the three spatial axes.

These six generic movements need names. The generic movement we are concerned with in this thread is translation along the y (lateral) axis. Moore calls all such movements "slipping", and that (or "sideslipping", which I'll use) is the term Bill Mason and all my whitewater teachers used. Thus, when I use "sideslip" without any modifiers, I am talking about the generic hull movement and not any particular stroke or move that implements that generic movement.

There are many paddle strokes and moves that can induce a sideslip. In my earlier post I suggested eight, but I wasn't thinking of sculls. Counting the four types of sculls, I count 12 sideslipping techniques -- four of these are static moves and eight are dynamic (or kinetic, if like Moore you prefer that antonym). On-side, there are two static sideslips (draw, pry) and four dynamic sideslips (draw, pry, sculling draw, sculling pry). Off-side, there are six mirror moves of each of the six on-side sideslips.

Is there anything particularly useful or special about the static draw sideslip -- the move that has caused some confusion in the Adirondacks -- other than that, as I was once told, static sideslips are "the ones the [interpretive freestyle] competition judges want to see"? Yes, the special thing about static sideslips is that their attempted use can literally kill you in current. Paddlers should understand and be taught this.

Let's begin with the inarguable proposition that none of the four static sideslip moves can have any effect unless the boat is moving with respect to the current. NONE.

One critical problem in whitewater or swift currents -- with the numerous and dynamically interacting eddy shadows, holes, reversals, current differentials, Bernoulli and Venturi effects as water squeezes between obstructions, and changing gradient elevations -- is that even the experienced paddler may not know whether he is going faster, at, or slower than current speed at any give moment. If you mainly float between rapids, you are likely going slower than current.

John Berry, when teaching, used to bring some leaves to throw into the water next to the canoe as current velocity markers. He wanted to make the point that some moves would not work at all when you were moving at current speed and would even work opposite to your expectations if you are traveling slower than the current.

Let's take a common swift river situation. You are a righty paddler. You come around a right bend, the river starts to drop quickly in gradient, and there is a deadly sweeper protruding from the left bank. You must move to the right darn quick or you will die in the sweeper.

Well, you can move right in a variety of ways, but since this topic is about sideslipping, you should be thinking of the 12 possible sideslip moves. You can quickly eliminate the six that slip you left. From the remaining six that will slip you right, you can eliminate the three off-side moves.

That leaves three on-side sideslip moves to save your life. Two are dynamic moves: the dynamic draw and the sculling draw. One move is static: the static draw sideslip (which is the topic of this thread).

You choose the static draw sideslip because that's the sideslip move that was emphasized or taught to you. What happens? There are three possibilities based on your forward speed relative to the current speed.

If you are lucky enough to be moving faster than the current, the static draw sideslip will work weakly and may or may not slip you aside and past the deadly sweeper. Me, I wouldn't gamble on it. I probably wasn't paddling very fast before the turn, and the gradient has just dropped, speeding up the water a lot quicker than it will speed up my hull.

If you are going at current speed, the static draw sideslip will have NO EFFECT on the hull. Nada. Zilch. It won't slow you down and it won't move you to the side. It will be as useless and ineffective as the air brace or gunwale grab. You will die in the sweeper.

If you are going slower than current speed, the static draw sideslip will result in an even faster death. The current will push against the BACK of your static blade. This will ACCELERATE you faster into the deadly sweeper. Worse, the deflection effect off the back of your blade will be to the LEFT (a pry), deeper into the deadly sweeper. Thus, you will die even faster than when you are going at current speed.

To move right, avoid the sweeper and live, you are much better off using the dynamic draw or the sculling draw, which will sideslip the hull the same amount regardless of current speed.

(There are other blended moves that would even be more effective to move river right, such as a back ferry, but I'm limiting my discussion just to the pure sideslips.)

To me, the dynamic sideslips are also more effective in still water than static sideslips are, because they accomplish the slip with little diminution of forward speed. Dynamic slips may not be as pretty in still water as the decelerating glide of a static sideslip to observers. But I like to be my own judge of what move is most effective, useful and safest for me under real world paddling circumstances.

That all said, I do enjoy executing static sideslips around obstacles in quiet water when I am absolutely sure of two things: (1) that I am moving faster than the water, and (2) that there is no danger to me or my boat if I completely screw up and hit the obstacle.

theories aside
I have paddled a good bit of whitewater and I use static side slips all the time in whitewater, and they work just fine.

Generally, modern whitewater technique focuses on driving the boat and keeping the forward momentum up so that the boat is moving faster than the current. It is no great mystery to an experienced paddler when the boat is not…

Yes there is
"Is there anything particularly useful or special about the static draw sideslip – the move that has caused some confusion in the Adirondacks – other than that, as I was once told, static sideslips are “the ones the [interpretive freestyle] competition judges want to see”?"

Static side slips aside from being very useful in both moving and quiet water are a very useful teaching tool. They force the student to learn and develop a feeling for a boat’s center of lateral resistance (pivot point for most practical purposes). Once that is established, they generally gain a better grasp of how the turning maneuvers function. A force must be exerted fore or aft of the pivot point in order for the boat to turn.

It would be akin to teaching the basics of a lever, in an elementary physics class without the students understanding the relationship between the fulcrum and the balance point.

Marc Ornstein

Theory can’t be put aside

– Last Updated: Jul-25-12 8:26 PM EST –

The theory is 100% true 100% of the time. A static stroke will not work unless the hull is traveling faster than the current.

I am writing for the more inexperienced canoeist who has been schooled mainly in static slips on flatwater, not for experienced whitewater paddlers.

I can't think of many situations in a rapid where I accelerate straight downstream faster than downstream current speed and then decide to put on the brakes with a static sideslip. I can think of plenty of times I accelerate in a diagonal direction in a rapid, but I'm usually aiming at an eddy or accelerating to avoid an obstacle and can't think of many circumstances where I would cap off such an angled acceleration move with a static draw sideslip.

I can't think of any whitewater or swiftwater situation where I, personally, would employ a static pry sideslip instead of a cross-draw to move to my off-side. I would do so in slow current or easy creeks such as in the Pine Barrens. There, it's no risk and fun.

Finally, the times in a rapid where I do want to put on the brakes and do something that may look like a static draw sideslip, I'm actually doing a dynamic angle stroke from the rear quarter that blends a dynamic draw with a backstroke -- sort of a back ferry stroke without the hull angle. I think that's a very common slipping stroke in heavy water.

Other people's styles may vary.

On edit: Upon reflection, I can think of a circumstance in which I use a type of static draw when angling across current aiming at an eddy. If I am coming in too high to make the eddy, I might throw out at static draw to pull my course further down into the eddy. This is a sort of slip with respect to my angled heading.