I’ve found myself doing a lot of work with tandem boats on white water recently and have been struck by how underrated the art of paddling with a partner often is.
There is a real sense of shared endeavour when racing a crew boat which is equalled by the satisfaction of a clean descent of a white water run in a tandem canoe. Being able to put your end of a boat neatly into a tight eddy, synchronising your moves with those of another paddle to achieve a common goal is really quite wonderful.
The question often arises as to who’s ‘in charge’ in a tandem boat. However to me that’s a non-question. Yes, we often see pairs in boats – typically partners or parents with children – where one paddler is dominant, usually in the stern, and making most of the calls. But they’re not paddling as a tandem crew, more as a strong solo paddler carrying a passenger. This can work on flat water, but can easily lead to disaster on a grade 2/3 rapid.
To me, paddling as part of a tandem crew on white water is about sharing responsibility, jointly agreeing strategy and tactics, each knowing what they need to do with their end of the boat and having the skills to do so. We often talk about the importance of the three ‘Cs’ in tandem work – Communication, Co-ordination and Co-operation. And watching a good tandem crew in action you see how effortless this appears to be. Think any of our top slalom C2 crews!
Don’t make the mistake of thinking paddling white water tandem is just like paddling solo but only doing half the work. The extra weight, and distribution of that weight, in the boat will often mean looking for different lines and adopting different tactics. A turn on the top of a wave may set you up nicely for a breakout when paddling solo. For a tandem crew, setting the boat into the same eddy may be a much neater solution.
Next time you’re on the water and see a pair of paddlers in a canoe, ask yourself whether one is the paddler and the other a passenger or whether they are working in harmony as a crew. If it’s the second, watch and learn! And maybe next time you have a canoe out on whitewater you might invite a paddler of similar ability to join you in your boat and add a new dimension to your paddling? You may surprise yourself how good it can feel. But as they say, it takes two to Tango.