Paddling Faster

I’ve been working with the Voyager this past week hoping that it’s theoretical hull speed will help me go faster than I’ve been able to in the Magic.

My first attempts found me pretty much the same in either boat. Funny the Voyager feels fast but my watch does not support that.

Since my cadence seems to be up in the 60 strokes per minute range, not counting switches, I’m figuring I need to get more power in there without losing directional control. I also need to speed up my switches. I’m losing about three strokes per right now.

I’ve been told I need to get more torso rotation and that should help with power but it also seems to worsen my side to side yawing.

I tried a course on the Charles river in Newton, Ma yesterday, described as “approximately 5 miles”, to see if I could do it in an hour or less.

I focused (to the best of my ability) on torso rotation, power and faster switching. I experimented with a pitch stroke to try and minimize the yaw. The course goes upstream, into the breeze yesterday, back down past the start then back up. on the last upstream I was getting pushed around by the breeze and never thought to slide forward. Doh! I did the course in aproximately 55 minutes. That’s as good as I’d hoped and a little better than I expected. Good enough I think to go back for the informal racing. I may be last but they won’t have to send out the search team!



paddling for speed
It’s been a while since I paddled in a race or timed myself over a course, but I found that wearing a heart rate monitor was very helpful. Once you know your anaerobic threshold, just push the stroke cadance up till you reach it. If you start to exceed it, back off a little.

I think the keys to paddling faster (apart from forward strokes with good form) is to increase the stroke rate and eliminate all correction strokes (including pitch strokes, although those are less wasteful than J’s or C’s). To get the cadance up, you may need to shorten up your stroke and work on a lightning fast recovery. A smaller paddle blade or shorter shaft might help.

If I understand you correctly and you are losing several strokes per switch you can definitely improve on that a lot. I don’t think I lose more than 1/2 stroke per switch. The bent-shaft paddle I use has a sort of truncated T-grip instead of a palm grip. I sort of throw the paddle over and across the bow and release both hands simultaneously. The T grip helps my “new” control (grip) hand find its place without having the paddle fly out of my hands. I get my hands in place just in time for the plant.

To eliminate all correction I switch sides, of course, but I also try to get the boat carving on an onside circle if the hull will allow. If I can build up a little bow wave on the offside it will greatly reduce the frequency of the required switches.

Some things
- Be sure to side forward some when going into the wind.

  • Voyager responds well to brute force going into the wind. If you have a paddle with a larger blade that you can still maintain a 60spm cadence, use that going into the wind.
  • On more torso causing more bow yaw…try sliding the seat forward some to reduce that effect. Think of it as this boat wants to skate the opposite direction of strong forces like wind, or power stroking. Use the slider.
  • I don’t know what you weigh, but Voyager’s speed isn’t really impacted with loads up to the 275lb range. If you are carrying a load less than 225, try putting some ballast in the bilge and Voyager will behave better in the wind.
  • Regular workouts in Voyager in all kinds of conditions will improve your speed. This boat requires a little more driver experience and savvy with the boat than the average canoe.

Forget the “torso rotation” !
Don’t know who told you that, but there is very little torso rotation.

Just keep concentrating on your form and your switch, and practice and you will get faster with time.

Four or five years ago, I came on here asking about loosing speed during the “hut”, and was told to just keep practicing and it comes in time, and it has come in time.

I am a way over the hill racer, but yet in the canoe, both my wife and I keep improving each year.

Jack L

The switch.
Like pblanc says, if we understand you correctly, losing time for 3 strokes to switch is probably where you may make your next big gains. His half stroke time loss is really good and about right for what I have seen in competition.

Your technique may differ, but here is how I find I can switch quickest. I believe in maintaining full control of the paddle at all times, which is not quite the same as pblanc’s technique of freeflighting, if I understand that correctly.

I keep the paddle in my lower hand during the switch. So let’s say we are going from right to left. The right hand hands the paddle to the left hand at the lower grip point when the paddle is midship. Then reposition the right hand onto the grip quickly as you are reaching forward for the catch with your left hand. This has the advantage of making certain I clear the gunnels and the blade is well clear of catching any obstructions during the switch. Also eliminates the wind or poor flight paths from interfering with catching an airborn stick just right. You are placing the paddle into the pulling hand exactly where it needs to be placed.

Also, there is more to stroke rate than just pulling fast. Make sure you are getting a good catch and not just swishing the paddle through the water. Slightly slower rate with a good hook up will get you there quicker than just throwing water behind the boat.

Third, on your rotation. Be certain your paddle path is parallel with the center line of the boat. While we twist our body, the paddle must come straight back. This takes some minor tracking adjustment with your straight lower arm.

good point
I try to get good torso rotation on my strokes in whitewater because it adds a lot of power to each single stoke, but when I watch good marathon racers (as they paddle past me) they really aren’t rotating that much.

If you concentrate on using a lot of torso windup you are probably going to take much too long a stroke. The longer the stroke, the slower the stroke rate, and the longer it takes to recover. All the racers I have talked to tell me it is all about stroke rate, and given equal boats it usually comes down to aerobic capacity.

To paddle a boat like the Voyageur up to its theoretical maximum (or above) I suspect is going to take a stroke rate greater than 60 spm. Dragon Boat teams regularly go above 80 spm and I have read the Chinese team goes up to 120 spm (but only buries half the blade at that rate).

less power, more speed
have you tried a smaller bladed paddle ? you seem to be trying for more horsepower, but maybe with a smaller bladed paddle, you could up your strke rate to say 62 or 63, and you might get a stroke or tow more per side ?

think about the difference between a double bladed kayak paddle and a canoe paddle - the kayak paddle will give a higher cadence wiht a smaller blade, and in sprint races I’ve seen on TV - in virtually identical looking hulls, the kayak sprints are faster than the canoe sprints -

anyways, its just a suggestion, and you asked. maybe there’s “just the right paddle” you need to find.

I was told torso rotation too
And got nowhere until I quit doing it. I watched good paddlers and paid attention to how they do it.Lots of rotation does not work.

Your switching does seem pretty slow. I have really been practicing switching working it out, and try to do it without losing pace. It’s down to maybe a half stroke lost, and I use the aforementioned version of the switch. (handing it off to the other hand)

That switching thing really burned me for a long time. It didn’t come easy for me to get a good solid switch without inturrupting my pace.


I’ve been trying to visualize exactly what I do when I switch, which is harder than just doing it.

As I recover from the last paddle stroke on the side I am switching from I swing the paddle forward and across the hull and sort of toss it at the water on the other side like a spear, so that the blade will hit the water at the point I which to plant it.

Before it contacts the water, I release the grip from both my hands from the shaft, but keep my shaft hand (which is to become my grip hand) loosely encircled around the paddle shaft so that the shaft slides through my hand. This also helps to keep the paddle properly directed. My grip hand (to become my shaft hand) leaves the paddle completely and regrasps the paddle shaft just as the grip of the paddle reaches my other hand (through which it is sliding) and just as the paddle blade hits the water. Much harder to describe than to do.

My goal is to maintain a completely steady cadence without missing a beat, but I’m sure there is a little delay imposed by the need to swing the paddle across the hull, and my first stroke on the “new” side might not be quite as strong, so I would estimate I’m losing about a half-stroke per switch.

The torso rotation is small in magnitude
I paddle my ww canoes with a definite cab-forward bias, firm catch, short stroke, early out. I can feel the contribution of torso rotation, but with such a short stroke, the torso just can’t rotate that much.

In the “Drill Time” video, Bob Foote doesn’t do anyone any favors by giving his exaggerated demo of torso rotation. People who ape that will pay for it by having to do J-stroke correction at the end of their rotation. I seldom J-stroke anymore.

Question for you guys. I do not have
a solo canoe suitable for bent shaft, hit-and-switch. On my canoes (MR Guide, MR Synergy, Millbrook Big Boy) I paddle mostly on the left side, with a short, forward stroke, and no correction. The lack of need for correction is because each catch pushes up a little hump of water on the opposite side of the bow, and during the recovery, that hump of water pushes the bow back where it belongs. Usually no J and no rudder is needed.

I have wondered, if I paddled a Wenonah Voyageur or a Bell Magic, would this trick still work? Maybe because the bows are deeper and more locked-in than on my boats, the opposite water hump phenomenon would not apply.

Oh, and Tommy, I know that stretch of water. Careful you don’t spear some hapless rec kayaker.

I do the same
I often try to set the boat carving a circle using a wave on the offside bow to “pin” it, then try to increase the circle to infinte radius to go straight so as to eliminate the need for correction, or at least reduce it.

I have tried this in a lot of boats and it worked to some extent in all, but was easiest in more highly-rockered whitewater boats and worked less well in long, straight-keeled ones. It seems that heeling the boat to the onside to a greater or lesser extent, and leaning forward to help weight and pin the bow are useful, if not essential depending on the boat.

The technique works well in all my whitewater boats, fairly well in my Merlin II, much less well in my Mad River Traveler.

Veeerrrryy interesting…
I haven’t noticed much difference in whether I heel or don’t heel my boats. The Synergy loves to heel, the Millbrook is willing. Haven’t paddled the Guide enough lately to know… the wrens are nesting in it again.

Best videos I probably ever watched…

– Last Updated: May-27-10 10:09 AM EST –

was a basic touring kayak video that Greg Barton showed up in, and also one with Kent Ford(one of his WW Canoeing videos)...stressing the need to focus on (achieving a clean "catch")-->planting the paddle in liquid cement and pulling one's torso/hips up and past...with a clean and efficient recovery(of some kind), instead of producing "splash".


good point
Yanking the paddle through the water to get the stroke rate up is counterproductive.

We are all taught to keep a vertical paddle shaft, move the paddle parallel to the keel line of the boat, get good extension on our strokes and avoid yanking on the blade, but if we do all of these things, it is very hard to get the stroke rate above 60 spm.

The only way would appear to be to shorten the stroke way up.

Good stuff Keep them coming!

– Last Updated: May-28-10 6:54 AM EST –

I tried something a little different today.
I put the Voyager in at Concord center, where I have been turning around previously, and headed up the Assabet to west Concord. The current is more noticeable here and the shoals under the railroad bridge and at Pine Street were a challenge to attain.
I slid the seat up into the middle of it's range with no loss of control. That tells me it's been too far back up to now. I still get more yaw than I want. 4 to 6 strokes is all I can get before switching.
I worked on my switch. Getting my top hand in position and getting a clean catch on that first stroke are holding me back but I can see that improving.
I'm still going for better rotation. I agree it's hard to see in the guys out in front of me but I'm genetically predisposed to skinny arms so I'll hope to get some help from my back muscles.
It took me 55 minutes to push the roughly 3.5 miles up to west Concord, another 25 minutes until a river wide snag somewhere between Pine St and Damondale turned me back.
I cruised back down past the two shoals then did 5 minute intervals. Amazing how long five minutes takes when you hammer. Total time going back with the current 45 minutes.
Oh yeah when I hit the first shoal I switched to my Bending Branches Traveler so as to not beat up the Zav on the rocks. That BB has a little more weight, a little more flex and a little less bite than the Zav but it's a pretty good stick for 1/3 the price. Below the shoals I went back to the Zav. Gotta take advantage when I can.
Thanks to all who have made suggestions! I'm using a lot of what I'm hearing here and I am getting faster!

Carving hulls
Pretty much all of my whitewater hulls will carve to the inside. Some require more heel than others.

None of my touring hulls will do that enough to make it effective. They will carve to the outside, ie follow the arc of the hull. The only boats I’ve not been able to do that in were the Clipper Sea-1 and the J-200. That’s one reason I don’t own those anymore.

Paddling against that current
will definitely make you stronger. I need to do more of that. When I paddle my Pyranha Speeder against the current, if I make the slightest deviation away from directy upcurrent, it sends me the whole way around. It really helps me keep an eye on river effects better than just slogging downstream. But life isn’t all downstream now is it?