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Twist, Anchor, Drive, Relax
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Who wants to paddle smarter?

For an outsider looking in, paddling seems relatively straight forward; you put the paddle in the water, pull back, repeat.  People instinctively think paddling is done with your arms and they have romantic ideas about canoes flowing effortlessly down the stream.  

For paddlers, however, outrigging is hard, it hurts and it can be insanely frustrating.


Here are a few reasons why:
  • Technique is something we are always working on and never master.  Getting your whole body to work together to maximise power takes a high degree of self-awareness and an acceptance that no one paddles perfectly 100% of the time.  Good technique is something must strive towards with every stroke. 
  • Getting six people to work together as a team, hitting the water at the same time, applying power at the same time and exiting at the same time is rare. 
  • Elements of the paddling stroke and stroke rate are never consistent; they are constantly being adjusted in response to the weather conditions and the oceanscape.  For example, paddling into the wind is like riding a bike uphill; you need a higher rate and you are forced to paddle efficiently. 
  • Paddlers come in all shapes and sizes and everyone has their own style!  Some smaller and shorter paddlers try to use a 'dynamic' paddling style (a greater amount of movement) to get reach whereas larger and taller paddlers with naturally better leverage have a more 'static/rigid' style.  Getting 6 people to mirror each other's stroke requires crews to train together regularly.
Good technique will help you avoid injuries, paddle smarter, paddle faster and stop your little muscles from blowing out. So please take the time to read the articles in this newsletter and watch the video links.  
Phases of the Outrigger Stroke
 
Set-Up
  • Constant, but slight, lean forward
  • Comfortable reach
  • Twist at the hip
  • Anchor with feet
  • Brace your knees on the side of the canoe, particularly in rough conditions
  • Top hand stays within eye sight
What to think about: "Twist and shout" don't "rock and roll"

Catch
  • Clean entry (quiet - surprise the water)
  • Load the blade
  • Keep top arm relatively straight
  • Fully bury the blade at this phase (critical)
  • Drop the lower shoulder
  • Paddle should enter the water at a 45 degree angle forward of vertical
What to think about: anchor the blade like it's in cement then move your body to the blade not the blade to you
 
Power
  • Short and intense from the catch
  • Keep the bottom arm straight for as long as possible
  • Hip and leg drive through the heel
  • Must be completed by the time your hand reaches knee/mid thigh
  • Top hand stays within eye sight
  • Keep the blade parallel to the canoe 
  • Keep the blade vertical for as long as possible
What to think about: lock in the core, lock in the arms, drive with your legs
 
Exit
  • Relaxed
  • Keep shoulders low
  • Feather the blade slightly with your top hand
  • Quiet exit
What to think about: just like a golf swing, don't end the stroke abruptly but don't apply power past the hip

Recovery
  • Relaxed
  • Maintain lean forward
  • Top arm does the work, relax your fingers on the bottom hand
  • Feather the blade in a "D"
  • Consistent flow through recovery (no pause at front or back)
  • Keep your blade close to the water but don't clip it 
  •  
What to think about: I love outrigging

Paddling Don'ts
  • Excessive bend in the bottom arm during set-up, catch and power phase
  • Bottom hand too high
  • Pushing top hand forward and down
  • Eyes looking down or out of the canoe
  • Upper elbow hangs too low or is pointing upwards
  • Hunched back and tense shoulders
  • Excessive lean out of the canoe
  • Paddling too wide
  • Lunging and bobbing (common issue with the dynamic style)
  • Maintaining power past the hip and therefore scooping water and dragging boat down 
  • Paddle not fully submerged
  • Clenching the blade 
  • No twist
  • Lack of leg drive
  • Noisy strokes or excessive splashing, plopping
  • "Rooster tail" - flicking water off the blade at the exit
Reminder from the Paddling Clinic!
Paddling Tips From Pete Dorries

- Slow is smooth and smooth is fast.  Don't rush the stroke.

- A good catch starts with a good exit. 

- Put the blade in the water like you are putting a letter in a letter box.

- You only need to think about three things when you are racing, training and/or physically exhausted 1) technique 2) technique 3) technique.

- How you think you look, probably isn't how you actually look!!!  You may think you look smooth and cool, but you probably are tense, stiff and hunched over!  So sit up, relax, smile, breathe and release the tension.

- Sit in the canoe like you are shooting bullets from your derriere!  This will give you a good lean and help with posture and breathing.

- Reach out with both arms like you are trying to touch the paddler in front of you.  If you are paddling on the left, shift your right butt cheek back to create a twist from the hip.  

- Don't reach forward and pull back like a choo-choo train. 

- Don't clench the paddle.  Keep it loose.

- Keep your shoulders down. Power is from your core and lats not your arms.

- Don't over-muscle the stroke.  The paddler who looks effortless is the strongest!  Paddle with efficiency not grunt.

- Changing your stroke to improve technique feels weird, but you will get used to it!  Create muscle memory for good technique.

- Move your body to the blade not the blade to you.

- Have fun!
Paddling Tips From Tony Kimmins

- The catch is the most important part of the stroke.

- Surprise the water with your catch, bury the blade and create a bubble.  Pass that bubble down the side of the canoe as hard and as fast as you can.  At the release/exist, let the bubble keep moving down the canoe so the next paddler can aim to get in front of it.  If you pull back too far or pull up with your bottom hand, the bubble will rise to the top and make the boat feel heavy.  On a nice day without chop, you will see balls on energy coming down the side of the canoe if everyone is doing this effectively.

- When your arms are locked and you engage your core, you have no other option that to twist.  When you twist, you use more muscles and can paddle for longer distances more efficiently.

- Sit square in the boat and don't lean out.  

- The best way to improve your paddling is to strengthen your core.  Without a strong core, you will start to get lower back pain.

- Saying "Hut, Hoe" means, "Ready, Change".  It dictates the stroke rate and helps to keep momentum in the boat.  This has started to disappear from the sport.  Aim to make your last stroke and the first stroke a full stroke.  

- When you start to get tired, just focus on your catch.  The first thing people do when they are tired, is to shorten the stroke.  If you focus on the catch, you will maintain momentum.  

- In a strong headwind, lighten the stroke.  You don't need grunt and the blade doesn't need to be deep. You will lift the boat and create speed.

- Great crews look comfortable.  It takes years and years of paddling to look that good!  When you start paddling, you think 'this is easy'.  Then you learn a bit more about technique and try to work on your twist and you start to feel really awkward.  This is a good sign!  Paddling seems simple, but there is so much to it.  So when you start to feel awkward, it probably means you are starting to get it!

- New paddlers should only focus on one thing...TIMING!  Technique and power will come later.  Just focus on your timing.

- Outrigging is a hobby; it's not an Olympic sport and we are not paid athletes!!  So don't lose sight of the reason we do it.
Technique Diagrams
 
We have added a few images below to illustrate the various stages of the stroke. Diagrams like this are hard to find so if you have found one better...please share!  These diagrams are from "A Paddler's Guide to Outrigger Canoeing" 2007.  The diagram on ENTRY (or set -up) isn't great....as you will see in the videos below, we want you to enter the water where you can fully bury the blade.  We don't want you to over reach.  Nonetheless, the comment on 'clean' entry is spot on!
Johnny Puakea and Danny Ching Paddling Clinic Videos
 
These were uploaded back in 2010 but it's all still very relevant today!  Not the greatest quality but worth watching.
 
Part 1 - Putting the blade in the water (discussion on how to get your blade on a forward angle and buried.  When you bend your arms and use your arm muscles, you no longer have leverage.  Use leverage instead of muscle!)
 
Part 2 - The pull and exit (Efficiency: the more muscles you use and the bigger muscles you use, the better.  Drive up and with your legs and get your whole body to fire together.  It's like pole vaulting! You will kill the boat if you go back too far - the power phase is finished once your elbow gets to your torso)

Part 3 - Rotation (conditioning takes time but better technique will make you move faster immediately!  Use your lats and hips to reach - if you aren't going to use your legs, leave them on the beach!  When you rotate, your hips start to move - roll your weight on the front foot to initiate the drive from the leg)

Part 4 - Breaking your arms (be aware of your top hand - don't let it come forward when you set the blade and move to your power phase.  "Break" (ie bend) your bottom arm when you are done with your power phase - until then it is relatively straight)
A few more perspectives from Danny Ching!
 
Danny Ching is a top outrigger and SUP paddler from California.  Here is a link to one of his coaching clinics Danny Ching at Beachboys. This is where I got my "spear the fish" phrase from!  Also some good tips on how to put your weight on the blade and how to use your legs.
Tips from Sean Monohan - Women's Coach

Sean Monohan coached the women's crew from Waikiki Beach Boys to two Na Wahine O Ke Kai wins.  In this video, Sean shares a few tips on how to get the most out of your paddling technique and identifies what works against the canoe. 
Shell Va'a at Molokai 2015

I have added a few photos below to show you what the world's best looks like!  Heads are up, bodies are rotating, bottom hands are low, blades are deep...what else can you notice?  
Stroke rate and using your gears
 
Larry Cain is a Canadian Olympian who now paddles SUPs.  He has written a blog on adjusting your stroke rate to match the conditions.  While stroke rate is the responsibility of seat 1, everyone in the boat needs to know about the load on your blade and how to adapt your stroke depending on the conditions.  This is where paddling becomes more of an art than a science; you need to read the water and feel the canoe to know when to make your stroke short and quick and when you can lengthen it out.   

Here an an excerpt below.  It's not Gospel, just something you all need to be aware of and think about.  The full article can be found here.
 
Just like mountain bike racers will use different gears for different terrain and conditions, advanced paddlers are able to adjust their connection on any given stroke to find what amounts to different gears. They can grab and hold more water behind their blade thus increasing connection or they can lessen their connection and lighten their stroke.

Given the relationship between connection and stroke rate this means they can paddle reasonably efficiently through a range of stroke rates. In effect they have a wide range of gears they can use (just like the bicycle racer) to optimize their effort at any given point, or for any situation, in a race. While it is true that even advanced paddlers have a favorite gear (mine is slightly on the heavier connection, slower stroke side), their ability to use a variety of gears allows them to be versatile and use the best gear possible for the circumstances they are paddling in. 


Lets take a look at things that affect a good paddler’s decision on what gear/stroke rate to use: 

 
  • Long distance races: Generally speaking, the longer the race the lighter the gear a paddler is going to want to use. Being a guy that prefers a slightly heavier stroke I can tell you that in long races I make a real effort to find a lighter stroke. I just can’t maintain the connection I like most for 2 hour plus races like the Carolina Cup without lightening it a little. This results in a slightly higher stroke rate.
     
  • Sprint races: Short sprint races require a high stroke rate. But the question is how high is optimal? Connection should actually increase in a sprint in order to get maximal power on each stroke. Dynamic body movements can make that big connection feel lighter and thus allow you to use it with a high stroke rate, but it is extremely taxing so you can’t do it for long. Doing all out sprints in practice with a GPS will help you determine just where the balance between connection and stroke rate lies for you in a sprint.

    Furthermore, just like you have to shift through the gears in a car when you accelerate from zero to sixty, you need to go through some gears as you accelerate your board. Your start will need a couple of really connected strokes to get the board moving, then lighter, faster strokes to accelerate it to top speed as quickly as possible followed by a transition into your travelling speed in which you’ll want to find a bit more load on your blade thus slowing your stroke down a little.

    Of course as you train, your capability to both maintain a big connection and keep that connection effective with a faster stroke will improve. Daily use of your GPS will help you monitor this so you’ll be finely tuned to your optimal stroke whenever it is you are racing.

     
  • Headwinds: Headwind paddling generally requires a heavier, more loaded stroke. As such the time the blade spends in the water during each stroke should increase. However headwinds will blow you backwards when your blade is out of the water, so when paddling in strong headwinds you’ll want to try to minimize the time the recovery phase of your stroke takes. This means that stroke rate probably won’t change a lot in a headwind, but the tempo within the stroke cycle itself will need to change somewhat. (Note from Outrigger Caloundra: in outrigging, we prefer a lighter stroke in a strong headwind not a loaded stroke)
     
  • Tailwinds: When paddling in flat water in a tailwind a lighter, and thus faster stroke is generally most efficient.
     
  • Downwind conditions in big water: These are the conditions in which a paddler can really benefit by having a bunch of different gears (connection/stroke rate combinations) at his/her disposal. Good downwinding requires the ability to not only change the load on the blade and stroke rate, but also stroke length and technique as you go from catching waves to riding waves to paddling uphill between waves.
 
"Powerful Beyond Measure"

This is one of our favourite outrigger clip for motivation.  

Life is a game of inches!
Information overload?
 
There is alot of information in this newsletter!!  But hopefully you will look back on this as a resource over time.  Outrigging is a sport for life and remember that everyone is always striving to be a better paddler; no one paddles perfectly 100% of the time.  So try to focus on 1 or 2 things from this newsletter and work on it for the next few weeks.  Then pick something else and work on that.  

We'll break down this special issue into small focus articles in future newsletters to help you digest the information in smaller bites!

Please speak to the coaching team if you want to discuss further and ask questions!!  

Cheers and Paddles Up
  
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