Stubborn Partner

I think trying to learn it takes him out of his comfort zone which is also a major point of resistance for him too.

I remember years ago when I switched from being an arm paddler it took some conscious effort on my part to train the muscles, but I had only been paddling a month before I began to break the habit so it was not as deeply ingrained.

The human body is capable of about 100 watts of power and any gain in efficiency has its reward especially in this sport. I do like the advice about showing him drawing sculls and sweeps as a way of getting him used to using his torso plus it will keep me from coming off as preachy which I do not want to be.

Thanks to all for your help.

could be fear
In past experience (leading/instructing people in rock climbing, XC skiing, mountaineering, using construction equipment) I’ve noticed that when some individuals cling stubbornly, even defensively, to counterproductive methods it tends to be rooted in fear, of either harm or of being embarassed by an awkward mishap.

With that in mind, I’ve been thinking back years ago to when I was first coached through the body movements of torso rotation. I was fortunate to have an outstanding teacher, a former Canadian national slalom champion and expert sea kayaker. But I can still remember being nervous when first trying it, feeling the boat yaw slightly under the shift in body position on each stroke. Even once I got used to it I still tended to lock my body straight forward when the water got rough. It took the better part of that summer for me to break the habit and trust the boat’s stability.

You say your reluctant friend is heavy – do you think it could be that he gets freaked out by the feel of the boat’s subtle position change during that weight shift from winding up with the blade plants? Also, some people with really big bellies don’t rotate easily.

I’d be more concerned about his apparent failure to monitor and mitigate his own condition (becoming overheated). The very first lesson I always taught students in any wilderness sport was how to stay aware of their own condition. They needed to recognize the early signs of hypo- and hyper-thermia, dehydration, low blood sugar, etc. and know how to correct them so they would not become a burden to their companions. He was lucky you were attentive enough to spot it.

Moral theology, without a moral
In recent ex cathedra Pnet threads I have learned that newbie rec kayakers spurn all paddling techniques and that grizzled canoeists scoff at entrained breathing techniques.

Well, I’m just not going to waste my breath on those grizzlies, and I may silently snicker when they suffer IMF (inspiratory muscle fatigue) in their golden Medicare years.

Meanwhile, at the put in of the Patterson Great Swamp, I was chatting with two older guys, very proud of their brand new Old Town Camper from LL Bean. Nicely bagged. Balanced on top of foam blocks balanced on top of a factory rack. One inch carabiners placed every two feet along each gunwale – something I’ve never, ever, ever seen before.

But I didn’t ask what they were for because I was mesmerized by … the fact that … they were both holding their bent shaft paddles backwards.

I silently pondered the moral and theological implications of saying something. I made my mind up as to what to do. I’m not breathing a word of my decision here, but I didn’t paddle the Great Swamp that day.

You’re right, there probably are some movement fears involved. You have to have trust in the boat being technically able to handle things for you while you stay in proper sync with the boat’s movements. I always have an image of being a fishing bobber when I am in funky conditions as a mental construct. This balancing act is also one area that my mountain biking experience translates very nicely over to kayaking as you have to be one with both the bike and kayak. You’re also right about the importance of recognizing the early symptoms of heat and cold induced body temperature imbalances.

Actually, that heat issue was the scariest part for me and also a valuable lesson for me in that I am going to be way more aggressive in dealing with that issue in the future.

As for the paddling technique, I’m just going to slow down and take the time to smell the flowers when I’m with him. I’m seeing two schools of thought in this thread. The live and let be group and those who see it as a problem. In actuality, doing it that way does move one forward so it works on one level. Though, I am convinced it contributed greatly to the heat issues he experienced.

I tend to be a hyper-aware type who is always striving for perfection and improvement so that is my cross to bear. However, I derive pleasure from that challenging aspect of the sport. Whereas another may be just as happy paddling .5 miles while drinking 15 beers and smoking a pack or two of cigarettes.

To each his own, but being outdoors does require a situational awareness at all times. I failed by not being more insistent that he cool himself off when I first noticed the symptoms. I was very happy when he began to regain function after cooling himself down in the water though. He was very happy too.

If he’s keeping up…
Let it go. I take 2 steps to every one my husband takes, but he doesn’t make fun of me or threaten to leave me home because I have to work harder to keep up. Personally, I’m a little surprised at so much agreement with your criticism of your friend’s technique. I think you’re putting too much emphasis on how he’s putting the paddle in the water. Nothing wrong with helping people, but at this point, you’re just being critical and a control freak. If I were in his shoes, I’d look for a better friend to paddle with. If he’s getting the job done, mind your own business and enjoy the friendship instead of lecturing him.

As you point out, he is resistant to suggestions of improvement and you describe that he is defensive about this shortcoming and has decided to claim it as a virtue, instead (as in, “sure, I could have climbed the mountain with two hands and dropped the can of Mountain Dew, but anyone can do that.”)

The options you have are either to not inform him, nor invite him on certain trips or to accept this limitation until it becomes a real liability. This may not be a safety issue now, but nature and time have a way of finding and exploiting a weakness.


if you can’t let him be,
Try sending him a video. Brent Reitz Forward Stroke Clinic was my first and is great, but there are several others made since then. Greg Barton & Ben Lawry both have good ones.


For disclaimer - I am all about technique, be it paddling, or nit picking

I strongly suspect that your irritation is more about you and not your paddling partner

So, my suggestion

  1. Look up who Jon Turk is
  2. Watch him paddle
  3. Get back to us.


– Last Updated: Jul-12-12 10:41 AM EST –

Thanks for this.. Jon Turk is amazing and inspirational. I am no where near his level of adventure. If I were, it would be in warmer climates. I think I'll drop his name to the next power boater that thinks I'm crazy.

Now, to defend myself from your point, it really is not about me. I am no where near perfect in any aspect of my life, and I fully accept that. I am also quite happy to paddle with him. We have a friendship where we can be quite open with each other too. Trust me, he busts my chops on a regular basis. I'd paddle a 1 acre fishing pond with him and love it.

The only reason I brought it up to the forum is that I firmly believe it contributed to him getting heat exhaustion on a trip and was looking for some advice on how to properly handle the situation. For those of you who live in cooler climates, heat exhaustion can potentially lead to deadly consequences and must be taken very seriously.

Personally, I've come to the conclusion that I am just going to let sleeping dogs lie and just enjoy my limited time on Earth paddling with him whenever possible. Thanks to everyone for the advice. It figured greatly in me reaching this decision.

If it works for him, then let it work.
Look at it this way…he is getting twice the workout you are! ;^)

I have a friend who has become an excellent seakayaker in the last few years. She has been on many extended trips, far off shore, through strong waves, tidal currents and heavy winds. Yet she refuses to paddle any way except with an unfeathered paddle. We have tried to tell her a number of times to try a feathered blade, it will help her with high wind conditions. But she doesn’t want to practice even in calmer conditions. She even wind flipped once when a sudden microburst hit; we were trying to head into a cove and the wind probably hit 50-60kts. Oh well, she still is a strong paddler and I’ll paddle with her anywhere.

Why should she switch?
So, are you insinuating that a kayaker must use a feathered paddle to have excellent skills or be safe? Why would you ask her to switch?

How would you take it if she insisted that you paddle unfeathered? She could easily argue with you that feathered is only an advantage in head winds, and is a disadvantage in beam and tailwinds.

My preference for neutral behavior in violent winds would be an unfeathered Greenland paddle, but I wouldn’t push this choice on my peers. I use my wing unfeathered as well, for consistency in my reflexive brace.

Greg Stamer


– Last Updated: Jul-12-12 11:03 AM EST –


I just got off the phone with my friend. He is now hell bent on unlearning his arm paddling. I did not even bring up the subject either.

He's been studying it on his own recently and is ready to take the leap.

I am very thrilled as he called me just to tell me that.

To finalize my view, I can actually drive my car in first gear everywhere I go and still get there. That is pretty much the way I view arm paddling. However, my view of true friendship is that a good friend has a license to try to intervene with me whenever I go astray. I will do the same for mine in a diplomatic manner.

Is my kayaking technique worthy of that of the Gods? Of course not, that is a silly notion to even entertain. Will I continue to improve? You can bet your life on that.

Godspeed to everyone...

He’s wrecking his shoulder. Pain, loss
of use, lost paddling time and maybe even surgury is ahead. Might seem okay now…


– Last Updated: Jul-12-12 11:13 AM EST –

(it was a little on the sarcastic side, implying that what work for someone is what works for someone and unless they want to change and seek out the mechanism to do so, they probably won't)

But I often wondered about the advantage of WW paddles with 90 degree feather. For those of you ancient enough to remember, many WW paddles were so configured back in the day. I still have my old Dagger wooden paddle with 90 degree feather. It's pretty much a wall decoration now, a reminder of good times. But a 90 degree feather certainly wasn't for wind, since rarely do you encounter extreme wind conditions in WW where it would make much of a difference. However, it does allow you to slap down a power face brace on the opposite side of your power stroke quickly in case you need it.

Arm paddling

– Last Updated: Jul-12-12 1:12 PM EST –

Most paddlers arm paddle and do just fine. After a while they start slowly adapting to using a bit more body rotation but nothing like many paddle stroke classes teach. Using a lot of body in a paddle stroke takes a lot more energy. It works well if the paddler is trained for it. But for a paddler who is not trained for it, a lot of torso rotation will run them out of steam long before just using their arms. Big muscle groups require big energy. You will get more power but at the cost of more needed energy.

Why force someone to be something they don't want to be. If you show someone something and they don't want it, then that's it.

Torso rotation paddling is not easier. it's better in many ways once the paddler is in shape for it.

Actual propulsion is based on the momentum imparted by the paddle onto a certain mass of water. You move a mass of water with the paddle and and your boat moves forward in response to Newton’s law. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction so you move.

Momentum is defined as mass times velocity. Torso rotation allows one to apply more mass to moving a certain mass of water than arm paddling. Therefore, you move the same mass of water more efficiently versus flailing away at arm paddling as arms have less mass than torsos.

That being said. It feels totally unnatural which is why most beginners want to arm paddle. I remember making my transition, and it took much mental effort and focus. Once I made the transition, it became as natural as can be.

agree and disagree
I agree it’s not as vital to avoid arm paddling as say having good rescue skills or good bracing. But it’s NOT the case that using torso rotation is more demanding in any way even for those in very poor shape. If you torso rotate gently (small blade, mellow strokes) then you can do better than more demanding arm paddling and not feel tired. It does take time and practice and you should give yourself kudos for partial gains in this effort since it need not be perfect to get some benefits.

My whole life was spent doing leg oriented sports like hiking, cycling and skiing and I very rarely did weight training for my upper body. So when I started paddling five years or so ago I was at a disadvantage keeping up with others. So I started early working hard to get good torso rotation and it paid off very nicely. I am now a bit stronger in my upper body but I have been able to best many with huge, weight trained arms.

can i just make an observation?
Everyone arm paddles by definition.

Ryan L.

Rescue and bracing skills are essential parts too unless you enjoy hanging out with the Bull and Tiger Sharks as you get swept out to sea. I also think the ability to keep an eye on the weather is also very important too as well as situational awareness.

Kayaking is a continuing spectrum skilled sport that is perfectly suited to my love of learning and being on the water. I just focus on improving things one step at a time.

You also get into the many variables of your physique in choice of paddle blade and paddling style. I’m a large guy, not fat, so I can get away with using a high catch blade as a touring paddle as I have a lot of upper body mass to generate that momentum. Whereas, a smaller framed person would get wore out by my choice of paddle and would be better suited by a smaller blade and a faster cadence.

The beauty of this sport is that you can take it wherever you want to go. There is no judgement on my part on anyone, and how they choose to experience it. Well, as long as you’re not a litter bug.

Torso rotation helps a lot but I admit some will talk almost as though you do so instead of using arms. Even if you had the most rigid arms imaginable you are at least doing the isometric workout of keeping those arms rigid while forces act on the paddle. And of course why not include the arms with the torso to share the load. So it’s more a matter of having more and bigger muscles helping. Another benefit of torso rotation though is that it tends to help avoid moving an arm behind you which is very hard on ones shoulders.

But still I wouldn’t overly nag a buddy to avoid arm paddling.