Introduction to Sprint Canoe Paddling By Gary Parkinson

These are just a few words as an introduction to the black art of canoe paddling. As with kayaks, the more you wish to go faster, the more technical the technique becomes. I won’t go into too much of the technical aspects of the sport, this is just the basics!

The C1 is the most extreme of racing watercraft, developed to fit into the rules of international racing.

It’s uncomfortable, unstable, hard to keep straight, affected by any type of wind, but very satisfying when you get it right.


Due to the high position / centre of gravity of the paddler, stability is dependant on several factors : -

Knee block – this is used to transmit the power of the paddle through the boat as forward motion. The height of the block will make the boat more or less unstable in the same way as the seat in a kayak. The position of the block will affect the trim of the boat – (nose up or down, lean left or right) all of which are at the paddlers’ preference. In rough water or with a tail wind having the block a bit back will help the stability, in a head wind moving the block forward will help keep the boat straight.

Triangle - The position of the knee, back foot and front foot makes a triangle in the boat, a wider triangle is generally more stable, so some paddlers position their knee blocks off centre and counterbalance with the front foot.

Front foot position -this also helps the trim and steering of the boat. By tilting (edging) a boat it will turn in the opposite direction, so by moving the front foot pressure the boat can be tilted slightly to assist steering.

Back foot - this presses on a footrest as it would in a kayak, to help the transmission of power from the paddle stroke and in stability by making a ridged triangle.

Hip position - this one of the main stability tool in paddling a C1. When in the boat the paddler must keep the hips and pelvis 90’ across the boat facing forward. This has the effect of locking the body in line with the centre line of the boat and enables the weight to be evenly distributed across the boat.


The forward stroke of canoe is in 5 parts.

Set, Catch, Power, J and recovery

Set - In the set position the paddler positions the blade as far forward as possible, with straight arms and back, creating a large A with the paddle shaft, paddle blade tip horizontal with the water. The body should form a straight line from the kneeling knee to the top of the upper arm. Body should be in full extension with the top hand above the head.

Catch– the paddle blade is completely driven into the water, the top hand pushes down on the paddle shaft, and the body dips in full extension with the top hand above the head. A slight twist on the catch will draw or push the bow of the boat to aid steering

Power - the body pulled back upright, pulling the paddler past the blade. The top hand pushes down on the paddle shaft and the lower hand is pulled towards the hips. The hips are thrust forward which transmits the power through the boat pulling it forward. Both arms should be kept straight and the body brought upright with out bouncing the boat, paddle kept as vertical in the water as far as possible for a long as possible, till the end of the stroke.

J.- The boat is steered by using a J stroke at the end of the power stroke. The arms are dropped and the top hand is used to rotate the paddle. The body is upright, head up, pelvis across the boat. The paddle is rotated so as the face of the blade is away from the boat, and the paddle shaft is momentarily pried off the gunnels of the canoe, giving the classic ‘knocking’ sound during the stoke, exiting as close to the hips as possible.

Recovery – the paddle exits the water cleanly and is moved swiftly forward with the paddle blade facing upwards to the set position, the body is moved forward with out bouncing or tilting the boat.

Boat Set up

The C1 is built to similar specifications as that of the K1, but must be open over a proportion of its deck. The construction of the boat is somewhat more difficult to achieve as rigidity is required over a large unsupported area. Most of the fittings in the boat are made individually by each paddler, so there are rarely 2 boats set up alike.

Blocks are made from high density foam similar to that found in swim floats, and are cut and moulded to suit individual anatomy and techniques.

Paddle side

This is totally individual in choice and internationally is split about 50/50. once a paddle side is chosen, most stay on that side for the rest of their career.


Due to the paddle technique, some biomechanical injuries can occur.

Shoulders - As the paddle stroke is on one side, after a period of time the paddlers’ shoulders tend to dip to one side.

Arms – the lower arm is often more developed that the upper arm.

Back – the action dipping and pulling with a bent back can result in lower back strain

Knees - The supporting knee takes all the weight and power transmission, and often becomes swollen and hot. Numbness does occur, and sometimes damage to the patella can occur due to the weight and forces applied during paddling.

Lower leg - The lower leg also is under static tension and can cramp up at inopportune times. Swelling and overdevelopment of the Quadricep can also occur resulting in an imbalance of leg power.

Upper leg – the upper knee often pushes out to the side and the knee is under tension, which can result in pain in the knee joint.

Having said all that, the C1 is rewarding challenge. When mastered the feeling of a C1 in a sprint under full-power is second to none. The rhythm and flow of the stroke is very satisfying.

C1’s generally travel at the same speed as an equivalent woman’s K1, about 10% slower than a men’s K1, which considering that there is only one paddle, no rudder and a less stability is quite an achievement!

To paddle a C1 takes dedication and practice, practice and more practice!

Give it ago when you next have the chance!

Gary Parkinson

Aug 04