Paddling power mismatch question

-- Last Updated: May-04-12 2:22 PM EST --

I paddle solo sometimes but mostly with my wife. Solo my powerful stroke is very fun to let rip but tandem she has a much less powerful stroke than I do. I know I can just paddle less powerfully and thats kinda what I have to do but is there a stroke or technique that helps? I was thinking of getting myself a smaller bladed paddle too.

I have tried both the front and back. even when Im in front I can turn the bow after a couple or three strokes. I sometimes use a reverse J stroke but that kinda breaks the rhythm. We are both fairly new to this so I assume our technique needs work. any help is appreciated.

Forgot to add: its a canoe.
Also, the trim usually works out that the boat is slightly trimmed to me as I am 30 lbs heavier than her.

Divorce boat
That’s why they call them divorce boats.

I would think the stronger paddler would do better in the back. In the back you can watch her stroke easier and occasionally if she wants to take a break you can carry the load. You just have to work with her with her strength and ability. You can go to a smaller blade but why? If the stroke is the same timing and you are pulling more … great. I assume a rudder on the boat and that should keep the boat going where you want it to.

If you want to paddle at a faster cadence then her, then that’s another story.

Canoe or Kayak ?
It sounds like you are in a canoe. Unless your wife is a lot heavier than you, sit in the stern, take long easy strokes and steer the canoe with rudder strokes and J-strokes. Work on getting your wife to sweep on the right or left or reverse sweep right or left to take evasive action. It is really not very complicated with a weaker paddler in bow unless you are going to run whitewater.

Pretty much the same in a tandem kayak.

Some things that might help:
Relocate seats so the stern runs level or slightly lower than the bow. One easy way to check is to pour a pint or so of water in the boat and see where if it is behind the middle of the canoe when paddling.

You paddle in back, so you can see which side she is paddling on, and switch sides whenever you want regardless of which side she is on. Because you can see her you can compensate for ballance but paddle pretty much like you are solo. And you dont have to call “huts” unless you both want to.

I have good luck for occasional use with a tie-in seat

to provide a stern seat in front of the stock seat without permanent mods. Email me if you want details.

Stearing effectively from the bow is nearly impossible with a forward stroke. This a common argument in the canoe and the reason people call a tandem a divorce boat. The boat turning is a function of you paddling hard with no compensation in your stroke, not her less powerful stroke. You need to sit in the stern and j stroke. Just tell her to stroke on whichever side she pleases and do what you need to in the back.

Ryan L.

sit and switch
learn to switch sides quickly, then figure out the ratio i.e. 3 strokes “your side” followed by 1 stroke “her side” or whatever works. A little ruddering on your stroke (end of the stroke) will help as well. I really don’t see any problems here. Tandem racers from what I see often simultaneously switch sides on cue, helps keep muscle burn balanced and boat straight.

Ryan L.

Use a kayak paddle and let her do
her thing.

I’m heavier and stronger than my wife. In the canoe, I paddle stern and j-stroke (or other corrective stroke) as needed. Works fine, no arguments.

For what it is worth:
In a tandem canoe, the stronger paddler should be in the bow, but with that said, I am the stronger paddler and paddle the stern with my wife in the bow.

Secondly the boat should be trim. Move the seats if necessary.

She should be paddling on one side and you on the other, and then as soon as you start to turn call a hut and you both switch sides.

It is up to the stern paddler to keep in synch. with the bow paddler.

Lastly, if you are just cruising, and you are in the stern as I am, just throw in a J stroke every so often so you won’t have to call a hut as much.

If she stays as the bow paddler, have her learn the cross bow rudder if you guys are paddling narrow creeks.

Jack L

Does she want to paddle hard?
If she doesn’t want to paddle efficiently and ‘hut’ whenever you call it then don’t bother. Just change your mindset when you’re out paddling with her. You need to turn it into a lazy paddle. Paddle slow and even stop paddling for a while and just use light strokes to keep the boat going straight or to turn. It’s tough to get into the slow rhythm when you’re used to going hard but it can be enjoyable once you get there.

I don’t imagine it’s terribly enjoyable for her to have you in back paddling hard and feeling the canoe lurch with every stroke if she’s just out to relax either.

On the other hand, if she does want to paddle hard and efficiently then you need to start cracking the whip. :slight_smile:


take a lesson
Women often do better in the stern. The bow supplies the power. Because of the pivot point being closer to the bow than the stern there is less leverage that erratic strokes in the bow can cause yawing. It is possible to steer from the bow but it is difficult for this reason.

If you are the strong guy in the stern and things are “overpowering the wife” it is because you have too much sweep in your stern stroke. The stroke should not follow the gunwale but start almost touching the boat and end some distance out. I hardly ever see a new stern paddler do a good forward stroke. The penalty for a strong incorrect stroke is the stern paddler having to do a strong corrective stroke.

Two possibilities exist. One is to put the “weaker” paddler in the stern. Often women catch on to the subtleties of following the keel line well as well as subtle correction mechanics. Of course you will have to readjust trim.

The other is for the stern paddler to fess up and take a lesson in a yawless stern stroke.

In the end

– Last Updated: May-04-12 11:41 PM EST –

Shes not too interested in paddling hard. More so leisurely paddling.

I think ultimately Ill end up getting a solo (ideally a wenonah voyager) for my hard paddling fix and go slow on the weekends. (or if anyone wants a racing partner in the twin cities, mn message me. I have a Jensen 17 which might work for some training and or a race)

I hear half of people say paddle in the front and have her learn to correct me or the other half saying go in the back and correct myself. Right?

I kinda like the idea of using a kayak paddle but I know ill get S... for not being able to settle down and copy her stroke...

need...voyager... =)

I have to disagree with your second

If they are paddling on opposite sides, (as they should be), then it only stands to reason that they will veer of couse due to his power.

My wife is an excellent paddler, but in non windy conditions, if I don’t call a hut after about a half dozen strokes, or do a J stroke, we will turn off course.

jack L

Great racing in the Cities
Great bunch of racers up there. Get hooked up with some of them. I believe they meet once per week for a workout. Wish I lived closer.

Make sure to catch the Jensen Handicap.


I sorta agree with kayamdeic
All things being equal…I mean all things. If you could clone the bow paddler and stern paddler, put the same paddler in the bow and stern…same cadence and same power…the boat will not go straight. The boat will turn. Why? The stern paddler is further away from the boat midpoint, therefor every stroke the stern paddler does will have a greater impact on the turning momentum of the boat, versus that of the bow paddler. One easy solution? The stern paddler needs to stop dragging paddle and possibly learn to compensate for the paddler in the bow with a shorter power stroke. With pratice, a tandem team should be able to travel quite a distance with minimal stern correction.

I suggest you look at something
besides a Voyager. Great boat if you want to go straight and fast and there is little or no wind.

A little rocker helps.

Skills Mismatch?
For harmony and safety of the boat, I would sit astern. You can apply all the power you want and easily control the canoe this way, no matter who sits near the bow. Only sit at the bow when accompanied by an accomplished paddler, then you can apply all the power you want and expect the canoe to respond the way you want it to go: fast. The stern paddler controls the canoe, and no matter what the bow paddler does, the stern paddler can take remedial measures to counter or correct them. I saw Marge Cline demonstrate this years ago on the Columbia River during an ACA conference.

The nature of the problem is …

– Last Updated: May-07-12 8:06 PM EST –

... is not entirely clear to me. Are you just "paddling hard" or are you using appropriate correction strokes when you paddle from the stern? I get the impression that you expect to be able to paddle hard but not need correction strokes, but it doesn't work that way.

After paddling seriously, solo, for several years, I just recently got the chance to paddle tandem again after not doing so in ages. My tandem paddling has been with a woman who is much less strong than I am, but when she paddles from the bow we have experienced not one trace of a problem due to our differences in paddle power. Most of the time I match her stroke cadence, and since I've pretty-well mastered doing corrective strokes which have zero amount "paddle drag" after the stroke and therefore no lag time between successive strokes, I can match her cadence without sacrificing correction. When I need a break and want a stroke that better matches my longer arms and taller body, I use a cadence that is quite a bit slower than hers and paddle harder, but still have no problem. I find that no matter what, when paddling from the stern the amount of effort I put into the correction phase of the stroke is scarcely any different than that needed when paddling a solo canoe.

When you are in the stern, you should be able to control the boat's heading whether the bow paddler is 10-times stronger than you or a whole lot weaker. When you are at the stern, good technique will minimize the amount of "steering" that's imparted by the power phase of your own stroke (see Kayamedic's advice above), so that just a little flip of the blade toward the end of the stroke is all it takes to counteract the bit of "power steering" that can't be eliminated. By the same token, I think a weak paddler at the stern can compensate for anything a strong bow paddler can do, but it requires good technique, so if your wife is less interested in perfecting strokes than going boating, she'll be happier in the bow, in which case, basic steering is your job at the stern.

Someone pointed out in an earlier post that not much strength is needed for doing certain steering strokes from the bow, and in my short time at tandem paddling I've found that to be true (but I just read that post again and must point out that a reverse sweep performed from the bow of a canoe isn't really good for anything at all unless the boat is stationary or going backward. When going forward, there are several good bowman's strokes to use instead which are much more efficient and effective). Last week my bow paddler was working on static draws (on and off sides) and bow pries while taking advantage of the boat's forward speed, and pretty quickly she learned to crank the boat around, assisting in some very rapid 90- to 180-degree turns. Technique is certainly more important than strength in a lot of situations.

My technique

– Last Updated: May-07-12 12:54 PM EST –

My skills are most definitely sub par as I have only gotten my own canoe this year so I suspect that you are right in pointing the finger mostly at me. My partner is untrained as well so together we're not a very harmonious team at the moment. We'll do a class or 2 together though.

Im going to a couple classes/boat club get-togethers over the next couple weeks. I suspect some instruction from experienced paddlers will go a long way.

Also, thanks for the links to the rice lake boat club and the minneapolis/U paddling club. Im going to try to hit the one at the U tonight and will hit up rice lake when I get a chance.