Paddling as part of a peer group recently I was asked by a fellow canoeist what could I suggest to improve his paddling. We’d been on the water for an hour or so and without hesitation I replied ‘remember stacked hands’.
The concept of driving the blade into the water as vertically as possible is central to the fundamentals of forward paddling; what sometimes seems to be lost however is the importance of the drive coming from the upper hand. This idea of the upper hand providing the momentum quickly to submerge the blade, while the lower hand guides its placement alongside the boat, is a significant contributor to efficient forward paddling in both canoes and kayaks.
Stacking our hands one above the other ensures the blade has maximum purchase on the water while minimising any turning moment as we apply the power to drive our boat past the blade. It also leads the unwinding of our trunk, the key component of our power transfer.
As so often in paddling I find encouraging students to experiment at the extremes produces the most effective learning. If we keep both of our hands low – with the paddle as horizontal as possible – the blade will try to track away from the boat as we seek to push ourselves passed it and the boat will start to turn; we’re doing a sweep stroke. Stacking our hands one above the other encourages a vertical paddle, ensures the blade stays close to the boat and more of our energy translates into forward motion. If we can apply the power as soon as the blade is fully submerged in a near vertical position we are starting to gain maximum efficiency from the body, blade, boat system.
We need also to consider what is happening at the end of the stroke and the value of ending the power transfer phase as the blade comes off from the vertical; this is where the lower hand comes to prominence, lifting the blade sharply from the water or controlling it as we make any necessary steering corrections.
Clearly there are subtle differences in the way this all works including for canoeists and kayakers, for recreational and racing paddlers and for those using ‘regular’ or winged paddles, but the basics hold true in all cases – see how James (pictured) is powering his kayak forward in an extreme situation. Next time you’re out in a boat think about the role each of your hands is playing throughout each stroke and see what efficiencies you can find in your own and your students’ paddling.