Tandem Freestyle


The above video introduces Tandem Functional Freestyle. In the same manner as we explored Solo Functional Freestyle in the previous thread, I hope to do so with this one.

Note how the bow and stern paddlers work in sync. with each other. They have equal roles in controlling the canoe. Movements are smooth and gentle. Heels are minimal in these functional settings.

In several of the scenes, the three canoes are following each other. Note that although they are all making similar turns, they are all using different techniques/maneuvers to accomplish the same. Two couples are using straight shafts and one is using bents. The variety of choices to accomplish the same goal, is one of the joys of freestyle.

Once again, I’d like to thank my friend John Powell for composing this piece from short clips that I supplied to him.

A final note:

I do not have the level of expertise in tandem freestyle, that I do in solo. I will contribute to this thread where I have something to add and I will moderate it as I did the solo thread however Charlie Wilson will will take the lead.

OK, I have to ask:

– Last Updated: Feb-09-15 10:12 AM EST –

As one who has been tandem paddling with the same bow paddler for 62 years, what does "freestyle" mean ?

The only difference I can see between racing and the paddlers in the video is gracefulness.

Thinking of Brown's tract in the 90 miler we are paddling the exact same only going hell bent and I am calling a "hut" when needed.

For a few seconds I thought one of those couples was us.
I have always thought when we are paddling the small creeks in Florida that we are poetry in motion, and there is no need for a "hut' since she can sense when we need to switch.

Jack L

Tandem Forward

– Last Updated: Feb-16-15 5:07 PM EST –

I was sitting on an Adirondack Island with a beautiful woman, an aging beagle and a small cooler of Guinness a few years back and happened to observe eight tandem canoes exit the Saranac River and turn upstream onto Lower Saranac Lake.

Most had marginal control of headway in the river, sometimes three, usually two paddlers per canoe; flailing, switching sides indiscriminately, hulls often down by the bow and always yawing. Techniques fell apart when the West Wind hit them as they made that left turn at Remy's rock, most able to achieve very slow progress upwind.

But one canoe stood out. Two paddlers were cadence on opposite sides switching sides together. When they came into the wind they switched again and were gone up-lake so quickly I missed their exit from view while reaching for another brew. It got me thinking about what you'd say to beginning paddlers if you had just ten minutes.

To start with, we need to accept that most tandem paddlers sit, so emphasizing the better reach and power of a kneeling stance is of marginal importance. An the canoe must be trimmed level od down by the stern. In canoes with fixed seats, that requires the lighter paddler to take the bow. After that understanding the first rule of tandem paddling, paddling on opposite sides, is the key to arriving at your destination. That renders any flaws in individual forward strokes, those flaws almost always sweeping forces, opposing, so they tend to cancel each other. The second hard rule is to paddle in cadence, both paddlers stroking together with strokes of similar duration, which calms the boat wonderfully.

After those two items are achieved we can address cleaning up those forward strokes, top hands across the rail to minimize misdirection with a vertical paddleshaft, paddling parallel to the keel line rather than the rail to minimize sweeping tendencies and shortening the stroke to the same purpose and optimize paddleblade effectiveness.

All the blade physics and bio-mechanics are exactly as discussed in solo forward.

How do we achieve opposite sides and cadence? The stern paddler is situated to observe the bow paddler and, if at all sentient, can figure he needs be paddling on the other side and can match the bow's cadence. WHile sitting in the back of the bus it should be no great additional stress for the stern to match the bow's horizontal recovery. Nothing looks better than equal recoveries in cadence. The bow needs to switch sides every, ten strokes or so, to lessen muscle fatigue, correct course and provide the stern with a modicum of mental stimulus.

It is proper for the stern to request change in cadence rate, usually lowered, as it is easy for a bow paddler to grind the stern to dust. And, when the stern notices misdirection due to wind and waves, differential strokes or current, it is also proper for the stern to request switching sides, usually by uttering a word; "Switch" or "Hut" are commonly used.

The stern will slowly notice, over several years, that the canoe always seems to turn towards the bow's side. This is not, as initially thought, something perverse the bow is doing, but a function of the stern's own failed forward stroke. Top or control hand inside the rail, paddling along the rail rather than parallel to the keel and carrying the blade aft of mid thigh all result in counter productive sweeping forces that are amplified by the stern's location well aft of rotational center or "loci of forces on the hull". If the stern insists on over-powering the bow to prove some perverse, testosterone based, point, more huts
will be required. The J correction, which breaks forward momentum and ruins cadence, is an open best eschewed.

Yeah, the bow will employ crossing strokes every now and then, the stern will occasionally apply a J or more heroic Pry to make corrections, but mostly, if we paddle on opposite sides, in cadence, with short, vertical strokes, the tandem canoe will run straight as an arrow without correction. And that seems to be what most folks desire. Yeah, I use a J myself sometimes, but I know it's only correcting for errors in my own technique; maybe I'm tired, carrying the blade too far aft.

One final note, tandem teams need to match paddles, Two straight blades or two bents of similar degree. Trying to match a straight with a bent hopelessly compromises cadence, the hull rolls a little, the bow carves away from each roll, and we're off course.

I know I’ll catch hell for this, but…
I disagree on the boat running straight as an arrow with out correction.

I submit that if the stern paddler is a stronger paddler than the bow paddler the boat will start to turn in the opposite direction from the side he is on after about six, seven or eight strokes unless he puts less force in his stroke and tries to match the bow paddlers.

The above is not taking into consideration wind or current.

If you had two paddlers who absolutely matched in strength than I would concur.

jack L

Well no and we’ll leave out the hell bit
Because when underway the pivot point moves forward the stern paddler has the loonger lever arm and any error in steering is the stern paddlers fault. The bow can do lots more wrong and get away with it.

Now Jack I bet that you have a pretty good stroke and maybe a tucked hull that facilitates vertical paddle placement.

Marriage only helps canoeing with time… I bet that you and Nanci have been in auto synch for some time. Jim and I too since 1963 so when we took our first tandem FreeStyle lesson we had that straight running pretty well down

The rest of it not so much… Static strokes to turn a boat with little effort were very new to us.

A complete canoeist is proficient in hit and switch and the more traditonal in sync j stroke canoeing too.

The stern paddler has the most turning
power due to their position in the boat. Most canoes are set up with the stern paddler being closer to the end of the boat than the bow paddle can be- the bow paddler requires more leg room. Turning is most effective on the ends of the boat. Thus the bow paddlers role is primarily propulsion and the stern is more the steering.

As far as stroke and cadence, sometimes its not all about being in sync. Sometimes when I’m paddling with my wife who is in the bow, I take two short strokes for everyone one of her forward strokes. She deserves the “princess seat” so she gets the royal treatment.

Someone riding in the middle of the canoe is totally useless- I call that “riding garbage”.

So in my warped little world you have the “princess seat” and “riding garbage”. Sometimes it works out to paddle in unison and sometimes it doesn’t

I completely disagree with that

– Last Updated: Feb-09-15 4:23 PM EST –

She in the front does a cross bow rudder, post or what ever it is called and a lean on it, and me in the back doing sweeps. and we can just about turn the canoe on a dime.
Take a look at the video posted above

And on the two quick strokes to one of the bow paddlers, I would be screwing us up royally if I did that

Jack L

Ahhh, Browns Tract

– Last Updated: Feb-09-15 7:27 PM EST –

I began paddling bow position quite a few years ago in a voyageur canoe (C6 or C7) on the 90-miler. We've been fairly successful in finishing at or near the lead, though as the years go by I have to submit age may be getting the better of us overall.

I love Brown's Tract. Normally, outside of Brown's or similar twists and turns, we paddle in sync like every other experienced racer, switching sides at the hut call from the stern. From the bow I provide minor instantaneous corrections as needed. But in Brown's I go independent, and the crew behind me paddles from my cue. Since my eyes are 25 or more feet ahead of the stern in a 32 foot voyageur, I can see the best line to take and I switch at will, employing power and draws to get me on the best line for the upcoming turn.

My stern paddler knows from my actions well enough what line I am shooting for, and to do what is required of him, in power and with sweeps and draws. Middle paddlers are there to maintain power strokes, with an occasional draw assistance from paddler #2 in very tight turns. It is the all important "approach angle" to the upcoming turn that matters the most, and the when to make the exact stroke that changes sides. I always figure that if I don't switch on the singly best timed stroke with our speed, we will end up with bow stuck in the turn's outside bank. When it is time to post I lean on my paddle while still keeping it as vertical and as far forward as possible.

The same applies when I paddle the 90 in a C4 or C2. My daughter has recently been paddling with me, and I have taught her my techniques in the bow as I paddle stern. I'll tell you, it is a different world from back there. Either way, we pass a lot of other boats in Brown's, including those who have passed us earlier in the race, and I am very rarely passed by any faster boats. You do see a lot of bad technique in places like Brown's. Knowing when to pass another boat, and doing it efficiently and ethically is another whole technique in itself. You have to always be thinking at least two turns ahead to do it right.

that reaction doesn’t surprise me,
its my rafting mentality transferring over to the canoe.

Let me explain a bit- if your taking different people down the river and they don’t have a paddling background you need to be able to ultimately get the boat where you need it to go by yourself. That way if you have folks that are not capable or willing you can still get to where you need to be. I figured I’d ruffle a few feathers with my distorted view but consider that it actually takes a lot of skill to be able to do that. Likewise, it takes even more skill to paddle and steer the boat from the bow. As far as doubling up on strokes- its a way to keep your bow person “fresh” and still maintain a rhythm.

I debated about how many correction strokes I wanted my wife to do (she was in the bow) while paddling brown’s tract inlet. Ultimately, I did teach her “to draw” a bit to help us ease through the turns. I’m sure not sure she’s ready for the pry yet. Someday we’ll get there but I’m takin’ it real slow. Its more about the relationship than the technique.

Now, last second adjustments-“oh no there’s a rock, log etc.”- that’s all about the bow. So how does all this relate back to tandem freestyle? It doesn’t much but how we view our partners and how their paddling role changes has a lot to do with paddling a canoe.

Tandem Freestyle is
if nothing else about teamwork. It is about the bow and stern paddlers working together, efficiently and effectively. The paddlers must work in synchrony, keeping the canoe on course or turning it as desired, together. Discussions about the stern overpowering the bow, paddling at different stroke rates, princess seats, etc. are what tandem freestyle is NOT about.

Don’t worry about age
You can jump in the “super Veterans Class” if you live that long

I don’t think the OP intended this string to be a race training one, and I hope I didn’t lean it that way since when I watched the video I had myself and my partner paddling right along side of those gentle paddlers

jack L


– Last Updated: Feb-10-15 6:05 PM EST –

Well put Marc! Tandem FreeStyle is, just like solo FreeStyle, the search for blade physic, bio-mechanical and hull control optimization. The better we paddle the less energy we use, so we can do more or have more left to do other things after the paddle's over.

A neat way to work on gaining sympathetic movement with a tandem partner is for both to paddle with closed eyes. Obviously we want to try this on calm, open water. The body soon learns to react to the other's.

“A neat way to work on gaining sympathetic movement with a tandem partner is for both to paddle with closed eyes”

And then it is her fault when we crash into that rock, or plow into some brush

Jack L

on a lake of course…
not sure what you are up to Jack

It doesn’t take very many trips in a canoe, with whatever happens, to learn that “it is never HER fault”.



– Last Updated: Feb-21-15 9:12 AM EST –

Tandem FreeStyle maneuvers are more fun solo work. We have finite control of both stems if letting momentum carry through the maneuver, as in solo, or, we can keep the power on, with one paddler effecting the turn and the other driving the boat. Good Fun!

The signature maneuver of tandem FreeStyle teams is the Axle, an onside, skidded turn around a bow Duffek which many will recognize as an onside eddy turn without the eddy. [Onside is the bow's paddle side in tandem canoes.]

With headway, the bow initiates the maneuver with a little diagonal draw that melds into the conclusion of a forward stroke. The stern, hopefully notices this initiation.

The bow slices her paddle into a Duffek, with control thumb pointing at her torso, the powerface loaded at ~40dg opening angle of attack. Her torso follows the blade's slice outward, heeling the hull towards the maneuver. As the hull heels, its stern releases and skids around the Duffek powered by the stern paddlers sweeping forward strokes. The stern must generate enough forward motion to keep the bow's paddleblade force-loaded yet generate enough sweeping motion to encourage a stern skid.

The bow decides when rotation is adequate, usually 90 or 180 degrees, 1500 being ~ where breath, shoulders and concentration give out. The bow concludes the maneuver with a diagonal draw which also lifts/pulls her torso back into the boat and heels the hull flat again as the draw melds it into a forward stroke accelerating in the new direction. The ever observant stern drops the sweeping component from successive forward stroke[s].

For Functional FreeStyle, FFS, the heel is moderate, and the angle of rotation is no more than 180 dg, our forceful turn upstream into an eddy or the embarrassing revelation you've left lunch in the SUV. For fun on quiet water, we can take the heel down to the onside rail, lifting both stems above the soup, the bow extending her torso well across the rail to achieve the extreme heel. It is helpful for the stern to apply some balance control in this situation. The bow flattens her paddleblade to increase bracing force and decrease drawing force. The turning force drawing the bow into the maneuver becomes more a static reverse sweeping low brace than a static diagonal draw. Large bladed bent paddles increase security by increasing bracing, the bent blade is oriented for a low brace when it's shaft is at high brace angle. Her conclusion is more a Reverse Sweeping Draw to the bow, the front blade edge elevated to preclude counting fish and.

All good fun.

the scary thing is I actually
understood that particular explanation- other than it being called an “axle” rather than an “eddy turn.” When freestyle starts makin’ sense to me I begin to think maybe there is hope. Speed helps as well. Much more eloquent and precise than my “Hey baby, see that calm spot of water behind the rock? How about grabbin’ it with your paddle as we blow by. Gonna spin ya around a bit.”

Closely related to an eddy turn
Charlies clear description of the mechanics of the axle to be similar to those of an eddy turn.

In order to do an eddy turn, one must of course be entering, well, an eddy. The eddy turn relies on the differential between the downstream current that the canoe is traveling in and the upstream or perhaps nearly still current of the eddy. An axle does not relay on current differentials. An axle is done any time one wants to turn, or turn around (toward the bow paddlers side) absent of an eddy.

None the less, the comparison is useful and shows the relationship between much of what we do in freestyle to the skills practiced by the larger, canoeing community.

Hate to say it…

– Last Updated: Feb-13-15 6:10 AM EST –

But I love getting into the bow with control freaks who think that that turning is best done from the stern. A good bow paddler definitely controls the boat, and can take the stern paddler along for the ride - especially on a river where the bow paddler has a better view of eddies and current differentials. I was paddling in the bow with a park service ranger a couple of years ago who insisted on giving me paddling lessons throughout the trip. I played along for a while, but finally got sick of it and started taking the boat where I wanted it to go. After the next break I was paddling solo, and she had a new partner. Worked out for both of us since we were obviously incompatible.

OK, I admit it - I'm the control freak. Maybe that's why I have a hard time finding tandem partners ;-)

Anyway, I agree that paddling with an inexperienced partner is best done from the stern, but otherwise I'd much rather be in the bow. Doesn't happen often, but when I paddle with my wife, no instruction is involved. We go where ever she wants to go.