What is the paddling circle drill?

Heel is inconsequential?
That was a very nice synopsis of my understanding of the inside circle. Thanks Charlie.

But all of my instruction and experience indicates that heel is quite consequetial.

Some boats clearly require more heel that others to lock onto the carve. By that I mean where the tendency to carve the inside circle is strong enough to overcome my so so technique.

Varying the heel has been taught (by Tom Foster, Andrew Westwood and I believe by Charlie Wilson) as a means of controlling the radius of the arc.

If those are true how can the heel be inconsquential?

Tom Foster and the Inside Circle
I was fortunate enough to take whitewater instruction from Tom in the late 90’s early 2000’s.

The inside circle was a large part of his focus and it was clearly intended to provide forward propulsion with NO CORRECTIONS. Tom explained that correction strokes kill your forward momentum and that was to be avoided whenever possible.

In whitewater straight lines are few and short. We learned to carve arcs. Tom taught us to plan our arcs to get where we wanted to go on the river.

On the pond, as an exercise, we would see how big a radius our arcs could encompass as well as how small.

Tom could pretty well emulate a straight line. For the rest of us the arc was pretty apparent.

Tom was clear that he was still carving an arc. Recognizing that most of us could not approach his level of technique, he taught us to alternate onside and offside arcs if we wanted to approximate a straight course.

maybe it depends on hull
I’m interested in Charlie’s reply too, but in the Lbug I could switch the heel while carving to the inside. Switching between on and offside heel (and back) might have changed the arc degree, but it didn’t stop the carve or change it to an offside carve, at least not in that boat. But, I wasn’t trying to change it. Next time out I will.

In the Probe, switching between on and offside heel was more touchy, and I’m not sure I got a consistent result each time I tried any of these drills in that boat. We had a good bit of wind with noticable effect.

I saw that my friend in his Outrage, who normally has an excellent vertical paddle position, when carving onside was using a definite sweep, with top hand well inside the gunwhale. Bear in mind this was his first inside circle practice, and without benefit of Charlie’s personal instruction. I think this was happening when he was attempting to flatten out the curve and it worked somewhat, but it sounds like the point is to avoid the correction strokes.

Practice, practice.

OK, poor choice of words
What I was trying to imply is that most hulls will skid their sterns and paddle an Inside Circle heeled inside or outside the circle.

Outside heels engage carving bows, which tightens the circle, Inside heels allow smaller folk to keep a more vertical paddleshaft but don’t turn as tightly. Finite heel control allows adjusting the circle, more heel to either side increasing the tightness.

“Inconsequential” was a poor word choice, another of many I’ve made.

Thanks, that speaks to me

… especially the part about an outside lean would actually carve a tighter circle

Jargon, heel and correction
There’s too much jargon in canoeing.

While I appreciate the veiled references to Richard Dawkins and agree that language evolves, terms shouldn’t overlap so as to be ambiguous.

“Paddling the inside circle” should be used to mean what it says: a boat control drill that refines the correction (“J”) stroke so that it can be used to turn the boat in ever-tightening circles.

The term shouldn’t overlap with the related but different concept of paddling (asymptotically) straight by balancing a hull carving effect against uncorrected forward strokes. That should have a different name, and I have proposed the “bow pin forward stroke” or the “carve balancing forward stroke”.

By any name, my experience is that heel significantly affects the carve strength in both my Wildfire and SRT, almost identically. The carve is strongest with an outside heel, weaker with an inside heel, and almost nonexistent with an unheeled hull. Nonetheless, I’ll specifically play with the unheeled hull in the next few days because CEW has something in mind here.

The weaker the carve effect, whether because of heel or other hull characteristics, the easier it is for an uncorrected forward stroke to overpower, stop, or even reverse the carve direction. Hence, it’s much easier to overpower an inside heeling carve than an outside heeling carve in both my Wildfire and SRT.

I should add that forward pitch also significantly strengthens the carve effect, especially in my SRT.

CEW seems to suggest that it is possible to take a forward stroke from a normal solo position without inducing offside yaw simply by using “perfect” technique–namely, stacked hands, vertical shaft, pull parallel to the keel, and hip exit. I disagree. Once the canoe is in motion the pivot point moves several feet ahead of the paddler; hence any application of paddle force, no matter how perfectly uncorrected, will necessarily yaw the canoe under simple lever principles. Perfect technique can minimize yaw, but not eliminate it.

I’ve often thought I was paddling “perfectly” uncorrected when I’m actually correcting unconsciously. That’s because my correction is so automatic–flowing from the catch, through the pull, and right into the recovery–that I don’t even notice I’m doing it. Therefore, I suggest that anyone who uses the bow pin forward stroke for any distance without overpowering the carve is in fact subtly correcting, even though she may think she isn’t.

Moving on to the cross forward stroke, I’m unsure what CEW and TC1 are debating here. Is it the use of the cross forward to induce a carve while using the bow pin forward stroke, or is it simply the use of alternating cross forward strokes to balance yaw-inducing forward stokes as a technique to paddle straight ahead?

If it’s the latter, then certainly a few cross forwards alternating with regular forwards can be used to paddle straight ahead. This is especially useful when starting from a stopped position, as in an eddy peel out, or when trying to accelerate straight ahead.

However, I’ve never seen anyone use alternating forwards and cross forwards for any great distance or length of time. That would be too tiring. It’s easier, more economical and more efficient to just switch hands. Marathon and outrigger racers have proved that conclusively.

I certainly agree that this entire area, albeit layered with ambiguous and confusing terminology, contains very important lessons in boat control. I’ll play the heel again over the next week.

No Correction. NONE, NADA
The inside circle is a technique in which the boat turns towards the paddle side WITH NO CORRECTIONS.

Is that clear enough?

Well, I guess you can call it whatever
you wish to, but paddling in ever tightening circles has relatively little practical application, in my mind.

Being able to paddle a nearly straight line without correction, and to be able to tighten up or relax the radius of the circle at will, has great practical application, especially in whitewater.

I suspect what Charlie meant when he said that the heel of the boat was “inconsequential” was that it didn’t matter if the boat was heeled to the onside or offside, that either would work. I would certainly agree with all who feel that the degree to which the boat is heeled has a profound effect on carving circles, and some degree of heel is necessary.

Clear, but an ideal, not practical
My argument is that it’s not practically possible to achieve this ideal other than for a short term.

First, I don’t believe, as a general principle, that it is possible to take the “perfect” uncorrected forward stroke for any length of time. The paddler will always end up inducing yaw or corrective anti-yaw.

Second, the hull design, heel, forward pitch and weight burden will combine to result in some canoes carving more strongly than others. The boats that carve super strong–like a highly rockered WW boat, a forward pitched boat or a heeled-to-the rail boat–will actually require yaw-inducing sweeps to keep them in bow pinning carve balance. That’s a form of “correction”.

The hulls that carve weakly must have the carve velocity re-established occasionally by on-side anti-yaw maneuvers or an off-side cross forward, unless one paddles very slowly. All those things are “corrections”.

If it were a practical thing to paddle long distances on flat water using truly uncorrected forward strokes to bow pin balance strongly carving hulls, experienced paddlers would use it as a traveling stroke. They don’t; they use on-side correction strokes and/or they switch.

Bow pin forward stroking is just a boat control drill, useful for short spurts, but not otherwise practical as a traveling stroke.

That’s pretty much my experience

… but I figure it’s because I’m not very good at it

Yes, the max practicality is in WW
And I bet it was primarily in WW boats that Tom Foster formulated his thoughts. Certainly that was the case for John Berry, much earlier.

Paddling in a circle, whether of constant radius or tightening or expanding, with the paddle on the inside of the circle, is a great paddle and boat control drill. That’s its initial practicality. You learn how to vector the boat along different lines and curves simply by subtle corrective adjustments to on-side forward strokes.

The fact that you can bow pin balance the on-side carve, which itself must be initiated by a strong correction stroke, is a related attribute that has practical application for accelerations and variable radius turns in WW. I suspect most WW paddlers learn this unconsciously, by trial and error, and probably couldn’t explain it.

I assume what Foster has explicated and what Charlie teaches is the relationship between the paddle and hull dynamics of the circling drills, the induced carves, and the way to balance the carves with (so-called) uncorrected forward strokes.

some whitewater examples
Say you need to exit some fairly strong current and catch a small bank eddy toward your onside. Start paddling across the current on an inside circle to approach the eddy. Just prior to reaching the eddy line, tighten up the radius of the circle so as to have a good “piercing angle” to penetrate into the eddy (an eddy turn). Obviously, a bank eddy on the other side could be caught paddling on your offside inside circle.

You need to catch a bank eddy on the opposite side of the river. Exit the eddy on an inside circle of large radius so as to exit with a conservative angle (the circle is established before crossing the eddy line). Maintain a circle of large radius until the slower water near the eddy on the opposite bank is reached at which point you can tighten up the circle so as to pierce the eddy line of the second eddy (a forward or “upstream” ferry).

Let’s say you leave the eddy with too much angle and get blown downstream off your ferry line. Simply dramatically tighten the circle so as to reenter the eddy you just left so you can set up to try another ferry (a tight “C-turn”).

You need to eddy-hop down a series of closely spaced bank eddies in order to avoid the meat of a really bad rapid. Simply leave each successive eddy on a fairly tight inside circle so as to enter the next eddy just below (a more relaxed “C-turn”).

You need to catch a downstream bank eddy on the opposite side of the river. Leave the exit eddy on an inside circle and tighten the radius after crossing the eddy line to execute a smooth, carving peel-out. Once your bow is pointed downstream, initiate an inside circle on the opposite side by executing a sweep on the first side and reversing the boat heel as you cross the paddle over. As the second eddy is approached, tighten up the circle radius to pierce the eddy line of the entering eddy (an “S-turn”).

Standard Whitewater Slalom Technique
My understanding and observation is that the inside circle is pretty standard in whitewater slalom. So when paddling whitewater that’s what I try to do.

I also find it useful for manuvering in tight places on quiet water and for showing off (Hey Bubba, look at THIS.)

I don’t consider it a traveling stroke. For that I kneel and switch with a straight shaft Zav.

Glenn it appears that you’ve done a lot of research and thinking about this topic. For me, the terms made sense because it was explained that the skill is based on the WW canoe’s inherent tendency to carve a circle and thus the correction part of the forward stroke was heavy and very counterproductive. So, if a paddler could learn to paddle inside that inherent circle counter to this carving tendency, pure forwards for speed and power were possible for straight travel in short bursts. I understand in theory CEW’s approach in other than WW hulls, but also have been successful only for short distances.

Regarding the idea that “paddling inside the circle” is learning to use the J-stroke to go in ever tightening circles, why would anyone do that?


No ww canoe I’ve ever owned had an
inherent tendency to carve a circle. They all want to skid and must be carefully managed to carve. Running an upstream gate can involve “carving” a tightening circle, but it is a dynamic process that is hard to duplicate on flatwater.

Pagayeur: research and thinking
[I am going to respond to several points in Pagayeur’s concise post in separate posts, just so that I don’t write another treatise.]

No, I hadn’t done any thinking or research on the bow pinning or carve balancing forward stroke until AFTER this thread began.

In June I had been out practicing paddling in circles in preparation for the cross forward class at AFS. I saw a course blurb that said one of the techniques covered would be “paddling the cross inside circle”.

I naively believed that the drill referred to paddling in an actual circle using a cross forward stroke. I then identified four ways to do that: using the cross forward for a clockwise circle, heeled on-side or offside; and using the cross forward for a counterclockwise circle, heeled on-side or off-side.

I was having trouble paddling circles with a couple of these, so I started this thread thinking there was an actual drill for paddling circles, a drill I was doing improperly.

It was only AFTER you, TC1, Dirk and CEW replied that I realized that “paddling the inside circle” was being used to describe something different. It was being used to a WW technique that John Berry had taught me in 1982 and which he had been teaching since the 1950’s–what he called “sidewash balancing” (or something like that).

Then … this thread took off on that tangent.

And since then also, yes, I have spent many hours experimenting with this carve balancing forward stroke technique in my Wildfire and SRT and recollecting my past experiences in WW boats.

As CEW has said, we’re probably not doing anything in canoes that some 10 year old girl has already done in the Mesopotamian Valley 4 thousand years ago. Sounds like you and I have had similar experiences. I also first tried this skill in WW and now experiment with it in a WF.

Were you at AFS? If so I must have missed meeting you.

I agree a lot of terminology is localized and in an ideal world a standard nomenclature would make communication easier. Herding cats however, would be much easier and with a higher probability of success.


‘Carving’: more confusing lingo
For the less experienced who may be trying to follow this probably confusing thread …

I suspect G2d is use ‘carve’ in a more technical sense than I (at least) have been using that term in this thread. I have been using ‘carving’ essentially as a generic synonym for turning.

Perhaps like G2d, I learned my technical canoeing in WW in soft chined canoes and kayaks. To turn, you heeled to the inside of the turn. We called that kind of turn a ‘pivot’ turn. (Flatwater freestylers now call it an ‘axle’ turn.)

You could also heel to the outside of the turn, and WW boaters began doing that more as chines got sharper. We called that a ‘carve’ turn to differentiate it from the pivot turn. (FF’ers now call it a ‘post’ turn.)

With a soft chined boat, most of a pivot turn is caused by stern skidding; and perhaps a little less stern skid is involved in a carve turn. Really sharp carves are aided by increasingly sharp chines.

The point of this whole discussion is that a rockered boat (and any boat) will turn OFF-side from a forward stroke. To try to paddle an off-side turning boat straight with goon or J strokes becomes a real Herculean chore. But there is another technique, discovered 40,000 years ago in what is now Florida by the grandson of the first guy ever to build a canoe.

What you do with your initial strokes–either on-side deep C’s or off-side cross forwards–is to induce the boat to turn to you ON-side while you heel it. You can heel in either direction, but it’s easier to do the follow-up on-side strokes if you heel toward the on-side, i.e., like a pivot turn.

The rockered boat will then tend strongly to keep turning (pivoting or carving) to the on-side. You can then counterbalance this strong on-side turning tendency with on-side forward strokes. By doing that with precise stroke control, you can get the rockered boat to go in sort of a straight line without resorting to the usual flatwater correction strokes.

What is meant by a pivot turn by those

– Last Updated: Jul-31-10 10:55 PM EST –

who developed it, is an outside lean, body leaned back, somewhat *submerging* the stern, and then allowing the boat (a slalom boat) to slice its stern under, with the boat pivoting on its fat part, almost behind the stern. The back half of the boat is serving as a pivot. Such turns were common in races in the 80s, sometimes in desperation becoming pirouette turns. Then racers learned such abrupt turns were often unnecessary. One carves into the eddy on the inside edge, rolls without exaggeration onto the outside edge, and the outside edge serves to rail or carve the boat into the upstream gate.

That's why all this has been confusing about carving. Any way you slice it.

Well, that was a mild surprise
So … I trespassed into Copper Sulfate Cove today, and then cursed the wind and unrelenting boat wakes.

But I wanted to experiment with four things about which I am very skeptical:

  1. The perfect forward stroke.
  2. The uncorrected forward stroke.
  3. Torso rotation.
  4. Bow pin forward stroking without any heel.

    I’ll skip the first three subjects because I’m going to write separate essays on them somewhere else.

    However, I found that I could bow pin stroke (AKA carve balance stroke) (AKA inside circle stroke) my Wildfire while it was unheeled and level.

    The issue was whether it would continue turning (‘carve’) while level. It would do so very mildly, so I could do a very slow and mild carve balancing forward stroke.

    But the carve is stronger with an inside heel, and strongest by far with an outside heel.

    All this was done while kneeling normally on the Conk seat and hence without any forward pitch.