If you caught the Olympic coverage of flatwater canoe racing last fall you saw the mechanics of well rehearsed and efficient power strokes. In canoeing, having a well executed power stroke is a primary tool, whether you're propelling yourself across flats or working on a difficult move in whitewater. Here are some tips on how to improve your single blade power stroke.
The Catch To begin your stroke, rotate your torso so you project your paddling-side shoulder forward. At the same time plant your blade in the water all the way up to the throat of the paddle. The inside edge of the blade should touch the side of the canoe and the shaft should be absolutely vertical. The placement of the catch (or start) of your stroke is determined by where your blade can be inserted into the water with the shaft plumb and your paddling-side shoulder rotated as far forward as possible.
The Forward Thrust Much of the thrust of the power stroke is achieved not by pulling with your arms but by rotating your torso while holding the shaft vertical with the inside edge of the blade touching the boat's side. Each thrust of your stroke is achieved by projecting your paddling-side shoulder forward by twisting your torso and then rotating your torso back until your paddle comes to your hip. Using your torso muscles is much more powerful than just using your arms. As a result, you'll experience less fatigue and develop more forward thrust with each stroke. The length of your power stroke will vary depending on your physique. Generally, power strokes should be about 25 inches long with the thrust ending at your hip.
Stroke Recovery The thrust ends at your hip. Paddle recovery begins by once again rotating your torso to project your paddling-side shoulder forward. This action also enables the paddle to be swung forward over the river surface and then inserted in the water to begin the next stroke.
Results Two things will happen if you execute your power stroke properly. First, your canoe will travel in a straight line because of the vertical and plumb paddle position. This means less correction at the end of each stroke, lessening drag and conserving forward momentum. All the action of your paddle blade is directed sternward, meaning all of the energy from the thrust translates to forward momentum. Secondly, you'll experience less fatigue because you'll be involving the whole upper torso. And this means that at the end of the day you'll still be have enough energy to load your boat for the drive home.
Douglas Wipper, a former director of the National Canoeing Schools of Canada, is the director of the Steamboat Springs Canoeing School in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. He has instructed canoeing for universities and private camps for more than 30 years.