Hitting Rocks – It’s All About Bouncing in the Right Direction

Creeking Rocks!

Hitting Rocks – It’s All About Bouncing in the Right Direction

By: Andrew and Carole Westwood 

Recently, the thrill of running a steep creek was heightened when I crested a horizon line and looked downstream. Though I would be following a path of mostly water, the best part would be bouncing off a series of rocks, which if all went well, would direct me toward my next eddy.

Running steep, low volume rivers draws on both traditional water reading skills and a host of unique tricks designed to take advantage of the many exposed rocks. Using rocks to guide your canoe through rapids is a common trick used on shallow creek runs. Colliding with rocks may be shunned in deeper rivers, but in creeking, doing so is all part of the game.

A pioneer of many first descents of creeks in the Southern U.S., Dave “Psycho” Simpson coined the phrase that went something like, “It ain’t if you hit a rock or not, it’s if you hit the rock and bounce the right way”. Low flow rocks often are not to be avoided, rather, they are used to assist boat placement. Some of the best lines use a mix of channelized water and boulders to descend a steep run. Besides, rocks offer that quick change in direction that no stroke could ever match.

Hitting rocks can also help to stabilize your canoe.  When fast water piles onto boulders it builds a pillow wave with an upstream seam of descending water.  Getting caught here may pull your paddle deep upsetting your balance, or perhaps cause you to catch your edge. Either way the risk of capsize is increased. Better to cross the seam and aim to hit the rock. Then reach out a hand and grab the rock to reduce the risk of capsize.

Things to remember while developing your rock hitting skills:

  • Lean and tilt into rocks
  • Use your hands to cushion and guide your boat’s path
  • Account for friction after slamming into rocks. You may need to to speed up after impact
  • Strike using the front half of your canoe. A hit past midships can spin you out of control
  • Though not essential, a plastic boat is both the toughest and slipperiest for bouncing off of rocks
  • Elbow pads!

Steep, low flow creeky runs often require hitting rocks. Bouncing the right way is key to holding your line and definitely adds to the excitement of your run.

Andrew  and Carole Westwood are Paddle Canada Moving Water Canoe Instructor Trainers. See Westwoodoutdoors.ca for information on paddling instruction, books, articles and videos.

Hold on! For Boat Control



For Boat Control

To control your canoe, I mean to really control it, you need to hold on to it!

When I watch some canoeists in whitewater, I often wonder how hard they’re trying to hold on to their canoe. I see canoes that wobble side to side, bounce and heal over when striking waves and tilt during forward strokes.

These canoes are “loose”. The boat is not being held by the paddler. In fact the paddler looks and behaves like they’re cargo!

If you were to ask anyone how hard they’re holding on to, say, their paddle – they’d say “damn HARD”.

Ask them how hard they are holding their canoe and you may get a puzzled look.

But, rephrase this to “which piece of gear is most vital to getting you down the river?” and canoe and paddle will likely duke it out for top honors.

So, what’s the point?

Holding on to your canoe is just as important as holding on to your paddle.

Are You A Passenger?

Obviously canoes have a spot for you to sit. So, place your derrière in your boat and that’s the end of it right?

Not so fast, a whitewater canoe comes outfitted with a seat or saddle complete with thigh straps, perhaps knee straps, knee pads, and may even have toe pegs and hip blocks.

But, is strapping yourself in all that it takes to get your craft under control?

Loose Hips – Not if You Want Control

You may have heard the phrase for running rapids, “keep your hips loose”. I always thought this allowed the canoe ride up and over waves.

I was incorrect.

Loose actually works against the job at hand. Better to think “loose hips sink ships” as side to side healing doesn’t use the hull to your advantage. You’ll lose all the design features of a hull if you allow it to rock side to side.

Hold Your Canoe Is to Control your Canoe

Sit down, strap yourself in, lock legs. Hold your canoe with the same intensity as you grip your paddle.

Hold your canoe to steady it during forward strokes – it will be more efficient.

Hold your boat to carve – it will track without skidding.

Grip your canoe going through waves – it will be stable.

Hang on to your canoe while surfing – feel the edge cut across a wave face.

Strategize throughout every maneuver. For example, calculate the ideal tilt during a carve so the edge digs into the water to maintain a perfect arc. Create the tilt with your legs and lock them for the duration of the move.

For every move, think how holding you canoe will improve its performance – AND YOURS!

Push Out, Make a Platform

Picture your points of contact; your butt, knees and feet. And, imagine the canoe as capable of rolling side to side and it’s you who controls it.

Begin by pushing out against the hull using the knee pads (hopefully shaped like cups). This creates a wide, stable, and braced posture. Then, tense your calves and quads to lock your legs, and put pressure on your feet. Now you have a wide platform to connect you to the canoe.

Equally tension the legs to hold the canoe flat. Great for straight ahead efficiency and surfing across waves.

For carves or wave blocks, tilt the canoe by coordinating both legs. Lifting one leg against the straps while pushing the other down, tilts the canoe. Lock your legs to freeze this positon and hold it for as long as necessary to complete a maneuver.  

Get a Grip – On Your Canoe

Paddling well, really well, requires that you paddle in control.

Choose a route, plan the moves to get through water features, then hang on, literally, and do it.

Tighten the muscles in your legs against the outfitting and hold the canoe strategically every step of the way. Tilt it on a carve, hold it flat on a straightaway, edge across a wave, wave block a haystack.

Boat control will give you a performance boost so… Hold On

Check out our videos here.

Carole and Andrew Westwood

Paddle Canada Instructors / Instructor Trainers

Esquif Canoe Ambassadors

Contact:        info@westwoodoutdoors.ca

For:                Moving Water Instructional Courses

                        Custom Courses and Clinics

                         Personal Coaching


Solo Canoeing: Stroke Effort – How Much is Too Much?

Solo Canoeing: Stroke Effort – How Much is Too Much?

No other stroke is as versatile, nor as complex, as the forward stroke. Mastery comes with understanding the vast capabilities of this stroke, the subtleties of its use and the hull speed characteristics of your canoe. In this article I’ll discuss how to move forward with just the right amount of effort so you’ll feel less tired and more in control.

When discussing effort, I’m going to express this as a percentage – 100% for maximum effort, 10% for minimal effort etc. Your level of maximum exertion may be different than mine, but most paddlers can only do 100% for one or two strokes – unless they’re an Olympic C1 slalom athlete!

So how hard do you paddle? How hard should you paddle? Spoiler Alert – for myself, the majority of the time I only paddle at about 30% effort. 

90 – 100%: Hip Thrust

I do this effort very rarely. Let’s say you want to get up and go from a tiny eddy pool with little space to accelerate. Using a Hip Thrust forward stroke with 100% effort will break the suction seal around the hull of the canoe and launch it out into current. The high level of effort with this style of forward stroke is appropriate for the task and the limited space to accelerate.  

Though strong, the hip thrust is actually rather slow and only used once or twice. To further accelerate the canoe you’ll need to shift gears to a faster forward stroke. Often a carving stroke (see 0-60%: Carving below) is selected for completing a maneuver.

Note that a short canoe is slower by nature and may only need one hip thrust to get it past first gear. Too many thrusts may cause the boat to bob and can actually limit your speed, and /or cause veering. Longer canoes weigh more, have more resistance and could likely use two, three, maybe more thrust strokes.

60 – 90%: Rotation

I use this range of effort a bit more often, but not a lot. Picture an extended ferry move across fast water without even a surf wave to help. Sustaining 70 or even 80% of your maximum effort for up to a dozen strokes would definitely be a workout, but doable. It consumes a lot of fuel and makes us tired, so use it sparingly saving it for special cases. 

The advantage of rotating the torso and using your strong abdominal muscles to propel the canoe can certainly provide a strength advantage over arm muscles alone. Some may even include a top arm punch to increase mechanical advantage. 

Be aware that using this much power will cause the canoe to veer if it is not set up on a carving arc first. Without the guidance of a bow wave, you will be forced into using corrective stern pry strokes whose friction will significantly drop your efficiency and likely kill the move.

Often overlooked with torso rotation is body size. If your canoe is wide and your arms short, you may find you can’t rotate enough before the canoe interferes with your reach. This restricted reach places the power of the stroke closer to the pivot point of the boat. Shorter paddlers need to be aware that this position will often cause veering, and thus can be a real hindrance to realizing the advantage of rotation.

0 – 60%: Carving 

Ok, 0 – 60% is a big range for sure, but this is where I’ll make a case for paddling at just 30% most of the time. At 30% you won’t get tired, you will have maximum control over your canoe, and you will look as if you are going magically fast for such little effort.

Carving forward strokes rely on arm muscles to move the canoe. Your core and legs are engaged to support your body and hold the boat, but other than that it’s mostly your arms doing the work. 30% represents a comfortable midpoint in your power range. You can add as much as 30% more or take away 30% giving a range of 0 – 60%.

A typical scenario might be starting in an eddy with a couple of boat lengths of runway ahead of you. Then use a carving start and accelerate at about 40% effort. After about a half dozen strokes you should be on a comfortable carve and arcing towards your next destination, or transition point for a new arc. At this point decrease your effort to 30% to allow the bow waves to preserve the arc.

An added benefit of a relaxed stroke rate is you will feel the canoe glide between strokes!

Now if you did need to straighten a little bit, increase your effort in the range of 30 – 60% to push the bow wave into a wider arc. After this brief effort, return to 30% for cruising speed. To tighten the arc, you can reduce your force, or even pause the stroke entirely, letting the canoe glide with 0% effort – pretty sweet!

I paddle at 30% all the time. I only use my smaller arm muscles which saves fuel and effort. My arms articulate all the movements for a carving stroke using the acronym CAPT; Cadence, Angle, Position, Tilt to help control the arcing path of the canoe. (see video:  Carving Using 2X4  )

Effect of the Hull on Speed

Step back and think of the shape of the canoe. It’s perfectly streamlined and super-efficient in the water. Once it’s moving, the canoe only needs a tiny bit of power to keep it cruising at its natural hull speed. And, here is the big take away – unless absolutely necessary, avoid paddling faster than the canoe’s natural hull speed.

Curiously, the hull speed of your canoe may not be as high as you might think. Each boat design is different. If you are constantly trying to push the canoe beyond its hull speed you are working too hard and probably not going much faster for the added effort. 

When a canoe is held at its optimal hull speed the paddler appears to be hardly working at all. Everything is at equilibrium; speed, bow waves, arc and effort. 30% effort is all you likely need. The canoe will feel and appear to be gliding.

Push the canoe too hard and a paddler must overuse correction strokes to reach their target. The “surge forward and drop back” pattern of speeding up with too much speed and slowing with friction strokes disrupts a smooth cruising canoe. It makes paddling look like work, it feels like work, and is just plain tiring.

So, How Much is Enough?

It varies. Although I can paddle hard when I need to, I rarely have to. And, even though I am pretty good at torso rotation, I don’t over use this skill either as it is often overkill for my canoe’s natural hull speed. Carving using easy forward strokes that work in harmony with my canoe’s shape, arcs and bow waves requires paddling at +/- 30% the majority of the time. 

Strategic use of the different types of forward strokes can save you energy, prevent overuse injuries, accommodate smaller paddlers, and best of all, have you paddling effortlessly like the pros!

Check out our videos here.

Carole and Andrew Westwood

Paddle Canada Instructors / Instructor Trainers

Esquif Canoe Ambassadors

Contact:        info@westwoodoutdoors.ca

For:               Moving Water Instructional Courses

                        Custom Courses and Clinics

                         Personal Coaching


Secrets of Great Paddling

Secrets of Great Paddling

How do you define an exceptional paddler? What makes them look so good? Do you think that you can do what they do? 

Well, I think you can, and I’m going to share some of the secrets to becoming a really good canoeist.

And, some of these ideas may surprise you as they’re really easy to do.


Paddling Greats

First, watch video clips of some of your favorite canoeists. A few that I think look really outstanding are Bill Mason, Mark Scriver, Eli Helbert John Kazimierczyk, and also, my wife Carole Westwood. You’ll see something in common – a coordinated union of paddler, canoe and paddle. Everything just fits together. But, why does it look this way?

I think a great canoeist moves with a degree of grace that makes them appear to paddle with remarkable ease. In fact, at times they look to be moving very fast despite their relaxed pace. Second, their strokes appear smooth and in synch with the whole river environment. And finally, the canoe moves as if it’s an extension of the paddler themselves.


Invisible Skills that are Key to Greatness

  1. Hold your boat

This idea is so simple it’s often missed in our attempt to paddle well. Great paddlers actively hold on to their canoe via their feet, knees, legs, hips and back side (or sit upon, butt, etc.) using the outfitting in the boat.

Avoid at all costs just sitting like a passenger in your canoe – instead work to grip it, control it, guide it, but don’t just sit in it. Try to “push” your knees to the chine of the hull and keep them there, to actively hold the canoe.

Holding your canoe will make it stable. Watch out for side to side wobbles, and bow and stern bobbing. These are signs of a loose boat.

Gunnels should appear steady and nearly level when going straight, and held tilted throughout carves. The ends of the canoe should remain flat, not bouncing up and down.

The boat held securely will glide better when held flat, and carve better when held on a tilt.


  1. Paddle a quiet boat

Part literal, part metaphor, paddling a quiet boat is indeed quieter to the ear, but it is also “quieter” to the eye as well.

When a canoe is pushed too fast by your stroke, say during a turn or just to accelerate from rest, you will hear splashing from the paddle and gurgles from the hull. Forcing the canoe into a movement causes unnecessary splashes and aerated water. The aesthetics are visually harsh too. These sounds and visual clues also indicate a loss of energy.

Great paddlers temper their strokes to move the canoe in a way that matches the canoe’s natural rhythm on the water. Think of the story of the “Three Bears” as an analogy, paddle “not too fast, not too slow, paddle just right”.

Knowing how fast your canoe can accelerate or change direction, and not forcing it beyond its designed ability, will improve your efficiency and make you look in tune with your craft. 


  1. Carve with Forward Strokes

Using the forward stroke to carve is easy. Consider that much of white-water paddling uses arcing paths. Because of this I avoid straight ahead paddling in favour of gently arcing when travelling in my solo canoe. But here’s the catch, while I’m on a carve I can steer by adjusting the speed of my forward stroke.

To straighten my route I speed up the forward stroke, likewise to tighten the arc, I slow my stroke down.

Avoiding friction strokes like the stern pry helps keep momentum constant; neither surging ahead, nor braking under the drag of a pry stroke.

Paddlers who use mostly forward strokes look smooth and effortless.


  1. Glide

It goes without saying, canoes are streamlined. So, take advantage of the canoe’s shape and glide more often.

I sometimes see paddlers using too many forward strokes as if they’re stroking to some unheard drum beat. Driving a canoe too hard causes it to veer off course. You can see this when paddlers use frequent correction strokes to bring it back on course. It’s called a correction stroke for a reason – hint hint.

Heighten your awareness of every stroke, place it precisely every time to suit the maneuver. Avoid hitting “autopilot” and just stroking for the heck of it.

Instead, feel the glide of the hull and add power precisely when you need it.


Be a Great Paddler

Incorporating the above ideas will help you become a great looking paddler. Using the canoe and paddle strategically will allow you too, to move in harmony. Just like other great canoeists

Check out our videos here.

Carole and Andrew Westwood

Paddle Canada Instructors / Instructor Trainers

Esquif Canoe Ambassadors

Contact:        info@westwoodoutdoors.ca

For:                Moving Water Instructional Courses

                        Custom Courses and Clinics

                         Personal Coaching


Video on rolling a Solo Canoe

This video describes the solo open canoe roll. It details the steps to the onside roll, modifications needed for the offside roll, plus, it provides some common trouble shooting tips. This version of the canoe roll introduces the concept of “Step and Flipper” as modification to the traditional low brace roll which paddlers have found gets them over the hump of developing a reliable solo canoe roll.
Happy Summer!

New Video! Eddy Turns Using Arcs

We’ve been asked quite often why it looks so easy when we paddle. Andrew’s passion is looking at how experts paddle and translate that into teaching progressions to show others how to paddle the same way – or at least explain what’s happening at that time. Our latest video looks at how you exit and enter eddies based on your planned arc trajectory and the force you need to launch yourself into current to achieve the arcing path. Carving arc shaped paths is the most effective strategy for moving into and out of eddies in a canoe. “Eddy Turns Using Arcs” is the first in a 3 part Eddy Turn series of videos showing the progression of Novice, Intermediate and Advanced eddy turn maneuvers. Stay tuned for the Intermediate level “Eddy Turns Using Wave Troughs” and then Advanced level “Eddy Turns Using SHArc” both coming this winter. Look on the website for additional video resources including “Carving Tandem Eddy Turns Using MITH and for solo canoes “Carving Using 2X4”.

Video: Solo Canoeing – Carving using 2X4

This video is a must for solo open boat control!

This describes a modern approach to solo canoe carving turns used in catching eddies and front ferries. Learn how to carve arcs using 2X4 and acronym C.A.P.T. into and out of eddy pools, maintain momentum, and use bow waves to control your solo canoe.