Paddle With Feeling

During the past several years, it’s occurred to me that I rarely think about specific strokes or maneuvers. The proper position of the paddle and it’s pressure against the water has become a matter of feel. I know how I want the canoe to move and I intuitively place, then pull or push the paddle in an appropriate manner to make it happen.

Most of these paddle maneuvers have names. In FreeStyle we call them axles, posts, christies, wedges etc. Other disciplines have their rough equivalents. In real world situations, I rarely execute “pure” maneuvers. Everything is blended. An in water recovery from a forward stroke, begins with the paddle neutral, then gradually assumes a closed angle, which morphs into a wedge which is followed by another forward stroke with a bit of sweep component and on it goes.

I had to learn and perfect the core maneuvers. They are the building blocks. It’s important to know what effect each maneuver will have and how to make the most effective, efficient use of the paddle. When it all becomes intuitive, and maneuvers blend seamlessly, continuously for hours on end, with conscious attention focused on the beauty of the stream instead of the mechanics of piloting the boat, that is when canoeing becomes an art.

In my mind this is the ultimate goal of FreeStyle instruction. To make travel by canoe, poetry on the water.

I Hear You

I guess the process never stops.
I feel like I do the same thing, but when it comes to paddling skill I’m still in kindergarten compared to Professor Mornstein. I’m sure there’s a never-ending continuum of advancing skills, so that when looking back at the learning process one always feels like there was some point where things became as automatic as they are “now”.

If you stop feeling and learning
I suppose that is synonymous with “dead”.

I came, I felt, I conquered “not”. I fell in trying to cross an ice sheet yesterday. Part of it gave way, reinforcing the need for continuing education.

I am thankful for another day of learning to feel.

But in ordinary paddling life what I need to do rarely results from a thoughtful process. Rather its the result of a lot of practice of individual maneuvers.

So feeling comes from practice. And someone to instill the love of practice.

From what you describe is seems like
what your doing, violates all the rules of freestyle. I was taught that every maneuver had certain parts, such as the initiation, placement, conclusion etc. What you’re describing doesn’t sound like freestyle at all.

Very true - some days its nice to think
about what you are doing - getting the basics down is important - but most days I just enjoy paddling. Strokes don’t have to be perfect long as they get you where you want to go, and its fun!

I haven’t violated the rules at all.
What I’ve done is to blend each of the elements of the discipline, seamlessly, one into the other to accomplish my goal. In this case, traveling a narrow, winding stream.

There is a difference between exhibition or competition freestyle and what I refer to as applied freestyle. In exhibition freestyle, one shows mastery of the skills by demonstrating the named maneuvers, with all of their components evident to be seen. To demonstrate a complete maneuver, the boat must rotate a minimum of 180 degrees. Though maneuvers should blend seamlessly from one to another, each maneuver should be distinct; clearly discernible from the next.

In applied freestyle, one takes what they have learned from the freestyle maneuvers and applies that knowledge in the real world. Most turns don’t need to be 180 deg. Heeling to the rail may be problematical or simply unnecessary. Likewise pitch. A conclusion may simply be the beginning of the next stroke and so on.

What doesn’t change are the basic principles that have been learned. A vertical paddle is more efficient at moving the boat than one held at an angle. Heeling the hull toward the outside of the turn causes it to carve and is more efficient than heeling into the turn. For a side slip to work, the paddle placement must be at or near the center of rotation. Short strokes executed well forward and ended before the paddle passes ones’ hip require less correction than long strokes carried further back. The list goes on.

The point is to apply the techniques as necessary to accomplish the task at hand. As one progresses toward mastery of the skills, doing so feels natrual and seemingly without conscious thought.

Marc Ornstein

Dogpaddle Canoe Works

Custom Canoe Paddles and Woodstrip Canoes

I understand this is a freestyle canoeing thread, but OTOH, sometimes when I’m paddling in surf I like to think of paddling in anger.

Anger? or Fear?
I prefer to call it “survival” paddling followed by laughter! (by those watching)

I have seen the previews of “This is the Canoe” and am constantly amazed by the ability of those single bladed masters.


– Last Updated: Dec-21-11 10:35 AM EST –

...but a healthy anger. When the conditions dictate, the fear is always there, again, in a healthy measure.

Its a little like riding a horse to me
As a youngster I used to ride. I always wanted a horse. I could never have one and after one parent died and the other became very sick and bedridden, lessons were out.

Fast forward some forty years. I worked on an ambulance with a regular partner. She had gotten a horse and learned to ride about ten years before. What she liked about riding was the ability to get away and just feel the power of her horse under her and to enjoy the response to her every slight command. She enjoyed being able to feel the experience without thinking of how to do the commands. Mind you this had taken some ten years.

I went and got a canoe and took FreeStyle lessons and a bit quicker than ten years I too was just enjoying the experience… I likened my canoe to a horse. And at this point I did not have to think about the steps of how to do what I needed to do. It became reflexive.

After work each day we parted ways to mount our separate steeds. Only mine did not require vet visits and shoeing and expensive stabling.(she had way more money)

And now a trip to an area like a mangrove trail in the Everglades or a run down a twisty Florida or New Jersey river feels like a dance. (I might not look like I am dancing gracefully…but let me be selfish…its all about how I feel)

I have never developed an expertise in surfing (beyond mostly sheer terror) but once I had a great surfing run in a kayak and it was exhilirating too.

I think it needs to be reiterated
that both Marc and Kim have spent countless hours of “perfect practice”. Just like a great jazz musician, it is an understanding of the fundamentals, and knowledge of their instrument that allows wonderful ad lib expressions and explorations of their craft. (As I listen to Coltrane and Tyner.)

Where is that Burris Coltrane
video? LOL. That was quite memorable…Tim and jazz make nice music.


Well said. I think also this could be included as one of the vurtues of single blade paddling as opposed to dubble blade. Like the difference between dancing and walking.

Mery Christmas,Turtle

different strokes
get down!

Dancing with a double blade,
dancing with the river. Love this video!

I don’t see single/double blade as dancing/walking—more like the difference between riding English and riding Western, ballet or ballroom.

When I began this thread
I hadn’t given any thought to double blade paddling. It’s just not my thing. Since it’s introduction into the discussion I’ve realized that much of what I wrote applies to it as well.

That having been said, and at the risk of alienating many double bladers (and there are more of you than us)and perhaps incurring their wrath, (just kidding, almost all paddlers are nice people)I believe that there are more nuanced maneuvers available to single blades than doubles. The reason lies in the generally vertical position of the blade. Double blade strokes, by their nature, are largely sweeps which induce yaw. Yes, they can be held nearly vertical, but that is generally an exception.

Double blades have advantages in some applications. There is something to be said for the ability to apply power or to brace on both sides of the boat without crossing or changing hands. Like I said, it’s just not my thing.

Marc Ornstein

Dogpaddle Canoe Works

Custom Canoe Paddles and Woodstrip Canoes

The video illustrates the big difference

– Last Updated: Dec-22-11 9:42 PM EST –

I found it interesting that in all the maneuvers that guy does, the boat is moving through the water in streamlined form, "steering" around the curves. Single-bladers in solo canoes often have lots more methods than steering, and as often as not, the boat will zig-zag around obstacles without any need to "aim" in some particular direction, even aiming in a counter-intuitive direction to aid in missing rocks. I noticed too that the curves in the current were fully in the guy's favor for reinforcing every turn of the zig-zag that seemed to be the highlight of the video (they showed it three times), which is why simply carving the turns was all it took to get through. Not to take anything away from the guy - clearly he's a good paddler and I bet it was loads of fun. It's just that the methods shown are night-and-day from single-blade maneuvers with a solo canoe. Rather than comparing it to western versus English horse riding, one might see it as comparing the maneuvering options available to an airplane versus a helicopter, and yes, I WOULD say there was nothing remotely dance-like about what was shown. To me, carving turns is not dancing.

"Like Doing Tai Chi On The Water"
Is what my doubles outrigger partner called it after I described to her how I paddled my Reverie sportscanoe almost 20 years ago.

Being an old double blader as well as
a current double blader (some paddlers don’t fit in the “check one” box), I have tried the elements of single blade FreeStyle with a double blade and added some to my double blade tool box.

I find heeling the hardest, even lifting a knee under the deck and pushing the other butt cheek down, when sitting I have less ability to quickly counterweight any overedging without using a brace. Its far easier kneeling in a canoe.

Outside edged turns work best in a kayak which is not news for double bladers. That means the post is possible and works fairly well though with seven feet of paddle there is some drippage on your head and quite a bit of paddle length just waving around up there (and catching on bushes overhanging)

Half christies are used all the time for maneuvering kayaks. Most of the time kayakers use a reverse sweep to check on what is going on in back of them or to turn but its got lots of braking pushing against the water… Next time try using the stern pry and just a very gentle force on the blade to keep momentum up during the turn.

Wedges are interesting… initiated with a half sweep on one side then the "off side " paddle blade brought in to an onside bow jam. There is a brace here…actually almost set up for the inevitable need to roll up!

The other difficulty is that most good double blades are curved and sometime that curve works against you.

Kayaking in this manner IMO takes a good bit more skill than canoeing in this manner. I have thought for a long time that the canoe learning curve was hardest in the beginning and then gets so much easier. Kayaking is the opposite. Easy to start to get from A to B and a lifetime to perfect.