Tech. tips - Technique

Technique #1, Tilt upstream!

I've always taught that the default position in moving water/rapids is 'tilt downstream"

But I've noticed that I reallly tilt upstream anytime that I think the water may be shallow. It's all got to do with keeping upright in the shallows.

This is especially true for creeking, since most of the time it is shallow.

tilting upstream presents the bottom of your hull to any submerged rocks so you slide over them, rather than tilting downstream which would present the sharp edge of the chine of the boat to the oncoming rock. The edge of the boat would be more likely to catch on the rock, when the boat stops abruptly, your downstream momentum becomes a rolling motion. ouch!

The best approach is to be on the upstream side, tilted slightly upstream, at worst, the sudden deceleration will leave you totally upright or maybe with a downstream tilt. When the boat contacts the rock take a wide forward boof stroke that pushes the boat up and over the rock. Of course if the rock is sticking up too high out of the water, you'll need to lean into it to avoid a broach, but that's not the situation we are talking about.

Technique #2, Tandem pivot stroke placement

Much emphasis is placed on tandem paddlers moving their pivot strokes towards the ends of the canoe for greater efficiency. Interesting... if the strokes were near the centre of the canoe, the end of the canoe would be moving a much greater distance for each inch of pivot stroke.

Let's say a pry stroke is placed right at the end of the canoe. Paddle pries 12 inches, end of canoe moves 12 inches. Now, a pry stroke is placed one foot from the centre pivot point of the canoe. Blade moves 12 inches, end of the canoe moves um... a lot more. Much like the chain on a bicycle being on a small sprocket (near the pivot point) or a large sprocket (further from the pivot point). If it were not for friction (of the water on the canoe) and slippage (of the blade in the water) we'd all be doing our pivot strokes towards the centre of the canoe.

In smaller whitewater solo canoes, we do use this principle to pivot in a hole. The canoe is manoeuvrable when balanced on top of the hole, so it is speed of rotation we’re looking for rather than leverage.

I was writing a blurb for a canoeing instruction session recently, and pondered the difference between a canoe course and canoe coaching. To my mind, a canoe course introduces the participant to a variety of skills. They try these new skills with varying degrees of success and then move onto the next skill or maneuver

A coaching session assesses the skills a participant has, and through demonstration, correction and repetition takes a particular skill to a higher level.

There is always someone that can make a maneuver seem easier, faster and smoother than yourself... ask them for a coaching session.

Technique #3 Coaching vs Course

Canoeists are a traditional bunch... some might say obstinate, in the face of change. When it comes to canoeing, we’re slow to accept anything that might challenge our knowledge or lack thereof. The exception of course is that we all welcome a new canoe.

But opening your mind to MITH will change the way you learn or teach canoeing.

Technique #4 How MITH can save whitewater canoeing.

MITH (Momentum, Initiate, Tilt, Hold) is the basis for many tandem canoeing maneuvers. Unlike previous acronyms, such as PAT and MAT, MITH focuses on what’s important: keeping the canoe upright. By using MITH novice paddlers can experience the fun of eddy turns without any knowledge of eddies, currents etc... while successfully keeping the canoe upright.

As a sport, tandem canoeing in white water is competing for attention with kayaking. (You know, kayaking, that sport where novices are out surfing within their first hour of paddling.) By using MITH, canoeists can eliminate hours of preamble and get into the fun stuff so much faster.

MITH focuses on what the canoe is doing, not what stroke the paddlers should use. Coaching canoeists through their first eddy turns becomes simple.

“Tilt!”... “Tilt more!”... “Hold the Tilt!” If the canoe is tilted, it won’t flip over regardless of whether the paddlers even remember to keep paddling forward. I know, you’re thinking “What about when they hit the eddyline?... Momentum, Initiate, Tilt all happen long before they get near the current. Hold (the tilt) continues all the way through the turn. No critical timing required.

Once novice canoeists experience the fun, exciting part of white water canoeing, we have a keen and receptive audience primed to learn how to do wider or tighter turns and learn strokes to assist those turns.

MITH focuses on what is critical to a canoeist. Keeping the open side up!

Paul Mason is a Paddle Canada Patron, canoeing instructor, Esquif ambassador and still learning this sport we call whitewater canoeing.

#1 Righting pry

I was in the process of flipping to my offside while crossing an eddyline the other day, and since it was a slow tipping motion as I lost my balance... I had time to reflect on what the righting pry I was attempting, was actually doing. I’ve long thought that the goal of the righting pry was to push the gunwale back down, thus saving the day by keeping the canoe upright. Ever notice that an empty canoe rarely tips over. We are the top heavy guilty party. We lose our balance and our weight pulls the canoe over.

Back to the eddyline, the first righting pry arrested my falling over. Much to my surprise I had time now to jam in a second righting pry allowing me to re-establish a J-lean, and then bring the boat to level.

sometimes the theories we expound as teachers just aren’t a reflection of what is happening.

Sales pitch: Yes you’ll learn this technique in my canoe instruction classes. Also see tip #10

#2 Offside low brace is just a way to tip over slower

When I started paddling solo whitewater open canoe playboats, I thought the holy grail was to be able to roll onside and offside. By offside I mean, falling over and rolling up with an offside low brace. Difficult but not impossible in our revolutionarily “small” 14 ft. whitsell canoes.  (Meanwhile I only managed to ever actually do an offside roll a couple times, unless it was in a hole, which assists the rolling motion). Years went by and as solo canoes evolved into smaller craft, my goal became an offside low brace to prevent flipping offside... it never worked. Oh it seemed like a good idea, it certainly delayed the inevitable flip. But that’s all it does.

The offside low brace has a zero percent rate of working due to the high sides of our canoes which prevent you from sliding from that offside head down on your paddle position on the water, back over the centre of the hull. Indeed, you’ve had to throw your body onto your offside low brace, your weight is now committed to pulling the boat upside down. So cross the offside low brace off your bucket list. Spend your time perfecting the righting pry. It works!

Editors note: no photos of the offside low brace can be found, although you may find attempts at it on youtube. Instead examine this convincing series of photos of a successful righting pry.

Uh -oh, this is gonna be bad...

Oh yeah that righting pry thing!

Way cool, it worked!

Rudder challenge answers

#3 Why Canoe seats are not (always) for sitting on.

On a perfect day, with proper equipment, the minimum of canoeing knowledge and a well balanced (trimmed) canoe, the canoe seats work well for sitting. On a windy day with a canoe that is not trimmed correctly, sitting on the canoe seats is an invitation to fate to send you swimming.

The dad, who is a big guy and just naturally knows how to canoe... because after all he is Canadian, arrives at the dock with young child. Dad unloads the canoe, probably with one arm because it’s a light weight kevlar “prospector” style canoe. Child gets in the front (bow) and sits on the aforementioned “seat”. Dad tosses the snacks and fishing gear in the back where he’ll be sitting. (If he really knew what he was doing he’d call the back the “stern”). He climbs in, sits on the seat with his knees up, feet firmly planted on the bottom of the canoe. He let’s go of the dock... Hopefully they brought a change of clothes and maybe some hot chocolate. Despite tipping two feet from the dock, if there is hot chocolate involved the child will remember the day as being a success.

So what led to needing hot chocolate so soon? The stern seat is closer to the end of the canoe than the bow seat, so even if the paddlers are the same weight, the stern will sink lower into the water than the bow. Compound this with the adult being heavier than the child, the canoe being very light and the prospector shape having very narrow ends. The result is the bow is now in the air (Fig.1). The wide, centre area of the canoe is now out of the water. Dad is now trying to balance on a very small narrow part of the canoe (fig.2). The slightest gust of wind (possible), or sudden movement of the child (inevitable) and we roll the dice to see if they stay upright.

How can we avoid using up all our hot chocolate while still near the dock? First put the extra gear up in front of the child to balance the trim of the canoe (Fig.3). Or even turn the canoe around so the bigger person is kneeling against the bow seat, facing the stern. A child won’t mind sitting on the stern seat, facing the stern. This ensures that the centre area, the widest part of the canoe, is touching the water (Fig.4). The smaller person gets in first and kneels with their bum on the edge of the seat. Knees should be wide apart on the bottom, or pushing against the sides of the canoe if legs are not long enough to kneel. Bigger person then gets in, kneels on the bottom of the canoe, bum resting on the seat. Holding the midpoint of their paddle and putting the blade in the water, they let go of the dock and grab the top grip of their paddle. Ta-da, hot chocolate can be saved until later.