How long does it take?

I’ve been paddling now for about 6 months. Solo canoe. I’ve been on 4 class I (II) trips where the water was moving fast enough to be challenging. I’ve been swimming twice - once when I got flipped by a cypress knee and today when going through an opening in a strainer, using a double blade, and having to paddle vigorously to get through, the blade out of the water caught a branch and the leverage was enough to flip me right out of the boat. Even when I manage to stay in the boat, I’m not happy with my ability to avoid obstacles such as rocks, downed trees and other such nasties.

I try to practice my strokes with a single blade, a single bent shaft, and the double blade on flat water, but it doesn’t seem to translate to moving water.

So how long does is usually take to get proficient, at least in class I/II? I paddle with some great people who give me lots of hints, the most important of which may be getting set up much sooner. I’m curious how long it took you experts to get to the point of being confident that class I/II moving water was no longer a challenge.

Thanks. (Also thanks to my companions who retrieved my boat. All I lost were some clip-on sunglasses).


a little help
first is of course TIME IN THE BOAT. That will be the MOST important item that everyone on here will tell you. after that it is lok up how to do an axel a post and a christie. They are turns that will improve you imensly. or take a freestyle class. or an introduction to river canoeing class.

You are going to get alot of advise on here. time in the boat time in the boat (and throw that double paddle away)


How about twenty years or more.
I agree with the above poster.

It takes a long time to learn to read the river, to react accordingly, and to become proficient at WW paddling.

If you can hook up with some one with many years of experience it can shorten your learning curve by quite a bit.

The above poster mentioned getting rid of the kayak paddle , and I agree.

Learn how to properly handle a canoe with a single blade paddle and then after that if you want a double blade go for it, but there is no reason for one in down river WW.

The more you paddle, the more you will learn how to handle those little surprises that pop up, and eventually you will be seeking out the WW chutes and picking your lines like a pro.

Stay with it and enjoy the learning process.



FWIW, my whitewater skills really increased when I learned to fully employ the backpaddle. Gives you chance to slow down, scout the best rte thru obstructions, ferry over to vees, & not let current control you. In faster water you often need to move slower then the current.

Also agree about time in boat & losing the dbl blade ! Enjoy the learning curve.

Twenty years?
Gosh, I hope not - I started very late in life.


One use for the double-blade paddle
I agree, learn to back-paddle. That actually sets you up for learning some very important back-ferry skills, and this is where the double-blade paddle can be a useful learning tool, at least in my opinion.

First of all, back-paddling to slow down is great, but once you get the hang of slowing down or even hovering in one place, you can adjust the heading of your boat to backferry around obstacles, and also to get lined up on chutes, much more precisely than when paddling downriver. Even the expert paddler will back-ferry to make abrupt changes in position when the current is too strong and space is too limited to simply turn the boat or side-slip.

The problem is, backferrying with a single-blade is really quite difficult to do. You need to apply the same principles of control strokes as when going forward, but do so while paddling in a more awkward direction. Plus, most canoes get pretty squirrely when going backward (backward relative to the water, that is. You will still be going forward and downstream, but slower than the current). Since controlling the boat’s heading is much easier with a double-blade paddle, I think the double-blade is a good tool for learning the principles of back-ferrying. Once you know what the boat needs to do to accomplish a back-ferry and you can make it happen with the double-blade, then you can tackle the more difficult job of doing the back-ferry with a single-blade. At least by that time you will understand what it is you need to make the boat do when back-ferrying, so you will also recognize your mistakes and be able to work to correct them.

And here’s back-ferrying primer:
You should read about this somewhere, or learn directly from others, but here’s how back-ferrying works.

Imagine that you need to go through a fast, narrow chute, and just below that is a strainer sticking out from the right bank and the current is running right through it.

Here’s what to do. Start back-paddling before you even enter the chute. Ease yourself down the chute while paddling backwards so that your down-river speed is as slow as you can make it. Lets assume that in this case, once you are through the chute and the current slows a tad, that your backpaddling will actually allow you to hover in place, so your boat is going neither upstream nor downstream. In this hover position, you’ve got that nasty strainer right in front of you. You can see that if you stop paddling, the current will suck you in. You can also see that if you turn the boat hard to the left and make a dash around the strainer, you will be unable to maintain the upstream speed against the current that you have while back-paddling and hovering in place, so you will drift downstream sideways and get pinned. BUT, if you angle the BACK end of your boat just a small amount to the left and keep back-paddling at “hover speed”, the boat will move sideways to the left, directly across the river, until you will now find yourself lined up to go straight downriver past the end of the strainer, so you just plant your paddle, let the current grab it and start you moving forward and you are home free.

You never needed to “turn” in the normal sense. In fact, you angled the boat in the opposite direction from what you’d have done if you simply wanted to turn while going forward. Learn to do this and the average person will think you look like a pro. And it won’t take you 20 years - I promise!

Thanks GBG
I can back paddle with single or double blade if the river is not moving too quickly. I have even back ferried so I know whereof you speak. When the river is moving swiftly, I find the maneuver very difficult. I’m reluctant to go out on a river by myself, so practicing is difficult. If I do go out by myself, it’s on a calm lake close to shore and I’m not sure how to practice river skills on flat water.



couple of thoughts

– Last Updated: May-21-06 8:04 AM EST –

Doc, I don't know if you can kneel but if you can, I'd outfit your Freedom Solo with well placed kneeling pads. Getting down on your knees really makes a big difference. Sitting in that bucket seat without footbraces, you really don't have a lot of room for mistakes of any kind. And, since you know you don't have a lot of room for error, you are more uptight and tense.

The more you can relax, the easier it comes. Along with more experience, good outfitting can really help to inspire confidence, settle you down and put you in a good place. As for what happened to you yesterday, that sounds like simple justice to me, backslider!

what clarion said

– Last Updated: May-21-06 12:15 PM EST –

Kneel, kneel, kneel. Went with 3 kayaks yesterday. 2 of them flipped due to rocks. Use your knees for leverage, with a "hip shift" to keep canoe upright. Keep knees wide apart in the rough stuff, and sit in the flat stuff to stretch, 'cuz it makes the kayakers jealous.;-). Backpaddling would seem to take the reason for paddling ww away imho. when the canoes vibrating is when it's fun.

When using the backwater technique it is important to weight the canoe bow heavy so that the stern doesn’t catch in the current. It becomes much easier to control the canoe in fast moving water when it’s weighted correctly for your style.

I agree you need to concentrate on the single blade first. You can do things with a single that are hard or impossible to execute with the double.

Backslider, hah!
To paraphrase a recent Canoe & Kayak article, “Twice the paddle, half the paddler.” :slight_smile:


“Yes” to changing trim
That’s a good point. Shifting weight forward helps a lot, and I usually try to shuffle my knees forward a tad before any type of back-paddling. Actually, that works simply because of the direction that water is passing over the hull and the fact that what is effectively the tail-end of the boat becomes less stable regarding its position in the water. I’ve done a lot of experimentation with this, even in still water, and without shifting weight forward, the boat becomes very susceptible to wig-wag of the bow. In fast water, that factor makes itself know as a “sticky stern” that more easily gets pulled this way or that in differential currents, but what is really happening is the same in all types of water when going backward. It’s really fascinating to experiment with this stuff.

is a completly wrong statement ment to demean and seperate boaters into I’m better than you …

the double bladed paddle works beter in some instances and a single blade works better in others…in WW with a canoe a double bladed paddle is generally a poor choice. because of the height above the water that you sit/kneel and the width of the boat. you are getting too long of paddle and too low angle on your stroke to have the maneuverability necessary in WW (note , width of boat). On flat water in a canoe this doesn’t matter much but it does in WW.

A kayaker sits down into the water and width of boat allows for a more verticale stroke without constantly shifting from side to side in the boat just to get the proper placement of the paddle. In a canoe the reach to plant the paddle where it needs to be to get around the rocks etc is better with a single blade and it also does away with the top blade catching on overhanging branches. There is no advantage at all to using a double bladed paddle in a canoe…nothing replaces proper boat handling methods for the chosen boat.

The skill set to use a double blade paddle in a kayak and the skill sets to use a single blade paddle in a canoe take the same effort to learn and use…as much as some canoeist like to make this twice the paddle statement. long time paddlers know that it is a sign of a small amount of information on the part of the person making this statement…unless it’s used between friends that paddle together when at the tavern/pub/bar. save this for those occasions only but then make sure your up to equal derision. and don’t take any response you get as serious.

generally speaking I prefer a large blade and a straight shaft for use in a WW canoe. Bent shaft paddles are ment to be used with only one power face where as a straight shafted paddle can be switched faster from side to side without worrying about power face, sometimes speed is very important and there is only one place that you need to be with your paddle blade in order to acomplish the move you need in order to work the river…

Take a class. learn J stroke, then perfect it then learn all the prys and how to back paddle and ferry…loose the double blade…poor choice in WW in a canoe.

Best Wishes


Sorry you took offense
It was an inside joke among friends.

Help of a few friends
A agree with most of what has been said. I would only add that initaly I find it helpful for new river paddlers to find one experienced friend to listen to. Once you have absorbed what that friend has to say move on to the next one. Too many friends at once leads to confused beginers due to variations in style, prefrences, ect.

I agree
I’ve gotten some conflicting advice from various people. Sometimes it’s hard to translate the advice into action when the water is moving briskly.

Thanks to everyone who has offered help. Time in the boat seems to be certainly important. I feel better now than a few trips ago. These old bones may protest against kneeling for any length of time. I need to practice changing position in a solo canoe.

I need to get on some trips where the water is moving but there aren’t many obstacles so that I can practice back paddling, ferrying, pries, draws etc. without the stress of a potential wipeout if the maneuvre doesn’t quite come off.

And the fact is, I get through most riffles and around most strainers without crashing and burning.

Thanks again,



– Last Updated: May-23-06 10:37 AM EST –

I got snippy....I guess I've just heard that one a few too many times.....I paddle both ways so know that skill with the chosen paddle is still skill...and both take their own devotion.....guess that Salty isn't the only cranky one on this board from time to time). I went rolling for a couple of hours now I'm better.....The wife went to practice her belly dance for an upcomming show....
all is good in the world now.....I even spent some time practicing my Balance brace.....seems rather easy in the Anas Acuda. I took that instead of the pintail today.

Best Wishes