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Be Aggressive


Be Agressive, click to enlarge

Be aggressive!

When approaching difficult drops, and when paddling through them, you want to paddle hard and fast! Speed, speed, speed, power. Keep that momentum up. Build your speed before the drop, maintain it through-out. You often only have a few seconds of good time to build speed before the drop. Here are some of the ways to build speed successfully in those crucial moments. Get lined up, then start powering. Read the water and put in paddle strokes in the right places and the right time, as mentioned in the "Timing" section. It is also important not to do to many harmful correction strokes while you are trying to build speed, apply those techniques previously mentioned about "Working up front". Stick to mostly forward and cross-forward strokes until you get your momentum. Then after your moving with speed, you can put in a few quick angle adjusting strokes. A note on the type of paddle strokes to use while building and maintaining speed....lean slightly forward and stay in this position. Place the paddle close to the bow, keep the shaft vertical, and end the strokes at mid thigh.

Speed, click to enlarge


Building Speed, click to enlarge

Building Speed.

Match power, click to enlarge

Match Power with power.

Next, to maintain speed, your line, and your up-right position, match power with power. What I mean by that is when encountering resistant water features, rocks, holes, waves etc, put a hard paddle stoke in at the same time that they encounter your boat. When water or rock offers you resistance by its power, you match it with your own power. This is really important for keeping control and speed.


Hole, click to enlarge

Pulling through a hole.

When punching holes, keep your paddle in the water! As usual, paddle hard, and time your last stroke to catch the fast water flushing into the hole. Pull hard, and pull yourself through the hole. Next, place a stroke that reaches over the boil line as early as possible. This might involve getting the paddle up high to get it over the boil line fast enough. To sum it up, the stroke in the green water pouring into the hole, and the stroke past the boil line come in very quick succession.

And in general, it's a good thing to always keep your paddle in the water, and always do a stroke. Stroke in the water, in the air, on rocks, in holes. You all have heard the reminder that "If you are afraid of it, lean in to it", well here is something good to remember for encountering large stuff head on, "If you are afraid of it, stroke through it"!


[Image: Boofing.]

Sammer styling a boof

Boofing is the action of landing the boat flat, or near flat after launching off of a vertical feature, wether water or rock. Its called a " Boof" because that's the sound the boat makes when it lands nicely flat. When you don't boof, and you land straight on the nose of your boat, it makes a sound like "Oops". Not really. However, good boofs prevent many bad things from happening, like, pitoning on the rocks below, losing all your precious speed, filling up with water, getting flipped from the sudden stop of motion, and being pulled back into a hole at the base of the vertical feature. Here are the three most important factors for getting a good boof; One, approach the lip with lots of speed, faster than the speed of the water if you can. Two, lean forward and put one last hard paddle stroke planted at the lip of the drop. Three, while pulling on that last stroke, thrust your hips forward, and throw your upper body back to the stern. But make sure to bring your body back to center upon landing as to not have your center of gravity be in a bad position. Those are the three important factors. Now here are a few more things to keep in mind. That last hard boof stroke will always turn the boat to some degree. So as to not boof of too sideways, try to calculate that turning affect into your angle of approach. Its kind of hard to do for a canoer, but if you can turn your boat slightly to your on-side right before your boof stroke at the lip of the drop, then you would be the "Master of multi-timing". It's a rare honor given by the river gods after your death. Furthermore, upon landing, instantly reach beyond the boil line and pull the boat out of the sticky water at the bottom of the drop.

Face Your Work

Face your work, click to enlarge

Face your work.

There are some exceptions, like in ferrying, but for the most part, face your work. Rotate your upper body towards where you want to go and then reach into that direction to do your strokes. Then bring the boat to your paddle.


Unloading the bow, click to enlarge

Unloading the bow.

Planing can be a useful technique to help prevent the bow of the boat from getting caught in weird currents, whirlpools or unwanted eddies. To get the boat planing you need to have speed, and unload the bow. First, you approach the water feature you want to glide over with good momentum. Right as you encounter it, do a strong forward stroke, like a boof stroke, kick the hips forward and lean back as you drive the boat over the undesired feature. The relative speed of the boat versus the current increases suddenly, which makes the boat plane. A few very quick strong strokes keeps the boat planing and drives it over the feature. Here it is crucial to have fast, crisp, short strokes to keep the momentum up.

Staying On Top Of the Water

Staying on top, click to enlarge

Staying on top is staying alive.

It is paramount to stay on top of the water and not get bogged down. This often means driving the boat in curved lines, crossing the grain of the water, and riding on top of long high features in the water. This is where reading the water during a scout really helps. Look for the micro features in the water, look for the higher water, look for the paths that avoid low areas in the water, and look for ways to quickly travel through low areas without getting caught in them. These are the fast lines, the dry lines, and the non-munchy lines. As soon as your boat is bogged down, or even worse, under water, you have lost speed and direction, and find yourself fighting the water.

Facing Upstream, From Eddy to Eddy

Face upstream, click to enlarge

Face upstream, from eddy to eddy.

Friend, mentor, and national slalom canoe champion, Alan Whittern, told me once "In difficult water you should be spending more time facing upstream than downstream." Seemed a little strange at first, but in no time . . . it made complete sense. This is what makes a huge difference between having control in a rapid, and not. Unfortunately it's typical for a canoer to pick a good line down the entire rapid . . . and hope for the best. But what too often happens is, as the boater takes on a little water, or gets thrown off his line, or finds unexpected features in the rapid, things start to get exponentially worse fast. Then that boater really starts to hope. This might work most of the time for class III, and sometimes class IV. But definitely not class V, and not comfortably in class IV. Besides, even if you can get away with it in the easier stuff, you want to train to become better. In advanced water, a canoer always needs to know where he is going, and be very directive in his paddling. So before you even drop into the rapid, find your first eddy-out near the top of the rapid, or even right before it. Then while you're in that eddy, find your next eddy by looking over your shoulder. And don't leave that eddy until you pick one out. If you cant find one by looking over your shoulder, and you're in the nar, its time to get out of the boat and take a look. Pick out the next eddy below it too, a "plan B" eddy, just in case you miss the first one. I have even gone so far as to pick a plan "D" eddy when it really mattered. For your first one, pick one out that's not too far below you, the closer the better. Hopefully its right below the next little drop. These eddies are typically tight and harder to get into. That's why you over looked them in the past. But if you look hard, you will see them. Just focus on your next eddy, then go for it. Then do the same eddy choosing over your shoulder again, all the way through the entire rapid. That way you're breaking the rapid up into controlled little steps. You're in control of the whole situation, you're not being taken for a ride. If something goes wrong, it won't build-up. Just dive into your chosen eddy, or into the next eddy down. This is the ultimate way to train for more difficult water, and the only way to paddle in it. And personally, I find it a lot more fun. But as I mentioned before, these mid-rapid eddies are generally not easy to get into, but by practicing all of the previous tips ... you'll become good at it. Which leads me to my last tip ...

Constant Practice, three or four times a week

Practice, click to enlarge

Practice, Practice, makes you obsessed.

Remember, it is more important to be a master at every move you make, a master at every paddle stroke you use, a master at keeping your lines, than it is to push yourself up to the next level with sloppiness. In addition, muscle memory is probably more important than all the skills you can learn. If you want to be paddling difficult whitewater confidently, in any boat, there is just no way around it, paddle at least a few times a week. You need to trick your body into believing that the boat is an extension of itself, so that when you're in your boat . . . your hips and torso know what to do naturally. That way you can use your brain for other things, like all that new stuff you just learned above!

Sammer Elias

Up: Class V Prev: Timing