Introduction to Sprint Canoe Paddling By Gary
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
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
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.
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
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
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!