pry strokes- their usage

all that posting about j strokes got me interested in pry strokes as well and how different people use’m.

here’s what I’ve noticed:

1.Lazy raft guides lay on the back tube and use’m in the pools as their main correction stroke for the flats. If they need a major correction- they pump the stroke with the shaft on the tube for additional leverage. They let the crew do all the forward paddling. A really accomplished raftguide can do this with a lit cigarette in his or her control hand and be telling a joke at the same time so the crew isn’t thinking about how much it sucks to be paddling a barge in flatwater and why they’re doin’ all the work. (stern)

2.More motivated folk use it as a finisher on their forward stroke to keep the boat straight and help propel it simultaneously. (stern, solo)

3. To angle the boat, initiating or maintaining a ferry angle, eddy set, or turn. (bow, stern, solo)

4. To move the boat laterally away from a rock or other hazard. (bow, stern, solo)

5. as a last ditch brace stoke to keep from flipping over (solo)

My favorite place to use a pry was in the bow, in rockgarden situations when you needed to make a lot of last minute, quick lateral adjustments. Usually after finishing the quick prys I’d follow with some quick draws to help the stern paddler clear the same obstruction I was dodging with the pry.

I can’t recommend it for shallow situations and you do need to be careful not to extend the paddle to far under the boat (which is exactly how you brace with it) unless you like to get catupulted but I really like the pry strokes power.

I’m a gunnel pumper, anything other than that always seems awkward to me and like I am just playin’ at doin’ the stroke. Of course my boats and paddles look like crap, mostly cause I draggem or throw them up on rocks, but I’m sure pryin’ doesn’t help either. I love the immediacy of the pry. I’m pretty sure I plant the paddle in front of me when I’m in the bow, a bit behind me in the stern, even more behind in a raft, and in a c1 its glued right at the hip. Where I do the stroke is also according to its function, not just placement in the boat. I rarely use the pry on flatwater other than in a raft but i can definately see how it could be used in windy conditions to maintain a bearing or course, or to line up with whitecaps and such.

After 40 years of whitewater, almost

You talk about rock gardens. Must be big rocks in deep water, because otherwise you would trip badly over your pry stroke.

I use a shallow, wedging pry occasionally in the stern. I have taught my wife to use a cross draw in the bow. When paddling solo, I may use a shallow, wedging pry, but my cross draw is so fast and much more accurate and effective.

I guess you can’t cross draw in a raft, but when I’ve guided, I get the “customers” to do what I can’t do in the stern.

Solo use in flatwater

– Last Updated: Mar-14-13 3:55 PM EST –

In whitewater I strongly tend to the cross-draw rather than the pry, primarily because that's the way I was taught.

In flatwater I use the pry in three circumstances often.

1. As a "bow jam" or "bow wedge" it is the quickest and most violent way to turn the canoe to the off-side. It is particularly useful to go around sharp curves in twisty streams. The wedge can be used used with either face of the paddle. To avoid being catapulted out of the canoe by the force of the prying wedge against the gunwale or hull, you can hold the paddle off the gunwale/hull with what Marc Ornstein calls a "Glarosian wedge", after Lou Glaros. The Glarosian wedge will give you stability support as the prying force of the bow jam/wedge kicks in.

2. As a necessary part of a prying sideslip. Sideslips one of my favorite moves, which I use to paddle among the overhanging branches along the shore of a lake or around the woody occlusions in a twisty stream.

3. During long days of straight ahead paddling I will sometimes use an off-the-gunwale stern pry as my correction of every forward stroke. Some will say this is an atrocity, but I like it for variety. Mason recommends it. I think some people call it the Northwoods stroke, but that may have other meanings too. Some dedicated users of this stroke wrap leather sheaths around their paddle shafts where the gunwale pries make their repeated impacts.

more pries
I haven’t used bow pries/jams/wedges in whitewater or shallow streams for the reasons already mentioned.

I have never gotten the elusive “righting pry” to work for me (well, maybe once). Tom Foster could do it pretty well and tried to teach me years back, but I guess it didn’t take. I once saw Don Bodley save himself with a beautiful righting pry on an overnight trip on upper Clear Creek TN paddling a loaded tandem boat solo, no less. With his offside gunwale underwater he was able to gumby his torso around the high side, drive his paddle down in the water, and lever his boat back upright.

I find the static stern pry or static stern pry/stern draw combo (which some might prefer to call a stern rudder) very useful on upstream ferries to my off-side, or for bow surfing. A forward stroke with the blade feathered at the hip and carried back to a stern pry position works well when crossing a strong eddy line to the off-side for a forward ferry. In this situation my cross-forward stroke is not always strong enough to keep the bow from getting blown downstream.

Nothing wrong with feathering the blade at the hip and carrying it back to a stern pry for relaxed flat water paddling which I have heard some refer to as a thumbs-up J stroke. I would generally prefer to do that rather than an extended J stroke.

A situation in which I find a sculling pry useful is as a landing drill to approach a sloping concrete boat ramp abeam. You can’t use a sculling cross draw because the water gets too shallow. By raising the side of opposition and using a sculling pry on the deeper side of the boat, it is possible to gently nestle the hull bottom on the ramp and step out without getting your feet wet.

I hadn’t thought about landings
but thats a great point, the pry can enable you to keep the boat in deeper water while pushing the boat toward the shore. A very real scenario and advantage

If you think about strokes in really simple terms- there are only three kinds- pushing, pulling, and static. We tend to favor the latter two.

Crossdraws are great but you’re really switching twice- once over and once back. If you’ve got the depth to do it but I’m thinkin’ the pry is the lightening stroke- even quicker- you just don’t want to get zapped by it.

The Pry Gospel according to Foote
Here are some tips on stern pry form from whitewater OC-1 guru Bob Foote:

Many good whitewater open boaters and slalom racers advocate a “cab forward approach” to technical paddling these days, in which all (or nearly all) correction is done from the bow quadrants of the boat. This has the advantages of keeping the stroke rate up to keep driving the boat, as well as un-weighting the stern in order to allow it to skid turn around quickly.

Here is Bob Foote’s take on correcting from the stern using a stern pry as opposed to correcting from the bow using primarily forward and cross-forward strokes alone (what Andrew Westwood refers to as the “2 x 4 method”):

Note that Bob’s background is largely paddling what would now be considered large OC-1s on what would still be considered big water. He notes that the cab forward approach works much better for C-1s than OC-1s. I would submit that the cab forward approach also works well for the modern, short, polyethylene OC-1 play boats such as the BlackFly Ion, Option, and Octane, the Esquif L’Edge and Spanish Fly, and the Pyranha Prelude. But there are still well-respected whitewater instructors who emphasize the importance of correcting from the stern even in this type of boat. One such is Kelvin Horner:

The ultra short OC-1s have their uses
and offer their delights, but I have no use for a canoe that can’t acquit itself properly on a slalom course. Probably it doesn’t take a 13 foot boat to do that, but it doesn’t take much less.

I do a sort of pry at the stern for corrections, unweighting the bow at the same time. I just don’t actually pry off the gunwale. It just isn’t necessary to do so if the paddle is angled and held back where it belongs.

I use them…
more than I think about them. When you’ve been paddling canoes for nearly 50 years, your strokes tend to be whatever works for what you’re trying to accomplish, without stopping to consider which one might work the best.

Others have covered all the ways I’ve used pry strokes. My stern pry substitute for a J stroke is for when I’m not in a hurry to get somewhere, because it’s more relaxing and easy than a J stroke, but doesn’t move the canoe as fast. I use it a lot, and my paddle shaft NEVER touches the gunwale, because I keep my hand in the right place so that the heel of my palm is what comes in contact with the gunwale, not the paddle. Main reason for this is that I hate the SOUND of a paddle shaft hitting the gunwale. I want to be paddling quietly, not banging my way down the river.

I do a lot of bow wedging pries when I want to make a quick turn while slowing the boat slightly. In that stroke, I keep the paddle more vertical, plunge it as deeply as the water will allow, reach only a little forward of my hips, and push outward and slightly forward. If I want to make a quick turn while maintaining speed, it’s more of a reaching sweep pry, where I reach far forward and push outward and slightly to the rear, continuing the stroke into a sweep.

Since I do a whole lot of fishing out of my canoes, a lot of strokes are for positioning rather than propulsion or correction, and they are strokes that the paddler who is only looking to move the canoe downstream or upstream probably seldom uses. Whichever way the paddle is lying across my knee and the gunwale while I’m fishing, I grab it and do a pry to turn the canoe without making it move forward. If I need to turn the bow away from the paddle side, I reach a little in front of my seat and pry. If I need to turn the stern away from the paddle side, I reach a little behind the seat and pry. On the other hand, there’s often a bit of difference when fishing between moving the bow a little to the off side, and moving the stern a little to the paddle side. It’s a subtle difference in positioning. If I want to move the stern to the paddle side without affecting where the bow is quite as much, I’ll use a stern draw rather than a bow pry.

I don’t think about this stuff, I just do it. But when I’m sitting here typing, I can analyze what I do a little more.

Bow Jam

– Last Updated: Mar-14-13 10:42 PM EST –

Glenn said: "As a "bow jam" or "bow wedge" it is the quickest and most violent way to turn the canoe to the off-side. It is particularly useful to go around sharp curves in twisty streams."

I started paddling the Adirondack 90-Miler as a bow paddler in a long skinny voyageur canoe. A particularly winding portion 2.5 miles through a narrow stream is known as Brown's Tract. You either love it or hate it.

A voyageur bow paddler is in a far better position to set-up and initiate sharp turns than the stern paddler, and success is definitely a crew effort to power through a smoothly carved arc. A moving power draw by the bow paddler is effective to maintain speed around moderately sharp curves. But turn after turn can get tiring.

Although no one told me how to do it, by experiment I discovered the bow jam and learned it could really whip us around the sharpest turns, though at the cost of some speed (maintaining power for speed is what everyone behind me is for). The jam can be done either on-side or cross-bow. We found we could easily out maneuver and out speed most other boats on the course, even those who had previously passed us on the lakes, with a good track setting up for efficiently carved turns in Brown's. I carried a long shaft sturdy wood blade just for doing bow jams in Brown's, as I worried about the heavy jam's powerful stress on my expensive graphite bent shaft. Doing Brown's is tremendous fun, no matter what boat I am in Brown's is easily my favorite section of the 90.

paddlin’ is one thing and thinkin’
about it is another. I liked the bfoote video. #2 usage. The paddle certainly isn’t very vertical when used as a correction to a forward stroke.

The comment about using the pry to make adjusts to offside ferries is spot on.

I also think when you’re moving the boat lateraling, or “wedging” the blade is definately more vertical in that situation

as far as little boats go I ultimately gave up on them because I was having to jack the seat heights up riduculously high, now I’m rec canoein’ but still runnin’ some whitewater, that just puts me on my knees for short spells.

pry brace photo
here it is, pound river va, mid 80s. gyramax, washing out of garden hole, last ditch effort to stay up for sure. paddle is kind of in a high brace position but instead of exerting force down, the force is exerted up and away to keep the boat from flipping further

Cross bow pry, serial pries
It has been debated what the bow man is doing in this famous voyageur photo:

He is probably doing a static or dynamic cross draw, but he could equally do a cross bow pry from his position.

Bill Mason was very adept at serial pries – repeating several quickly in a row with short sliced returns between each one. That might be useful in meanders like Brown’s Tract on particularly sharp turns. You can even do this one-handed to get further under the hull.

Correct, the bow jam or wedge slows velocity, but that isn’t a big deal solo when you are just cruising downstream in the twisties such as the Jersey Pine Barrens. It’s fun to experiment with the different ways to make an off-side turn: on-side sweep, on-side bow jam, cross-bow-draw-into-cross-forward. They each have different effects.

Pry brace recovery
I don’t know that a pry recovery ever occurred to me in my whitewater days.

People then used to talk about a cross brace if you were going over on your off-side. However, I couldn’t do that, and the only person I ever saw do it was Nolan Whitesell, who could do it ambidextrously. Actually, he sort of went all the way over and cross-rolled back up.

photo a bit confusing
but I think I’m not actually cross stroking- I’m flipping toward my “off side” and in a last ditch attempt I’m planting a pry with my “on side”. For the stroke to have any chance of working, you have to be able to reach over the side of the boat,plant and then pry the paddle. High siding has to be an immediate response followed by shoving the paddle down, and pushing. Sometimes just the high side will be enough, or when you add the plant, and sometimes it takes all three. Its definately a last ditch stroke. In the pool, practice prying and simultaneously leaning to your offside. Your goal is to get the boat up on its side before shifting your weight back over the boat. It doesn’t replace the cross brace, its for when you missed it and things have gone from bad to worse.

This stroke is described in the book…
… “Paddle Your Own Canoe” by the McGuffins. I’ve tried it in controlled situations and it’s incredibly effective. Now all I need to do is paddle enough whitewater for such things to become second nature. Right now, they are NOT second nature. The last time I ended up swimming in a rapid, I hadn’t even hit the water before I started thinking “that was a stupid mistake and I really shouldn’t be halfway out of my boat right now.” I probably need to be in such situations many times before certain things I “know” how to do become automatic.

that’s cool,

– Last Updated: Mar-15-13 10:31 PM EST –

I didn't know that stroke had actually made it into a book or even that it was a "real" stroke. I admit sometimes I'm lookin' for a bit of validation. You figure something nifty out and sometimes its nice to be told its legit. What I like about this forum is that you have a lot of folks approaching subjects from different perspectives. Ultimately, I thnk what we paddle (style of boat/water environment) shapes how we paddle. Who we paddle with also transforms our paddling. I pick people's brains all the time when I'm out paddlin' so its great to do the same thing here. Maybe I'm not really so interested in getting folks to learn about pry strokes but how differently we all use them and how we can paddle differently and its okay. Them Amazonian Indians didn't know how to pry, or wear pfds, and sat in the wrong end of the boat, and they even paddled on the same side and yet I still think I can learn from 'em. I wonder if they offer certification and how much they charge for a lesson?