Stubborn Partner

An individual with whom I paddle with on a semi-regular basis refuses to unlearn his arm paddling technique. He has been doing it for many years and actually takes great pride in his arm paddling as in the “breaking the rules and getting away with it” kind of pride. I cannot get him to even try to unlearn it as he just instantly quits after two or three attempts. He is not a beginner and has to unlearn many years of bad habits.

I am now undertaking trips where his refusal to learn proper paddling technique is presenting a potential safety liability.

He fully understands that arm paddling is not good, and he has actually bragged on more than one occasion of his arm paddling prowess. I pointed out to him on our last trip while we were in identical boats with identical paddles that I was doing 1 stroke to his 2 while running abreast with him. He replied to me that he was doing 2 and 1/2 to my one as if he had no care.

Does anyone have any ideas that I can use to coax him? I am nearing my wits end on this.

“You can lead a horse to water…”

– Last Updated: Jul-11-12 3:41 PM EST –

Probably best to leave him alone. He won't change his ways until he actually wants to. You can eliminate this current source of aggravation for him AND you by doing nothing. If you truly end up wearing him out on trips while you are traveling so much more efficiently, even then there's no need to say anything, except perhaps a brief reminder about the difference between your paddling styles if he brings up the issue first.

stress distance and speed instead
For any trip it’s reasonable to set a distance and minimum speed. While good form is great the key for a group is more about whether than can manage the minimum requirements. Now if he says he can’t meet those requirements you could then mention that technique could help.

Curious about expected issues
I sympathize with you but admit I am curious about your “safety” concerns. Not out of skepticism but because I have run into that myself.

One of my own friends is the same way – fortunately I have only taken him on short day trips but we had a borderline incident with him last week when I shepherded a group of relative novices on a river paddle to downtown Pittsburgh to watch the fireworks. Since we had to negotiate a 2 mile stretch of a major industrial river (sharing it with dozens of power boats and even coal barges) in the dark to get back to the put in ramp after the event, it was crucial that everyone stay together. My stubborn friend not only insists on arm paddling but leans back against the seat like he was in a fully reclined barcalounger and wants to use the rudder to steer while barely lily-dipping the paddle. I had to assign my loaner boats to the paddlers as best as I could match them to their skill and size so he ended up in a 17’ sea kayak (Dagger Magellan with a Werner Shuna paddle) – I was unable to convince him to leave the rudder flipped up.

Less than a third of the way back to the put in, he began to fall behind. I kept trying to drop back and stay with him but eventually he started to whine in distress that everyone was pulling ahead and that he was “having trouble” getting the kayak to track. It was windy and there were a lot of transverse boat wakes, but the rest of us were in what should have been more squirrelly boats and were proceeding nicely. I have paddled the Magellan often myself and had not trouble with it in any conditions. I tried to pull alongside and coach him but he resisted and kept blaming the boat. If there had been any shore access where I could have pulled him over and switched boats I would have but that was not an option. I got the others to drop back and stay near us because I sensed he was approaching panic mode and getting beligerent. I finally had to muster my “stern schoolteacher nun” voice and insist that he pull up at a bridge pier and let me flip up the rudder (it was obvious that the crossed waves and wakes were hitting it and pushing the boat around) and shove an inflatable seat cushion behind his back so he had to sit up straight. Still could not get him to rotate his torso or draw the paddle past his mid thigh on each stroke, but at least he admitted that paddling became easier at that point and we managed to get him back to the take out without a melt-down. He’s one of these software PhD “world’s greatest authorities” (think Sheldon Cooper on “Big Bang”) and doesn’t take advice well. For as often as he has kayaked he should be at a more competent level than he is so this is annoying to me.

My biggest concern on that trip was that his “issues” distracted me from keeping a closer eye on the three other paddlers with far less experience than him. Fortunately, they turned out to be troopers and had no problems at all (but then they all LISTEN to me). But it pissed me off that I had to baby him while being worried about the others, not to mention being distracted from what has always been a magical paddle, more so this year with a full moon silvering the waters.

At this point I no longer wish to paddle with this guy.

So I guess I am wondering what kind of trips you are contemplating with your own obstinate paddler and what your exact concerns are for impacts that might arise from his inefficient technique?

Easy Fix
Tell him that torso rotation turns on the babes.

And they giggle at the silly arm paddlers.

Arm paddling is not a safety issue
So let the guy hurt himself. You’ve tried enough.

But there are often other lovely traits that go with this personality that do go to safety. We know at least a couple of people we know who steadfastly refuse to learn rescues and have a permanent relationship with a broomstick handle about some wacky way to handle waves or wind. We won’t paddle with them. We are both getting too old to haul a panicked adult back into their boat who has not taken any advice to learn how to handle a problem.

offer him cookies?
I dunno, if this guy is so obtuse as to take perverse pride in performing a skill in an inefficient manner, then I question whether there is any incentive that will change his mind.

I’m curious as to your statement about being a safety liability, though. What do you mean by this? If it’s a matter of being unable to keep up with a group or getting tired overly quickly, then the solution is simple. You tell him that he’s not invited on whatever trips you think he’d be a liability.

Finally, for whatever it’s worth, in an instructing environment I find that the most effective way to teach/demonstrate good torso rotation isn’t with the forward stroke, at least intiially. Instead, I like to focus on stern and draw strokes, where good torso rotation (or lack thereof) has a very visceral and more immediate impact on effectiveness. Maybe you could ask this guy to show you some sculling draws and reverse sweeps, but if he doesn’t care about effectiveness anyways, it may be a lost cause.

Willowleaf, at least I’m not alone here.

Two things that concern me here with him are that I sometimes do longer distance touring runs that involve open water and potentially challenging conditions. He gets mad when I leave him out of these trips but after last weekend I will only run on flat water close to the put in rivers with him until he develops proper technique. I took him on the run, because I knew the conditions would be mild sea wise though it was a hot day.

His lack of technique caused him to get into a state of heat exhaustion that was finally “cured” when I literally ordered him to get into the water to soak once we got to a point where we could land. He also got so super stubborn while in this state that I could have choked him. The other is that he cannot achieve enough speed to keep the boat moving properly amongst the waves which is another concern.

Like I said he is proud of the fact and brags that he is an arm paddler almost like it’s the badge of being a tough guy or something.

I really want to help him cross the bridge and am hoping last weekend might have made an impact on him finally. He has the endurance of an ox, and the stubbornness of a mule. He’s always been this way in other things too.

I just feel bad when he is waiting for me at the put in ragging me for going w/o him when I arrive back from one of these trips.

Don’t bother
"Does anyone have any ideas that I can use to coax him? I am nearing my wits end on this."

You should treat this the same as if the guy was small and weak and ignore the issue with lack of technique. What would you do if you paddled with someone who was a dwarf in a 75 lbs boat or had exceptionally weak muscles or something similar? Do the same thing and just go paddling without them if you need to go faster than them.

If someone is a problem because they are slower than the group, tell them to speed up or go home. That’s it. It should have nothing to do with them ignoring your advice or being unwilling to learn what you want them to learn. If they can keep up with bad technique, that should be all that you care about.

So my advice, tell them to speed up if they want to paddle with you. Don’t tell them they suck because no one wants to hear that that and you’re being an ass if that’s the way you approach this.


ill be the first to say it

– Last Updated: Jul-11-12 4:51 PM EST –

oh wait, no I wont

Obviously logic and reason arent working... paddle out half way on a trip, spend the night, get him drunk and duct tape a board to each arm while hes passed out? then he can only use his torso if he wants to get home. no, just kidding. my friend is the same way. she insists shes been doing it since she was a kid and already knows how to paddle. sometimes technique is just a losing battle.

still not directly an arm paddling issue
He needs to be able to match your distance and speed and do so without keeling over and that is what you need to stress. I think better form may be a path to that goal but they shouldn’t be your requirements – just the means to reach those requirements.

distance & speed
I agree that distance and speed would be the key. If a person keeps up, I wouldn’t see a problem. If they can’t, they still get to choose to work on speed, or just continue paddling their comfortable pace with or without you in the long run.

If you want to push it, I might try this. Let your pace consistently challenge your partner’s limits, and try, time to time, gently expressing your desire to cut out the lily dipping and paddle at an invigorated pace.

I always keep in mind that there are better paddlers out there that could do the same to me. Although I have to admit, I would gladly work on adjustments to improve my speed. But your situation is decidedly different. I will freely admit that I’ve forgone many paddles because on some days, I just can’t enjoy taking 5 paddling hours to travel 10 miles. Other days I can have a lot of fun with it. But I can understand wanting someone as a paddling partner, but just wishing they would commit to developing speed more in line with what I enjoy.

Good luck, and may the compromises sway a little further your way.

He is one hell of an arm paddler though. I will grant him that. He has huge arms which helps him. He could pound me into the ground with better technique though.

I learned how to handle heat and exercise during my biking years so I do have a leg up there. I think I’m just going to stick with trips where I can enjoy his company w/o stressing him as I do love paddling with him. He is a devoted paddler and a good friend.

On the other hand, I’m just going to quit feeling guilty when I have to go do my thing too.

how are the rest of his skills
It seems those types are usually not that interested in improving the rest of their skills(boat control, rescue, navigation,etc) which is where the real hazards lie.

Either that or plan a trip with a 4 hour paddle into a 20kt wind and watch his elbows and shoulders explode. Maybe he can only learn the hard way.


– Last Updated: Jul-11-12 5:41 PM EST –

Actually, he can control the boat quite well and rescue himself too so it's not like he won't learn things. Wind does not bother him at all either. He's not too good with navigation though so I take the lead there.

He just refuses to quit arm paddling and admits that it is disadvantageous to his paddling.

We both big guys, and he recently acquired a paddle with a lot of catch to it. It is literally punishing to arm paddle it is all that I can say. I think it contributed to him having heat problems last weekend.

I think he may be getting psychologically ready to commit to quitting arm paddling so that is why I posted this topic.

I am going to be like a constant gentle water drip on stone with this situation. Thanks to everyone for your thoughts and advice.

arm paddling.
I watched my father do a pretty strong arm paddle for a hundred miles in 18 hrs. right in front of me in a tandem boat. Your buddy will be fine.

Ryan L.

Let it go !!!
Mind your own business.

Paddling is supposed to be fun.

Several years ago I paddled with two members of this forum. One guy came out here to a meeting or something and wanted to paddle with us. As we left the marina area on Mission Bay he started to offer suggestions and criticisms of my forward stroke technique. JEEEZ was this guy irritating. He kept harping about what I was doing wrong … after about a half hour I excused my self and paddled back to do some exploring on the coast on my own. This guy was probably right, he was one of the fastest people I have paddled with. But he gave up seakayking within a couple of years, and we never hear from him here at all. I still have my own lousy paddling style and still get out three or four times a week and still manage to keep up when I paddle with “Real Sea Kayakers.”

Good to Hear
Glad to hear there are some capable arm paddlers. He does have huge arms so that probably helps him.

Actually, I don’t ride him too hard on it. I really do enjoy his company as he is a devoted paddler and great guy.

I’d probably be chasing him if he ever quits.

Make him an offer
If he refrains from bragging about poor technique, then you will refrain from suggesting improvements, assuming the safety aspect is covered.

It would be irritating to hear someone often bragging about good technique. Bragging about arm-paddling must grate on the nerves. What’s he trying to prove? Sure, it can be done; that’s still not the same as being the best method of doing it.

Stern rudder
Improving stern rudder helped me with forward stroke. A lot. I mean its “neutral” running position, not its variations for making slight steering corrections.