Minor paddling tracking corrections

Ok, so I was on the river this morning. 2nd time out. I was going upstream. Spent 2.5 hours just to get 2 miles up. I didn’t reach my destination as I spent half an hour trying to get under a bridge in the current. Spent another 45 minutes trying to get up past an island once I crossed the river to get past the bridge at the other bank. The destination changed since I was out much longer than I thought I would be and just wanted to get up and around the island (originally wanted to get up to the next rural small town.) Made it about 100 feet from the tip of the island and couldn’t go any further in the current.

So, my question is, what can I do for minor tracking corrections? I was on the lake last week just messing around along the shoreline and had to stop and turn myself quite often.

This time I really tried to concentrate on paddling properly with torso rotation as I’ve watched countless videos on it. Yes, there is definitely a big noticeable power advantage using torso rotation vs. the typical unexperienced paddle windmilling. It was the only way I could power through some of the shallower parts with swifter current. I had to correct a lot though as I would drift to the left or right and it wasn’t the easiest thing to do I found.

I’m in a 13 foot Perception Sport Conduit if that matters. It’s not too bad, just veers off course, especially when I was concentrating on the torso rotation. I want to know what to do other than slow myself down as I get myself facing back straight.

Good Question

– Last Updated: May-03-15 11:37 PM EST –

It sounds like you are doing what you need. You need more seat time. But since you are having this problem, asking questions is good. Paddling with good paddlers is even better, if you have that option.

I'll not provide much advice, since you can get that from the kayakers here. What I will say is that when going upstream, any tendency to get on the wrong heading feels a whole lot worse to you than it does to your boat (if you envision what your boat is actually doing relative to the water streaming by the hull). The more difficult control going upstream is largely an illusion caused by your very slow travel speed in comparison with how fast the boat is actually moving through the water. In short, the actual severity of the veering is less than it appears (that won't change the issue you are facing, but at least you can feel better about the difficulty of dealing with it). However, you will also have situations where the front end of your boat gets slightly crosswise to the current while entering a zone of current that's faster. This happens a lot, and in that case, it's no illusion that getting off your heading is more severe.

It should always be possible to correct your heading, no matter your speed. As a single-blade canoer, I can say that in some boats, every part of every stroke is custom tailored to correcting one's course. You can do that to some extent in a kayak too, but more likely you will just vary strokes so that the right and left strokes are different from each other.

Let's say you have veered to the left and you want to pull your heading back to the right.
1) You can pull the bow toward the right at the beginning of your rightside stroke with a slight drawing action.
2) You can make your right stroke run straight alongside the boat and make your left stroke more of a sweep (the blade makes a curving path that's farther from the boat).
3. You can finish that leftside sweep with a draw that pulls your stern to the left (and thus makes your heading veer to the right).
4. You can tilt your boat so that it naturally turns to the right. In most cruising boats, this will mean tilting toward your left, but you'll have to experiment to know for sure what works for your boat.
5) There's no reason you couldn't also make your rightside stroke flare out a bit at the end (something canoers do all the time, but I doubt most double-blade users would).
6. You can do the first four of those things at the same time while paddling steadily, or perhaps even do all five, so that the effect of all the methods is additive. As you can guess, this will take practice!

With all of these methods, there is virtually no loss of power and no reduction in cadence. Thus, you really don't slow down enough to notice.

We'll see how much of that agrees with what the kayakers say.

You can also learn to read the current, thus avoiding the fastest zones, both to gain more speed (speed over the ground, not through the water) and to avoid having your bow tossed to one side in turbulence, and even finding reverse flow to aid your progress in the better eddys.

Try going barefoot and bring your torso
rotation all the way down to the footpeg. You get a lot more steering power at the footpegs than you do at the seat.

If you spent 2.5 hours going 2 miles.
it’s not you. It is the current is too strong for you.

You’ll do better in a longer narrower boat.

The only other option is to use the eddies if there are any.

jack L

Fast current
Yeah, it’s pretty fast current and very shallow. The Clarion dumps into the Allegheny here so a lot more water flowing across a very shallow bottom. The fish guys say they have a tough time in the small motor fishing boats in the middle where they have to run up through. One guy said a little further up stream, he was halfway out in the river with his truck before the boat finally was able to float off.

I know the current was a problem, but I notice veering off course when I was at the lake also. It wasn’t a huge deal, nothing like the spinning top of the rentals last year. I did have to correct though and the only way I know how is to touch the water behind me to turn the boat back on course. That slowed any glide I had down.

I think I’m going to head to the small sheltered lake near me next time to practice paddling rather than enjoy the scenery and exploring. I figure this paddling thing will be like on the bike where most new people mash on the pedals and it takes a bit of concentration to pedal efficiently and unnaturally at a high cadence and eventually after enough practice, it comes natural to do.

A little on beginner’s speed
"Mashing the pedals" reminds me of something. What I experienced when starting out in a quick little rowboat, and what I see many beginners in kayaks do (mainly guys, who are more apt to feel like they have an excess of power), is react to the ease with which the boat gets moving by pouring on the power and trying to go faster than what’s actually worth the effort. This is also bad for developing clean technique, as you are beginning to surmise. If you have a GPS, take it with you and keep an eye on your speed as you paddle. You’ll quickly see that the difference in speed between moderate effort and “much harder” effort is very minor, and that with each increase in paddling effort, the increase in speed becomes less. This is a principle that’s very difficult to discover without a GPS because greater disturbance of the water provides a convincing illusion of proportionally greater speed. Once you see that moderate paddling effort gets your boat’s speed well up into the range that’s possible, you will be more apt to take it easy and work on technique.

Corrections without slowing down

– Last Updated: May-04-15 11:12 AM EST –

"...the only way I know how is to touch the water behind me to turn the boat back on course. That slowed any glide I had down."

Ah, you're using a reverse stroke to turn your boat. That's what's killing your glide.

The way to correct without slowing down is to do a stern draw at the end of your forward stroke on the side your boat is veering TOWARDS. This is very easy to show, harder to describe in words.

Think of a basic sweep stroke - you put the paddle in up by your toes, sweep out in a big arc, rotating your torso, and keep sweeping all the way back to the stern of the boat, rotating your wrist a bit (like a motorcycle throttle) as you go to keep the paddle blade "pulling" against the water instead of lifting. Just before your paddle hits the stern, you slice it out of the water. If you do this right, even in a strong tracking boat, it'll have a pretty noticeable turning effect.

The stern draw is just the last foot or two of the sweep stroke, done at the back of the boat.

So, if you're paddling forward, and the boat starts to veer toward the left, here's what you do: On the very next forward stroke on the left side, instead of removing the paddle at your hip and taking a stroke on the right side of the boat, continue the stroke all the way back to the stern. Do the 'motorcycle' thing with your wrist as you rotate to keep the paddle's blade biting the water, and really crank with your core muscles to pull the stern of the boat towards the paddle (or to pull the paddle in toward the stern - same thing, just different points of view). Think of watching your paddle blade all the way until it reaches the stern. That'll force you to rotate properly.

If you do it right, the boat will turn away from the side you are paddling on without losing any glide.

If the boat is veering strongly, instead of a forward stroke that turns into a stern draw at the end, you can just do a full sweep stroke.

Either way, the goal is to never take a "negative" stroke. You want to correct by doing a sweep or combination forward stroke/stern draw on the side you want to turn AWAY from rather than doing a reverse stroke on the side you want to turn towards.

a few things
#1 what Somalley said.

When I read your phrase “mashing the pedals” it made me think of something also. Instead of making the most of each stroke, try to link your strokes so that you have a short cadence and so that your boat slows very little between strokes.

Make sure you have a proper stroke, blade should be coming out of the water as it passes your hip. Most of the force of the stroke comes at the very beginning.

You can try lifting one edge of the boat by using your knees against the hull - generally lifting the same side of the boat as the direction you want to turn - but this might be less effective in your kayak than in a longer, thinner kayak.

white water skills
There are a few white water skills that may help you with this upstream paddling. Try researching crossing eddy lines and reading the water.

Reading the water will let you better get a handle of what water is moving where. Rivers are not constant from side to side, but have different current speeds (and often spots where the water is stopped or going upstream - these are called eddies). Learning to find these and use these areas would be helpful. We call it eddy hopping.

But to do it, you need to know how to cross the current. As you cross that line of differing current speeds, you at best will just be pushed off course, or at worst could be more easily flipped. There is an edging trick that reduces the flipping risk, and knowing what angle of attack to use which can let you reduce (or take advantage of) the being pushed off course.

playing in current is good

– Last Updated: May-04-15 2:53 PM EST –

I'm no ww paddler but I like to play in river currents in my sea kayak. As you said it gets you familiar with the dynamics of moving water but also amplifies some of the feedback from edging and paddling.

Practice turning strokes.
All of the directional control items mentioned above, I think, can be most easily ironed out if you spend some dedicated practice time figuring out how to get your boat to turn most effectively. I always suggest starting on flat water with no current. It’s easiest, and it gives you feedback without other factors coming into play - such as “Maybe it turned better this time because of the current right where I performed the stroke?”, or “Maybe it turned better or worse because of the wave that went under me?”

The things I would suggest paying attention to, as mentioned above, is what your body, your hips, your legs are doing in connection with the boat to make it turn. For example, in a sweep, think about rotating your hip forward towards the blade you’re planting when positioning yourself to start a sweep stroke. This should result in that knee bending up a little more, because your foot is stationary on the footrest. Once you plant the blade, think about rotating that hip back as far as you can rotate, straightening that bent knee to help with that hip rotation. If you have to sweep again, remember to reset your hips as you’re planting the blade. You’ll discover that the sweep is much, much more effective when you have your hips and torso set to unwind when you plant the blade. You’ll probably also find that it’s easy to leave that step out, and struggle with multiple sweep strokes on one side that aren’t proving as effective as it seems like they should be. This is just an example on one of many strokes of creating a habit, a muscle memory, that kicks in automatically when you decide to initiate a sweep stroke.

So sit in flat water, and figure out what makes your boat turn effectively. The more you iron that out, the easier it will be to make course corrections on the move. The people who make directional control in a particular boat look easy, and that make turning look easy in that boat, are one and the same. It’s also going to help you diagnose inconsistencies in your forward stroke, should they exist, as you will become much more aware of the body mechanics that might contribute to your boat veering off to one side.

Changing currents will have a powerful impact on the direction your kayak wants to point, especially in displacement hulls. So part of it will be learning what to fight and when and how hard to fight it, recognizing currents, and the best way to approach them.