Giving suggestions?

Is it considered bad etiquette to give someone suggestions on improving their form if it’s not asked for beforehand? A friend I paddle with has horrible form, slouching in the cockpit and paddling with his elbows locked into his sides and all the paddle movement coming from wrist and forearms. Imagine a tyrannosaurus-rex trying to paddle. It’s frustrating because he goes so painfully slow. Not that we’re racing but I want to get a nice groove going and next thing I know he’s a half a mile behind. We’re both in sea kayaks, me a CD Gulfstream, him a WS Sealution.

No. It will not end happy if bad weather intervenes and you have to save him because of poor paddling technique and his ability to ride the waves. You could sit with him and watch YouTube tutorials and help him enjoy kayaking more and suffering as the result of poor technique, less. Best of luck.

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Giving unsolicited advice is always tough.

If it was me and one of my good friends, I’d tell him to hurry his ass up and that it would be easier if he tried this or that. But some people just want to float and not put much effort in so he might not be the right person for you to paddle with.


It all depends on the person. I’m always open to suggestions and most of my friends are also. Some people actively ask for advice. However some people just get defensive and consider any suggestion as negative criticism demeaning their intelligence or physical abilities.

A lot depends on how you approach it as well. Next time you wait 15 minutes for him to catch up, offer to show him some suggestions that may make paddling more efficient. Don’t start out by criticizing.

I’m sure he doesn’t like being left behind and struggling to keep up. If there are other factors besides technique such as his level of conditioning or his boat, you might have to slow your pace a bit if you want to keep paddling with him.

Does his Sealution have a rudder?
It is two very different boats with the rudder up or down.
I had one with a rudder for a short time and I was amazed at the difference a rudder made.but heard complaints from non ruddered boats.
He may be having directional problems when paddling harder.

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One way around this problem would also take you off the hot seat. Persuade him to join you in taking a class from a good instructor on kayaking technique. You both take the class and you don’t tell your friend how much he needs it; rather, the class will be good for both of you. It might also provide you a subsequent path to practicing what you learned.


I tread lightly when out with my partner. Try to point things out on videos. I want h her and give her tips. She’s not bad but could be better. Little more reach don’t bury the blade as much. It’s a hard situation. Rarely paddle with others or groups. They usually average 2.5 mph which most of the time is not my enjoyment pace.

Kudos to you rsvenic. There are many good responses here, I think, but yours is the reply of a particularly thoughtful man and a good friend IMHO.

I think it is sometimes not a question of technique though. Personality enters into this.
There is a person in our local club who, after decades of paddling, and decades of getting unsolicited paddling advise, good advise, simply will not keep up with a group. Any group. Her form is awful. She paddles like she’s imitating a RR crossing light. Dips one side, dips the other, never gets around to actually pulling on the paddle. She’s a bit of a worry if anything remotely tricky is involved. She’s not the one any trip leader would feel comfortable about having as the “sweep” paddler, yet nobody seems to be able to consistently stay behind her.

But this person absolutely LOVES to get out and “paddle”. She loves the rivers, loves to chill out at camp, loves to sleep in the sun on a sandbar, loves the companionship, loves bird watching, loves camp cooking… and these are many of the things we all love about paddling. She’s a kindred spirit in most respects, and a friend, but she simply will not be rushed. She will never keep up (with any group) and spends about as much time worrying about whether she’ll be too cold, or too hot, or too hungry, or thirsty than she does paddling. There are group leaders who will not allow her on their trips, and I have regretted allowing her on some that I’ve instigated myself.

So I’ve put her in the front seat of my canoe and paddled her down some mild whitewater that she’d be unable to handle herself, just so she could see it. There are a few of us who go out with her and do a 10 mile paddle and take two days to do it. There isn’t anything wrong with a dedicated lollygaging trip now and again.

But the issue isn’t technique. Its that different people, good people, paddle for different reasons. I like to see what’s around the next bend; she is not highly motivated to do so. But she is a good friend to many of us.

I don’t know this friend that the OP is considering, but perhaps technique isn’t really the issue. It might be personality. If so, that may also offer a solution to the OP’s quandary - Paddle with your friend, but decide beforehand that it will be on short, mild outings. There are a lot of ways to share good times on the water.

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I seldom offer unsolicited advice anymore unless I see somebody doing something downright dangerous to themselves or someone else, and sometimes not even then.

The only exceptions would be to people I know well who I am pretty confident will not be offended and if then I always precede any comments with the question “Can I offer you a suggestion?”.


Thanks to pblanc.
Such a delicate topic. I am willing to ruffle some feathers when it comes to safety issues. But it has cost me some paddling partners. I have gotten all of them back except one. I would rather not paddle again with someone that insists on wearing hip waders and no lifejacket on a fast cold river.

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In the last 5 years I have become a member of the same school of thought as pblanc.
Unless I am specifically asked for advice; I don’t give it much anymore.
I neither want nor need the hassles that most often occur when giving unsolicited advice.

More often that not, I will offer it to young paddlers, but only to kids that I sense have “paddling potential”.

For the most part I just ignore teenagers. They have few if any paddling skills, and have little to no concept of what they don’t know. Most have little to no motivitation to learn paddling skills. They live in the moment, and are more concerned about their friend’s reactions to what they’re doing, and taking selfies. Too often these days they think they have it all figured out. NOT!

Drunks, I go out of my way to ignore as completely as possible. When they get themselves into bad “situations”, it’s time for me to “vacate the area”.

A good example is the drunk I rescued from a strainer not too long ago.
After I got him to shore; he decided he needed to go upstream, re enter the river, and “dive beneath the strainer” to rescue his cooler and beer.
I told his friends he was possibly going to attempt suicide, for some beer.
Then I quickly left the area, and never looked back.

I call it my “fool’s avoidance technique”, and so far it’s working for me.
Seems to me that the fools are multiplying more rapidly these days.
I could be wrong, but I sure to see a lot of them out on the river.


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A canoe trip can test a friendship. Especially when there is some adversity like a lot of rain, bugs or a capsize. I have learned that some friendships are not ready for those experiences. I have become much closer with some friends after a week on a river with a raft or canoe. Some friendships have become strained and one ended.

I have had good luck with teenagers in the bow of my Old Town Guide 18. In a week on a river I have been able to create a competent paddler. They must be willing to take some instruction. I had one kid around 18 yo from New York state, that I had never met. He was the nephew of a friend, just visiting. But he was an athlete and had a good attitude. He learned quickly. I figure he was on the $2,000 canoe trip. I never heard from him again.

I have had some experience trying to offer basic canoe instruction to teenagers. I used to do volunteer work guiding trips on a local creek and some lakes. The boats were all tandem canoes. It became necessary to try to provide some guidance when a tandem team was carroming back and forth off opposite banks of the creek or lagging far behind a group on a lake because they couldn’t figure out how to make the boat go in a straight line.

Unfortunately, I found that a majority of young males were resistant to taking any advice from a person of my age although some were better than others. I guess I can understand this as I might have been the same at their age. The females were generally much better in this regard.

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I think different individuals can bring different things to the table. My own self concept is that I enjoy paddling and have a few finely honed skills but overall my technique/strokes are pretty lousy. That’s been confirmed by others. The best mentor/instructor (volunteer) is the one that shows up and is willing to help regardless of their skill/certification level.

I have paddled with some very high skilled individuals and while I respect their skills they aren’t necessarily who I want to paddle with. So skill is just part of the equation.

Anyone who has recently taken a class, from a paid instructor, I hit up for more info- “so what did they teach you, what did you learn? Show me.” I often ask more skilled individuals for advice as well. I call that my “growth mindset”. Only in the last 5 or 6 years have I been willing to put myself in instructional situations where I am likely to fail. I’m not there to impress but to learn. Does your friend have a “growth mindset”?

You could always ask them if they want any pointers? That’s where I would start. " So I can give you a few pointers so that you can paddle further with less effort." “Are you interested?”

Not everyday has to be a learning day. Most days on the water I’m content to style some class II, hang out with friends, then enjoy a pbr libation (off the water of course) and enjoy some good food. Surfing a wave or two (ww), making a move, and assisting in a rescue is a plus on any given day.

I have had to make the call that none wants to make: the authorities- It ended well. A fellow paddler got lost while portaging back to the put-in but around midnight was located. I’m now a bit more careful of the venues I paddle in with that individual. I think that’s understandable.

You paddle with folks a lot you learn their habits- and they’re not always good- folks can be highly skilled yet totally unaware of others in the group (never look back over their shoulder), some folks race downstream without catching eddies, I’ve got one friend who’s blood sugar crashes, then they get cranky and they take off by themselves straight for the takeout. Another friend becomes "stressed out. Too much drama when that happens yet I still paddle with them all. I’m no picnic myself. There have been times I’ve had to be helped in and out of boats (bad hips), helped at the put in or take out, or where we dragged our boats more than we paddled them because I had some bright idea, or I will linger to play a wave all by my lonesome while the group moves on. I like to paddle with folks that are passionate about boating, wear a pfd, dress for immersion, and will paddle within their skillset. If I was planning on doing distance and speed that ought to be communicated before the trip. If your friend still shows up and doesn’t keep up I understand your reluctance to paddle with them on similar trips.

I have found that if you have a group of more than three people or so, it can be very difficult to keep everybody happy. Some people are willing to modify their expectations for the overall good of the group and others are not. I have to admit that increasingly I find myself gravitating toward the latter type.

Some people are willing to give of their time to try to help others, and it is sometimes a thankless job. But I have known some very good paddlers who have absolutely no tolerance for instruction or even functioning as a safety or support boater. They complain about having to baby sit even though I can recall a time when some of these individuals couldn’t even figure out which end of the boat was the front.

People who are unwilling to tone down their expectations or slow down to help others usually find one or at most two other people who they happen to get along with, who have similar paddling skills, similar goals, and similar levels of risk acceptance and paddle with that individual or those individuals exclusively. Which is perfectly OK with me.

I paddled some technical white water on the Trinity River in California. For a bow partner I had my wife’s 16 year old half sister. Fortunately she was very bright and willing to take instruction. On the most difficult move of the trip we looked at the rapid for a long time. I told her exactly what I was looking for. I asked for a left draw stroke at the right moment and we caught the eddy with no trouble. The other boat in our party did not do so well and nearly capsized.

Make him a gift of a movement lesson with me by zoom.

I disagree with what another poster said about your friend not wanting to make the effort. What he is doing right now is probably a lot of effort, much of it wasted or even painful. Better yet, have a class together by zoom so it doesn’t seem like you are one-downing him. He’ll learn to do the stroke from his core and love it, and your stroke will become more elegant too. (Because perfecting the forward stroke is a lifetime endeavor/joy.)

It helps if you’re pretty good friends. I try to be self-deprecating and use a little humor. A kayak buddy of mine kept his eyes on his paddle blades all the time. Head moving from side to side then he’d start going green with motion sickness. I say something like, “I know you didn’t ask for my advice and I’m not an expert but I AM an opinionated asshole… I think if you keep your eyes on the horizon ahead of you you’ll avoid the seasickness.”

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I no longer have the patience to be self-deprecating, inject humor and tread lightly with people that are supposed to be my friends. I just paddle and row with people that I know that are competent. Some older guys and gals in my age group, over 60 seem to be overly sensitive. They are not used to being out of their comfort zone and doing something they are not good at. Because unavoidable safety issues often show up on all but the easiest trips, I just don’t want the responsibility of training people any more. Cat herding is a thankless job.

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I had a room mate back in college a long time ago on the East Coast. We used to backpack together and go on trips. We have kept in touch for 50 years. We have met in Yellowstone where he used to work. We have been down the Grand Canyon on a commercial raft trip. I invited him to go on a rafting trip. I explained on the phone the team concept where everyone pitches in. He said sure. Then when the trip started he kept saying “I am the guest and you are the guide.” Wrong answer. I told him "if that is true then I need to charge you $300 a day. "