Paddling Technique

Have been working on learning solo paddling last year or so and had a question. While paddling back and forth around the corners of a narrow stream, I seem to prefer paddling on the side the boat is turning towards. I generally switch sides on occasion, but frequently do it at the corners in this situation.

Paddling on the side of the outside of the turn with any power makes the boat feel like it wants to tail out, cross stroke/draws seem to have/keep less speed, but paddling on the inside of turn feels effortless. My guess is that different currents at the ends of the boat are helping in this effect, but I do know to keep the bow from wanting to eddy out.

Can anyone offer advice on paddling around corners under power, or point me towards a good book on downstream paddling?

Paddling downstream
It sounds like you’re catching the eddyline. This is a point where as the water goes around the bend in the river there is an upstream current, along the shore, beginning below the apex of the turn. If you carefully observe the water flow (currents) you should see it most cases. It takes some practice but after a while becomes second nature. Eddy currents can be fun to play with and useful. They can be used for intentionally turning the boat (known as an eddy turn)and can be helpful when paddling upstream to avoid fighting against the main current. Be careful of strong eddy lines on fast moving streams. They will flip your boat before you know what happened. When crossing from the main current into an eddy, always lean or heel the boat into or toward the turn (sort of like riding a bicycle). This will counter the tendancy of the current to flip your canoe.

Marc O

Watch that current in front of you, and
about half way around the corner prior to it turning back to the shore side, switch to paddling on that side, and aim toward the middle of the river.

If you time it right you’ll use every bit of the current to keep you on a straight fast track.

If you miss it by even a stroke, you’ll end up partially caught in the eddy.

Reading the river is a learning experience, but lots of fun once you master it.



Jack’s point is right on, anticipate that switch. most people take one too many strokes and switch when they feel the boat move…one stroke too late.

Backwater stroke
I use a backwater stroke to make turns. Set the canoe at an angle to the turn with the stern riding in the eddy and the bow in the current. Backwater to hold the stern in the eddy as the current carries the bow around the bend. As you clear the bend a few power strokes straightens the canoe to continue forward.

This technique is slower but safer and more in control than powering around the bend.

Agree with JJoven
jjoven’s technique is classic downriver canoeing – around the bend in control.

The poster also asked about books on downriver paddling. While not limited to downriver the book: “Paddle Your Own Canoe” by Joanie and Gary McGuffin is the best written and best illustrated contemporary book on canoeing technique available today. Also see the classics by Bill Mason for a more old school (but still relevant)take on the topic as well.

Which boat?
I like the Mason books “The Path of the Paddle” by Bill Mason for soloing tandem canoes and “The Thrill of the Paddle” by Bill’s son Paul Mason for whitewater OC1.

Also “The Path of the Paddle” video’s are quite good as is “Drilltime, Solo Playboating” for OC1.

IMO there’s quite a few ways to do what you’re asking. Which boat you are in and what you are trying to acomplish (speed, control, security) will decide which you use.

diff stokes for diff folks & conditions
On deep but tightly meandering streams w/ fairly slow current I find leaning to outside & using a sweep gets me around bend fastest w/ least loss of forward momentum. Bow sweep also acts as a brace when applied thus allowing for good lean. I can also easily switch to cross bow rudder if I’ve misjudged tightness & not coming around fast enough.

Agree w/ above other techniques work better in fast, shallow water

obligatory question
Doesn’t sound like this is the issue but, you’re not bow heavy, are you?

its a wildfire
Thanks for all the tips. I will remember the timing tip next trip out, I think prob am using it already.

1)So it is not considered bad form to switch hands?

The creek I was on yesterday is moving but not too fast, sometimes no wider then the length of the boat and in a couple spots a bit tight.

I was curious as to what others do. I started off trying not to switch control hands, and crossed over for a hanging draw > forward stroke and it was very cool how nice this was. But I do like the feeling and speed of carving a turn to the inside and sometimes just switch hands.

So is this ok?

2)What is the fastest line?

3)What type of line do you take? On fairly narrow streams typically with a heavier flow on the outside, I come right down the middle and wait until close to the outside to turn, trying to follow the current. On wider slow corners, might take a little more of a beeline in start of turn, heading towards middle coming out.

4) On swift streams, say such as the lower Pine in MI where the current seems to go straight at a logjam then bend 90 degrees, what line and strokes would you use (besides back paddling the bow around)? I just try to follow the flow.

Thanks for any help!

Number 2 is wrong.
Cut the tangents and then do what I suggested in my post above.



I prefer overthinking the situation and my choices, which is probably why I do much better when I come into a situation blind :wink:

I guess where your post is under mine,
you are replying to mine, so I can only reply in return that “overthinking” is good.

From lots over “overthinking” comes learning which is the right way and which is the wrong way.

Once we know that they we don’t have to “Overthink”.

It becomes instinct and natural.



no, just a general

– Last Updated: Oct-30-07 8:14 AM EST –

observation, Jack. Honest assessment of my experiences. Knee time and adrenaline seem to make up for my lack of proper skills, and most of my "reaction only" paddling is on cl. 3, and recently some cl. 4, where I don't have time to think, only react. Must admit I did think ahead on my local run Sunday, as the river was low and I know every rock by name, having made this run approx. 60 times, but it was more of "which eddys do I want to catch and what do I want to do with them". The paddle just ended up in the right place to get me there.
Guess I'm at the "instinct and natural" stage. Funny, I still feel like a beginner :-).Must be all that overthinking and planning ahead for the bigger water runs that turns into air-bracing, gunwale grabs, then ends with semi hysterical laughter :-).
I just feel that the original poster will have this question figured out on his own with a couple more bends of the creek under his belt. Actually, just checking his "bio", I'm surprised he hasn't figured this out on his own. Grumman Aluminum to an MR Outrage, all the bases are covered here.

I can’t make out if you are talking about which side of the canoe you are paddling on, which side of the creek you are paddling on, or both.

My 2 cents: I generally switch sides routinely when covering any distance on flat water as it balances out the stress on the body parts and is faster. Other times, I’ll paddle on one side only when casually cruising and taking in the sights, as it is more serene and seems more esthetic and is quiter. In moving water I try to stay on the same side. In fast current many times you don’t have time to be switching back and forth to make a move.

I don’t think you can make a general rule about what line to take around a bend on the river. In general, the water is deeper and current faster toward the outside of the bend, but often that’s where strainers are. Streams in flood often have water slamming against the outside bank in a ballistic fashion, making a controlled turn on the outside difficult, especially if you don’t have a fast-turning boat. The inside of the turn generally has slower and shallower water allowing a more controlled, but slower descent. In a true rapid, or a turn with strainers, there may be only one safe exit to the turn and that will dictate your line. At very low water, there may be only one channel deep enough to allow your canoe to pass. Generally that will be towards the outside of the bend. Try to go where most of the water seems to be going, in this situation.

A favored technique of canoe campers paddling laden, heavy boats is to back ferry, or “set” around a turn pointing the bow of the canoe towards the outside bank and using backstokes to hug the inside bank and keep the momentum down. This is a good technique if trees block your view of the exit of the turn, the river is high, or if you see or suspect strainers.

You seem also to be talking about carving an onside turn. This is when you turn towards your paddling side by heeling the boat a bit and keeping the strokes close to the keel line. In order to carve well a boat requires some rocker, in my experience. Carving turns is indeed the fastest method since all of your strokes are power strokes and you don’t need to use J or C strokes or stern prys for correction. This style of paddling has been promoted by Tom Foster, and others. To do it well, however, you have to master carving off-side circles using only cross-forward strokes, or switch paddling sides.

In that case; (class III-IV),
disagregard my post.

I was refeering to just fast flowing streams. Not WW.

On WW there is no time to “overthink”. It is too late by the time the thinking gets done.

That is all instinct from lots of experience.

You are way out of my league on class IV.



Jack,I’m way out
of my league on cl.4, hence the “semi-hysterical laughter” :slight_smile:

Ah, good old “number 4” !
Been there done that many a time, but it is even worse when the the river is making a U turn back after it hits the log jam.

We (c-2) were ahead of the entire field in a race one year and swam at one when we tried to overcorrect.

We watched four or five boats go by before we were able to swim the boat to shore, get the water out and get going again.

Gave us a good incentive to chase the other boats down though.