Long Term Paddling Improvement Rate???

Been wondering about this and figured I would ask…excuse me if this question sounds a bit hokie.

I am truly passionate about the sport of paddling…more so than any other activity in which I have been involved, which is saying a lot because I have been very passionate about various hobbies in the past.

Being so passionate about this sport, constant improvement, learning and growing as a paddler is important to me. As such I spend a lot of time on the water and in doing so am always practicing skills, thinking analytically about boat handling, strokes, interaction with the water, etc.

Over my short paddling career of about 4 1/2 years I have made leaps and bounds of improvement in my abilities.

I feel like every time I go on the water I improve by discovering some new slight nuance…be it on flat or rough water.

It seems that each year I look back to where I was in terms of skill a year ago and find that my skill level is echelons higher than it was then, despite the fact that I thought I was pretty strong the year before (which is also a bit humbling b/c it shows me that you are never really as good as you think you are given the apparent room for improvement).

I consider paddling to be a lifetime sport and one that I truly intend to stick with.

As such, I am wondering what the rate of improvement is over the long term. For some of the more experienced and seasoned paddlers out there…guys like flatpick and salty and the like…what have you found about improvement over the long term?

Of course there can be a steep learning curve in the first few years of paddling, but do you still feel that you continue to learn and grow every year as a paddler even after having paddled for many years and achieved a high level of skill?

I also wonder about this when I look at / think about some of the more skilled instructors that I see at the various symposiums…given there extensive experience I wonder what skill they have developed over the years that are not immediately obvious to the observer given that the nuances of the sport are so critical and take so long to develop.


long term skill development
in my opinion, the skill developed most over time is judgement.

I agree - Judgement
You get more refined over the years with your paddling technique but learning when to say no to conditions and also how difficult all these common rescues can actually be in current and surf conditions is something that comes with experience. You also learn that in spite of how good you think you are, you can get trashed in surf like a beginner.

Improvement over time
You have to be willing to learn.

There are people out there who have been paddling for years, but still paddle the way they did when they first bought their craft. They typically say “why do I have to learn all that stuff”

New directions
Part of the way to keep growing is to try new directions so that you’re not constantly repeating yourself. If you’re primarily a sea kayaker, try whitewater and surfing. Try different equipment – open canoes, greenland paddles, etc. Slowly push the boundries of conditions you paddle in. And you can try teaching, which opens up a whole new way to understand your interactions with the water.

If you take a broad view of “paddling”, your room for growth is nearly infinite.

I would agree about broadening your perspective. I believe that there is “synergy” in participating in different aspects of the sport, paddling different boats, paddles, etc.

My next step is a canoe. I am picking one up next week. That is a much different venue but I imagine a lot of the same strokes and principles will apply and cross over.

Not to sound reckless / careless, etc. but I am not 100% sure that I am sold on the judgement part though…not that it is not an important aspect of paddling.

I think that judgement is more of an issue when your skills are in the earlier phases of development. Of course it is always important, but much more critical when you don’t have the requisite skills to deal with many possible scenarios. I believe that as your skills and knowledge increase the conditions under which your better judgement would tell you not to paddle become a smaller and smaller subset of the total.

I could probably buy into that more if we are talking about leadership judgement for leading groups in conditions, etc.


Good judgement
Good judgement comes from experience, and experience often comes from bad judgement. At least it seems to work that way with me.

Sorry to plagiarize your tagline there Matt, but this time it fits.

I thought I saw a reply from Salty on this one just a few minutes ago, came back from pulling laundry and it’s not there. Am I already starting into dementia barely a month into my retirement or was it there?

BTW, I think a lot more paddlers than the hard core here only learn when they have to - cynical though that be. I’ve participated in a training of a pretty mixed bag of paddlers recently and it was all over the place. Had people who have been paddling for years but couldn’t execute the most basic brace, another who had only been paddling a year but had focused on learning to do things right from the outset and even to someone who had never been in a boat but came to learn.

At the end of the day the last two had a much better forward stroke than many of the longer term paddlers, probably because they had a good attitude and less to unlearn.

Lots of directions that paddling can take you – group leadership & decsion making, weather, navigation, boat design & construction…

One of the hardest lessons to learn about judgement is that the outcome is NOT always a good indication of the quality of your decisions. Was it really a good choice, or a dumb choice saved by good luck?


“Let’s say I’m making my decisions at the 99% level, and so are all my friends. Out of every 100 decisions, 99 do not result in any negative consequence. Even if they’re bad decisions, nothing bad happens. Since nothing bad happens, I think they’re good decisions. And this applies not just to my decisions, but to my friends’ decisions as well, which I observe. They must be good decisions; they worked out didn’t they? The next natural consequence of this is that I lower my decision threshold a little. Now I’m making decisions at the 98% level, and still they’re working out. The longer this goes on, the more I’m being reinforced for making bad decisions, and the more likely I am to make them.

Eventually, the statistics catch up with me, and my descending threshold collides with the increasing number of opportunities I’ve created through bad decisions. Something goes wrong. I blow a launch or a landing, or get blown over the back, or hit the hill on the downwind side of a thermal. If I’m lucky it’s a $50 downtube or a $200 leading edge. If I’m unlucky, I’m dead.”


I pulled it
I’ve decided to post far less on this site. Sharing my personal paddling evolution is not conducive to that strategy.

Safe journeys.

Salty, keep posting!
I’ve learned a huge amount on this site over the last 4 years. The one post that changed my paddling life the most was a slightly exasperated question from Salty -“I don’t understand why people don’t just practice rolling when they’re paddling in the ocean instead of going to pools, etc.” I had been planning to sign up for a pool clinic. After Salty’s post, I just went out in the ocean for a couple of days and worked on my roll until it was reliable, then made a habit of practicing every trip.

I have learned a lot from Salty’s other posts on boats and equipment, but most of all on attitude towards kayaking and towards the sea. I am sure there are lots more Salty aficionados like me who are mostly silent. Your posts make a bigger difference to people than you realize. Don’t stop!

Your input was something I was actually fishing for with this post (as you can see your name appears in the original post)…I’d like it if you would consider emailing me your thoughts offline.


learning curve
I don’t think you will ever run out of things to learn. I’ve done primarily fast cruising for exercise in solo canoes for more than 10 years and am now getting into freestyle…so much to learn! And one can always go back to the basics and improve…like focusing on your basic forward stroke. I know nothing about kayaks and feel like it would take years to become a decent beginnner, but I have a pretty good J-Stroke. I still know nothing about Canadian style solo paddling either.

One of the freestyle teachers at a recent event kept reinforcing the importance of practice to make sure your reactions are built in to your muscle memory. Just practicing all the various aspects of paddling would take more than 24 hours a day I think.

I also like the comments about judgement and experience. My take is opposite of yours…the more experience you get the more often you decide to avoid paddling in marginal conditions; seems like the most experienced people are always the most conservative. I paddle mostly on a slow/shallow river and there ain’t much whitewater around here but I’ve been in potentially life-threatening situations 4-5 times at least…always an embarassing surprise. I think that canoes may be inherently safer than kayaks since there may be less tendency to venture into dangerous conditions (big water or being far from shore)…you sure see more sad stories about unlucky/inexperienced kayakers in Sea Kayak magazine than you do about canoe folks in Canoe and Kayak! I wonder how many kayakers are truly prepared to self-rescue in rough water a mile offshore.

So much to learn and practice!

Hey, to be clear…
This is not a “I’m pissed and never coming back deal!”. Not at all and that’s why I’m clarifying. I appreciate the nice words but for me it’s just sort of run it’s course and become stale, at least for me. Samo samo stuff really.

I’ll still check stuff out, and may add a comment here or there, but after some reflection I’ve decided it’s not a good medium for me to communicate.

It’s a good site…enjoy.

If you are ever down here send me an email and I can loan you a boat.

started around 1972
Still learning new things.

to improve get on the race circuit
You will lose some but constantly striving against others is a sure fire way to improve. Verlen Kruger

started out racing, and look where he took his skill levels to.

B 'n B
Butt in Boat.

you have to paddle alot.

I started in a canoe at age 10. spent years and years paddling whitewater, kayak and canoe. teaching and guiding trips for years and years.

years and years.


There’s not a chance that I have any
native paddling ability or any special aptitude for learning, but over the years, changes in circumstances and equipment have led to occasional jumps in new or improved skills. For example, I knew that I wanted to learn good c-1 crossing strokes, but I didn’t make much progress until I bought a slightly used slalom c-1. It responded so much better than my older boats that it rewarded improvement. I think that shorter, more responsive boats are likely to foster improvement more than longer, steadier, “safer” boats. While I can use all my “slalom” skills when solo-paddling much larger canoes, I can’t feel the difference as clearly.

Long ago, after a poor showing rowing in 8-oared shells, I got a single scull becauses I felt that was the only way to find out whether I “had it” or could “get it.” Unfortunately, I didn’t have it and couldn’t get it, but sculling highlighted all my problems with control and consistency, as well as showing me that my particular physiology was not equal to the massive demands of the sport. Well, I had fun, sometimes, and learned a lot. And sometimes we need to learn faster who we ain’t goin’ to be.