Discussing the Forward Stroke

So, what are our goals with paddling?

First I want to thank everybody for all the fantastic feedback and all the input that I’ve been getting. Lots of questions that I keep adding to the list, and I'm hoping this winter that I can crank out a lot of videos.

One of the topics I've been thinking about for a while is “what is our ultimate goal when it comes to paddling?” There’s tips, taking lessons, and all of these different activities that we do as paddlers. I think sometimes we get too caught up in what we're doing and we may forget why we started doing it in the first place.

This is the one video that I really want for people, if they’d like to join the discussion, please watch the entire video because all of these points are very, very important to me.

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So what I'm going to talk about is the forward stroke, which is an extremely controversial topic. The way I'm going to discuss it is:

1. I'm going to discuss why it has come up many times in my recent videos.

2. What is considered to be the most efficient forward stroke.

3. The controversial aspect of how different coaches approach it and how I look at it and

4. What is our ultimate goal? Which is in my opinion the most important point I want to make and the foundation of this channel.

Many of you have pointed out, correctly, that as I try to catch waves in my surf videos I'm pumping my arms and not using my core. That is correct, and I want to explain where that comes from and how I am right now in the middle of a learning stage.

I found myself out in Mendocino earlier this year filming and working with a group of fantastic coaches and one of the things that was happening to me on the waves out there was that I was broaching very quickly right after the wave was picking me up. Jeff, a fantastic coach that lives out there pointed out to me that what I was doing is I was putting too much power on my strokes right as I was trying to pick up speed to get on the waves and usually that last stroke before the wave finally picked me up, if I put too much power into it, I was actually starting to turn. The wave would then say “hey, here's some edges to grab” and it would push me sideways.

One of the tips I got that day, which has been fantastic, is take lots of little strokes. Work up on your speed but cancel out that movement from side to side with lots of little strokes, and then when the wave picks you up, you are perpendicular to the wave and then you get to choose what you want to do next.

It all happens so quickly as I'm trying to decrease that power, my body just goes to paddling with my arms. Which I understand it's not the right form, but I'm just in that period of working out how to get to a more efficient quick stroke. That's just where I am in my personal development and I'm happy to share how I'm learning and how I'm trying to get to the next phase.

Now next let's talk about an efficient forward stroke. If you want to see an efficient forward stroke, look no further than anybody that's competing with a forward stroke. So that is: Olympic paddlers, surf skiers, paddlers who really care about shaving up fractions of a second with each stroke. They will be extremely, extremely efficient. They use their legs, strong muscle groups within their body, their arms simply carry that energy from the legs, from the core to the paddle and they don’t waste energy with the blade in the water too long.

I mean, we can spend months and years discussing this, and my point is those are the paddlers you really want to look at if you want to see a fantastic forward stroke.

Next, the nuances and how different coaches might approach these nuances. This is where the video might get controversial, but that's okay because this is something I really believe in. That is, we all have different body types, we all have different amounts of power, we all have different amounts of flexibility, we all have different boats.

So not every person is going to be able to paddle in a perfect forward stroke similar to a surf skier or an Olympic paddler, or even, let’s say someone in a recreational kayak, while picking up some of those tips and having a better forward stroke, just because of the way the recreational kayak is, they might not be able to do exactly those same kinds of motions. And that's okay!

A lot of coaches feel that as long as what you're doing is efficient, it's safe, and it's trying to cut down on wasted energy, there's nothing wrong with that being your forward stroke. Don't get me wrong, we should always aim to get better, we should always aim to continue learning, and having an efficient forward stroke can make a huge difference in how much fun you have throughout the day.

The Greenland paddling community is very big about this as well. I had one coach in particular say, when a student asked “but I don't see you really rotating your body a lot” and the coach said “my legs are engaged, my core is engaged, I'm looking to see where I put my paddle in and where I bring it out. I'm trying to be as efficient as possible with what my body allows me to do.” Therefore, to him, that particular stroke was a good, efficient, powerful forward stroke. It might not be a textbook definition, but to that particular coach it was a strong, powerful, efficient forward stroke.

The last point, which to me is the foundation of this channel, is what is our goal on the water. I'll give you a quick example – every summer I go out with my family to a lake and we spend the week out. I usually bring our recreational kayaks because I love trying to get my family out with me.

This last summer I took my mom out and she was in my recreational kayak. We went out, we got to see some little turtles swimming around, and it was awesome. She had a great time! And while I gave her tips to try to keep her boat straight and try to get the most out of the day, I still think that her idea of a great time in the water is just hanging out with all of us. It's not whether or not she can get the most out of every stroke. And if I spent all my time giving her tips we wouldn't have a good day. So we just have to remember, in my opinion, what really is the goal of what we're doing.

If we are racing, if we are trying to be as efficient and as fast as possible, then fantastic, let's put all of our time and energy into being as powerful and as efficient in our forward stroke as possible. But if our idea is to simply have fun, let's remember that as well. As a coach sometimes I have to put those two things aside and give tips where I can so that paddlers can continue to grow, but then also remember that a lot of people just want to have fun on the water.

The definition of that might be to paddle out to the middle of the lake, hang out all day, and paddle back. For that you don't need the best equipment, you don't need the best form, you just need to have the right attitude and you need to be safe and not forget why we started paddling in the first place.

I'd love to hear your feedback on this. I know this is a controversial topic but I really do feel that I want this channel to be an area where people can chime in – we all have to start somewhere. We're not all perfect paddlers, but we can work together to get better each time, to learn from our mistakes, and I really want us to not forget to have fun while we're on the water.

So I hope that was helpful. If you have any comments or anything you want to add, please comment below, I'd love to hear it. Subscribe if you like, I'm always trying to put these videos out, and as always, Luke Rovner for Kayak Hipster, thank you for watching and see you next time.

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