What is the paddling circle drill?

I’ve been astonished to find that I’m NOT ambidextrous in a canoe: I was always completely confident on either side in a kayak… for just about anything imaginable… and could do all the single stick stuff on either side (including rolling) in a slalom C1 - but I’ve recently realised that’s not all there is to it!

No matter WHICH side I worked in a kayak, my control hand was my left. Was that way from the late 70s, right through the 80s and onwards (albeit less frequently) to this day. Sure, I could use right hand twist paddles when borrowing them… but I was out week in, week out with left hand twist paddles.

Decades later, I go out in the new Flashfire with an unpredictable child or two leaping around and a mad puppy clambering from end to end and up on each gunwale / the prow… and believe me, I want that left hand as my control hand. That way around, instincts still kick in to keep us pootling along without incident… but whilst I’m completely OK paddling the other side without the mad crew, I ain’t OK when they all start going bananas!!!

Yeah Could be my memory is faulty
I remember the outside heel because that worked in my Osprey. The inside heel did not. Interestingly I’m finding the inside does work in the Wildfire though my offside stroke is not clean enough to make the outside circle reliable.

I’m advocating both
My ideal for white and flat water is to be skilled in all on-side and off-side (cross) strokes, and also be able to do all of them lefty or righty.

In summary, silly me
For more than a decade I have thought paddling the inside circle related to the techniques to paddle a canoe in a … circle. But I was confused as to how people here and on other forums were using the term, so that’s why I started the thread.

So, now I find that the term is a deceptive and misleading label that actually relates to a drill to paddle a canoe in a straight line by balancing a bow carve against an uncorrected forward stroke. (Do I have this right?)

I’m ticked that this term has deceived me for so long. Hence, I refuse to use the term. There should be a more accurate and descriptive term. How about the “carve balancing forward stroke” or the “bow pinning forward stroke”?

In my next post I will report my efforts to use the bow pin stroke in my Wildfire.

inside circle
I have heard the same technique described as “carving a circle”, “paddling the inside circle”, and “using a bow wave to pin the front of the canoe”.

I think that 3 things are happening to counterbalance the tendency of the forward stroke to turn the boat to the offside. First, once you get some forward momentum up and initiate a turn to your onside, a small bow wave builds up (which you can often actually hear) on the offside of your bow stem which resists the boat turning to that side. Secondly, in some boats at least, the stern starts to skid a bit, especially if you are leaning forward to unweight the stern. Thirdly, there is the carving effect of the hull itself. This is most pronounced in relatively sharp chined boats with flattish bottoms where the chine acts like a keel to keep the boat directed towards your onside, but as Charlie indicated, in some relatively long, straight keeled boats, using an offside lean substitutes the shape of the offside bilge for the straight keel which naturally directs the boat to the onside.

Payageur’s anc Tommy’s descriptions are both very good and not contradictory. As the circle radius is increased to try to approximate a straight line, the counterbalancing effect of all these forces gets less so the circle becomes harder to maintain. If you just want to paddle in a circle, that is relatively easy. Decreasing the circle radius can often be accomplished by increasing the boat heel and bringing the paddle a bit under the hull on the forward stroke.

I find that most boats can be paddled using this technique at least some. I agree that carving circles is not the most relaxing way to paddle a straight course on flat water, but I often use it to some extent combined with switching sides. I will maintain a big circle of large radius and when it falls off, switch sides and start a new circle on the other side. That way the frequency of switches is much reduced.

As for ambidexterity, it would certainly be preferable if all big-league ball players were switch hitters, but not all are, and even those who are have a better average on one side. Tom Foster could demo strokes pretty well on both sides, but on the water he was a dedicated right handed paddler and he strongly encouraged others to pick a side and stick with it (for white water).

Tom Foster recommended two flat water drills using a couple of bleach bottle buoys. Sink a single buoy and paddle circles on both your onside and offside. Vary the radius of the circles continuously but on each circle tap the buoy with the bow of your boat. Sink a second buoy a few boat lengths from the first and paddle figure of eights around the pair using nothing but forward and cross forward strokes carving inside circles alternately on your onside and offside. You will want to tighten the circle radius to carve tightly around the buoy, then relax the radius to approach the other buoy switching from an onside circle to an offside circle (or vice verse) at the midpoint.

Bow pin stroking a Wildfire

– Last Updated: Jul-05-10 2:09 PM EST –

It's been a long time since I've tried the bow pin stroke, mainly because I never thought it had much practical utility outside of short sprints in WW boat. Nonetheless, any exercise in boat control is of interest to me.

Since beginning this thread I've had recollections. The ME could carve so hard to the onside that it could almost overpower my most powerful forward sweep strokes. And I was a strong guy 30 years ago with a 59" WW paddle. So, bow pin stroking an ME is an exercise in balance.

When I got my Perception Gyramax in '84--the best plastic C1 of all time, IMO--I immediately took it up to my lake in Maine for two weeks. I returned from that vacation saying, to the puzzlement of my paddling buddies, that it was my best tracking flatwater boat. With a slight heel to the offside, I could bow pin stroke that boat at high velocities for a long time. Once I lost the balance point, however, the Gyramax would would spin out like a pancake. At the time, I superficially analyzed the hydrodynamics as the bow edge "digging in"--but Pete Blanc has just given a more thorough analysis.

So ... now to the past two days in a Bell Wildfire. You really need no-current glass conditions to see what is going on with this stroke, whereas I had a lot of wind one day and boat wakes the next. But I think I experimented enough to get a feel.

The bow pin effect in a Wildfire is much more subtle than in my WW boats. The off-side heel (to the "outside of the circle") produces a stronger carving effect than the on-side heel. With an off-side heel, I could actually get some reasonable speed before I would overpower the carve. If you stay in balance the carve will be maintained, but of course you are NOT going straight. By definition, if the bow is carving, you are circling.

The on-side heel was easy to overpower (in stark contrast to the ME). I kept having to goose the carve back with deep C strokes. Doing that, however, is nothing more than correction stroking, which is the very thing the bow pin stroke is supposed to ... uh ... circumvent.

As for bow pin stroking with a carve in the other ("outside circle") direction, I found this to be klutzy. The carve would only hold well with an outside heel, which means I would be reaching over the high side of the gunwales to cross forward stroke. Klutzy. It is easier to cross forward stroke with an inside heel, but then the balance of everything (the boat, the stroke, the carve) is so delicate, that I could only maintain all the balances in slow motion. This is much easier in a more highly rockered boat.

It should be understood that the bow pin stroke only works so long as you maintain a heel. Hence, you can't really paddle straight with it, and even to maintain approximate or asymptotic straightness requires you to maintain heel. When heeling, you are not paddling on the hull's design waterline. You are paddling on a waterline that sort of resembles a watermelon slice on LSD.

This is anathema to me. Mike Galt invented short, narrow solo canoes to "save the world" from the "bastardized" solo paddling of tandem canoes from a backwards bow seat or chine kneeling. This latter (chine kneeling and heeling) was the way to turn a boat, but a Galt mortal sin when paddling straight. I bought into Galt in 1982, and still do.

Therefore, bow pin forward stroking has essentially no practical utility for me in flatwater, other than as a boat control exercise, which nevertheless I enjoy for aesthetic reasons.

Inside circle on flatwater
I find the inside circle useful when I want to power through a turn. But only in a hull that will carve that circle reliably. Some hulls do. Some don’t.

OK, but now we’ve come full circle
I agree the bow pin phenomenon definitely assists in paddling in an actual circle–or turning–which was the original topic of this thread. You can tighten the circle with correction strokes.

However, for “STRAIGHT” AHEAD paddling, I don’t find the (really big radius) bow pin stroke to be efficient, fast or practical in flatwater.

watch out for those river qnats and their circle jerks.

Inside Circle at AFS
I took the inside circle course from CEW at AFS and it was very good. Last weekend I went out with a friend in our ww canoes (Probe and ME Outrage) to practice on a lake. My friend had never been taught the onside carve but knew about it, and did learn how to do it from me (go figure).

We both had trouble straightening out the turn and once the angle was lost, forget it. (We could achieve some nice 360+ turns!) In a less rockered boat I expect it would be easier to convert it to a pure forward move.

After AFS Charlie sent me a written description of the drill but I didn’t have it with us on the lake. I remembered to ease off the heel and power eventually, but it will take a lot of practice to straighten it out, not to mention a much better offside forward stroke than I possess.

Couple Tips

– Last Updated: Jul-29-10 8:42 AM EST –

I suspect Glenn's onside Forward is creeping along the rail a little or his top hand is not far enough across the rail if he needs J correction. By definition, the IC Forward stroke needs no correction and, a corrected stroke is not the IC Forward.

To run straight requires alternating several Onside Forward strokes with a short series of Cross Forwards. The hull is kept flat and it just flies; much faster than forward with J correction.

At Adk FSS we spent quite a bit of class time working on straight forward and it's tricky. [WaterBug had it down then.] One needs switch to those X Fwds immediately when the bow starts to swing or one will view all corners of the lake. This is exacerbated n a Whitewater hull.

What difference does the hull make?
From day one, the inside circle has seemed pretty straightforward in the B/G Flashfire… but I’ve never really tried it in anything else! What characteristics of a hull make this easier / harder?

Why not Switch?
“To run straight requires alternating several Onside Forward strokes with a short series of Cross Forwards. The hull is kept flat and it just flies; much faster than forward with J correction.”

I got to wonder why, when you want to go fast on calmer water, you would use offsides rather than switching sides? I know I can go a whole lot faster and farther paddling lefty, righty than I can paddling onside, offside.

The only time offsides make sense to me is in challenging whitewater when I want my blade in the water as much as possible. Oh yeah and in Freestyle when it’s fun and challenging as well as good training for the whitewater.

Hull and Switching

– Last Updated: Jul-29-10 11:37 AM EST –

We need rocker. Bow rocker so the bow won't stick, stern rocker so the stern will skid loose. Best tripping hulls for inside circle are Curtis LadyBog and DragonFly, Bell/Placid/Colden FlashFire and WildFire, Nova's SuperNova and Merrimack's Baboosic if one is rangy of build.

And, of course, every whitewater solo made, as a guess. Modern trippers with asymmetrical rocker are a little harder to engage as the skegged sterns resist the skid. [That's why the sterns are dropped - to aid tracking.]

Why don't we just switch sides? Time, location of stroke on boat, paddle possession. I think it's a little faster to carry the paddle over the boat than switch sides like a marathon paddler, especially as the catch is so far forward. There is the second issue about wanting to control possession of the stick in serious water. We're not letting go of grip or shaft with a Cross Forward.

That said, I'll go play tomorrow, but it's raining and thunder booming tonite.

Sounded a bit salacious, until explained

Straightening the curve
I’ve not paddled the Probe but my Outrage is a carve’o’matic. Unlike tripping and freestyle hulls where the trick is to maintain the curve, in whitewater hulls it can be difficult to keep the curve from getting tighter and tighter until you spin out and lose all momentum.

I find that worse on my offside.

As noted heel angle and applied power are two tools to help hold or open your curve.

A variation on power is stroke rate, crank it up to straighten out, drop it back to tighten up.

Moving your stroke out away from the hull will tend to straighten the curve as well. I find that easy to fine tune to get the curve I want.

When all else fails I sometimes resort to a stern static draw, usually on my offside. Like any correction stroke that will kill your momentum. But not near as badly as spinning out will.

Laurie Gullion on the inside circle

– Last Updated: Jul-29-10 10:05 AM EST –

Laurie Gullion was a student, friend, colleague and co-author of Tom Foster.

In her 1994 book "Canoeing" on p. 62 she clearly describes the "inside circle drill" as an exercise in TURNING--i.e., in paddling a canoe in a circle by using J corrections.


Now this was my historic understanding of what the term "paddling the inside circle" meant.

I am therefore still confused as to how the term got terminologically corrupted into a drill that attempts to paddle a canoe in a STRAIGHT line by bow pinning a carve.

to paddle a “straight” line
by making a (very) large inside circle with a minimum of control strokes, was mentioned in an article about The Inside Circle written by Tom Foster himself on page 50-51 in the may 1992 issue of the Paddler magazine…

Kinda puzzled by all this. Find it
easier to paddle counterclockwise with my paddle inside the circle than with it outside. I’m a very left-sided paddler, and my cross strokes are good, but to paddle clockwise I’d probably not use cross strokes.

Teast data and philosophy

– Last Updated: Jul-30-10 8:06 AM EST –

I went out and tried switching sides with a straight shaft. Due to the forward location of the catch, it was awkward, and slower than the more aft switch with a bent, and the quick cross bow carry to get into a Cross Forward. Maybe more practice time would improve the situation, but it was not obvious that it would.

I’m not sure quite what is being suggested above.

The position that species or concepts are given from an omniscient source and in-alterable thereafter is contrary to scientific thought; that species and thoughts can change over time due to the non random survival of small, random changes.

It is strange to quote twenty year old sources attempting to impose prior orthodoxy on any evolving physical activity including modern paddling technique. Species change, climates change and so does the forward stroke. That said;

The Inside Circle and Cross Inside Circle are mantras to practice hull control, bio-mechanics and paddle sensitivity. Detuned, or made less extreme, so the hull follows a less constricted arc, they are useful for accelerating into onside and offside turns. The Onside Forward and Cross Forward strokes can also be used alternatively to drive the hull in a ~ straight line faster than can be done with Forward Strokes concluding in a J or a thumbs up Pry. This is in part because significantly less energy is directed in another direction to correct for paddler induced yaw and in part due to the higher cadence allowable without corrective stroke endings.

If a WildFire, heeled inside or outside will not paddle an inside circle without stern correction one of three things is happening: The paddlers top hand is not across the rail and the paddleshaft is angled which produces a Sweep. The paddlestroke is along the rail and not parallel to the keel-line, which is a Sweep. The paddleblade is being carried past the knee, which ends the stroke in a sweep.

Heel is inconsequential as most hulls paddle the inside circle heeled either way. Inside heel improves our ability to reach the water with a vertical shaft. Outside heel carves the bow into the intended circle but requires us to work over the high side of the boat. [We do alter heel to control circle tightness, more heel, or openness, less heel.] Stern shaping is important to preferred heel; V hulls are happier with an outside heel that presents the flat of the outside V at a planning angle to the water. An inside heel presents the same flat as a vertical wall to the water and stopping the stern skid. It is a fun test to cross heel the hull, say from offside to onside and be able to continue an Inside Circle.

An Offside Circle powered by Onside, sweeping, forward strokes along the rail is not a Cross Inside Circle at all. While actually a more powerful option for carving an Offside turn, it misses the point of the training mantra. Similarly, those who have bothered to master a Cross Forward can Cross Forward along the rail for a faster onside turn than is possible with an uncorrected Onside Forward or corrected Onside Forward J strokes.