PADDLING TECHNIQUE FOR OUTRIGGER CANOES

Paddling techniques take years to perfect, and sometimes even that isn’t long enough, but here’s a how-to guide for any budding paddlers.

An outrigger is pulled not pushed through the water. To do this, paddlers need to reach out, grab the water and drag the canoe forward. Most blades also have a bend (usually around 10 degrees, held with the blade bending away from the paddler) which increases the lift of the blade as it enters the water. This effectively pulls and lifts the canoe to decrease the canoe surface area and the water resistance. Lift is achieved by focusing power at the front of the stroke.

An overview

The paddle should exit the water when it reaches the paddler’s mid-thigh to hip. Extending the stroke beyond this point decreases the lift generated and increases drag. Synchronized paddling; with all paddles entering and exiting the water at the same time and all paddlers using the same technique; provides the maximum pull and lift for the minimum effort. This can only be achieved through developing a consistent paddling technique both individually and as a team.  It requires practice.  A lot, of practice.

Rotating from the hips allows paddlers to apply leverage and deliver maximum pull through the water. Twisting the upper body instead of using the arms utilizes stronger muscle groups and minimizes fatigue. This reach and twist motion requires flexibility. Locking the lower body and arms also results in less rocking of the canoe creating a consistent streamlined hull. Paddlers should maintain a straight line up the spine, twisting around this plane, with heads up and all in a row. The optimum degree of lean (forward) is influenced by the paddler. Smaller paddlers may use a dynamic approach where they lean forward a little (10-30 degrees) at the start of the stroke to increase reach and then straighten during the stroke to provide power. Others should focus on a static approach with minimum lean and no forward/backward body movement. Inappropriate lean increases lower back stress and should never be excessive, larger paddlers should always adopt a static style.

Set Up Phase

  • The stroke commences.
  • Maximum reach and twist with the paddle blade just out of the water.
  • Paddle blade perpendicular to canoe hull.
  • Lower hand around 1 hand width from the start of the blade face.
  • Top hand should not be outside the canoe.
  • Bottom arm with minimal bend and locked.
  • Top arm slightly bent and locked.
  • Leading leg (paddle side) extended and firmly planted. Offside leg bent under the seat.
  • Both legs (knees) braced against canoe to lock the paddler in.
  • Straight back, possibly a small forward lean.
  • Head up.
  • Basically, your arms and shoulders should form a “big C”.

Entry Phase

  • Plant the blade cleanly into the water as far forward as you can reach with the tip of the blade at a slight angle to the water.
  • Everyone at the same time.
  • Drop bottom shoulder to move arms down and drive the full blade into the water up to the neck.
  • Strive for a clean entry (no plonking) by maintaining the paddle perpendicular to the canoe and entering the water at the speed (horizontal paddle movement) of the canoe.
  • At this stage, you are not pulling the canoe just getting the blade planted.

Catch Phase

  • This phase commences once the full blade is in the water and can be considered as the preparation for the power phase. It delivers lift to the canoe and minimizes drag on the canoe. Pull the canoe through the water.
  • Start body rotation and apply pressure to the top hand, this moves the canoe forward and creates lift.
  • The paddle shaft moves toward the vertical and becomes fully anchored.

Power Phase

  • The blade is now aligned with the maximum surface area and the canoe is ready to absorb the surge of power. 
  • Pull with power.
  • Drive with the extended leg.
  • Rotate with locked arms.
  • Straighten upper body.
  • Focus on pulling the canoe through the water creating a power surge.

Exit Phase

  • This phase occurs once the blade reaches the mid-thigh to hip. Leaving the blade in the water past this point increases drag.
  • Everyone at the same time.
  • Rotation is complete and the blade is quickly removed from the water by rolling the shoulders to lift the bottom and drop the top hand.
  • Some bend naturally occurs in the bottom arm at this stage.
  • There should be no power applied, focus on getting the blade clear of the water.

Recovery Phase

  • Return the paddle to the Set Up Phase.
  • Relax and recover.
  • Twist top wrist to feather the blade over the water.
  • Rotate back to the setup position, straightening the bottom arm.
  • Keep bottom hand travel parallel and just off the canoe side.

For more information on our courses for outrigger canoeing click here.

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