Current Ideas:
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


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.


Video: Tandem Canoe Eddy Turns – Carving Using MITH

This video is a modern approach to tandem canoe eddy turns. Learn how to carve arcs using MITH into and out of eddy pools, maintain stability, momentum, and the individual roles of bow and stern paddlers.



Exciting and new for 2017!

This year is shaping up to be one of our best. As well as teaching and racing at various locations, we will be starting a series of short whitewater technique videos to help people improve their paddling.  Stay tuned!

Sweet Momentum! Controlling from the Bow or Stern

In white water, maintaining momentum is essential for catching must make eddies. When crossing the grain, say during a ferry, using bow control stokes will drive your canoe across currents and preserve precious momentum. If you’re gliding downstream and planning on eddying out, the river’s provides momentum to counter the friction of steering from the stern. Choosing to steer form the bow or stern will be determined by where you are travelling and the whether you are moving with, or across, the current.

Use Bow Control for Crossing the Grain

Steering from the bow, called Power Steering, relies on adapting your forward and cross-forward stroke so they control your boat angle. The advantage of Power Steering is that your paddle strokes always add to your momentum. The efficiency of using forward strokes means that you don’t wind up fighting the drag caused by friction strokes like stern prys and rudders.

Picture yourself planning and “S” turn across some pretty fast water. Your move begins with your canoe facing upstream and travelling against, then progressively across, the current. Any drag from stern strokes will slow your momentum and possible blow the move. Power Steering, with control coming from the bow, is your best method of building the needed momentum.

Use Stern Control for Going with the Flow

Stern strokes, like prys, rudders and draws, are the traditional steering strokes used by all canoeists. Their strong suite is that they work incredibly well for steering. Anytime you need to turn you canoe in a hurry, the leverage created by these strokes is practically guaranteed to work every time. The down side of these friction strokes is they all slow you down – some more than others. Be warned; use stern control when you have enough momentum to counter the drag of the stroke.

So, when’s the best time to use stern control? Anytime momentum is not a concern for making the move. Imagine you’re cruising down a drop and want to eddy out at the bottom. You’re carrying loads of downstream momentum and facing a whooping 180 degree turn coming at you, fast! The only thing that’s going to make that eddy turn happen is a stern control stroke. Heck, friction is not an issue, your going downhill building momentum as you approach the turn.

Making the Move Every Time

Making your move every time will depend on matching your paddling technique to how you plan on using the current. Your strategy has to account for the momentum gained or lost from both stokes and the river current. Think of bow control as having less friction and higher efficiency, while stern control gives you leverage and security at the cost of friction.


Creeking Rocks!

It’s All About Bouncing in the Right Direction!

Cresting a horizon line recently, the thrill of running a steep creek was heightened seeing that I would be following a path of mostly water – the best part, though, 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 one common trick used on creek runs, but not so much so on deeper rivers. When river running, canoeist who strikes a rock may state “I meant to hit that”. At best it comes off as weak justification for drifting off line. However 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”. In low flow steep creeks rocks often are not to be avoided, rather, they are used to assist boat placement. Some of the best lines use of 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 may also help to stabilize your canoe. Often when 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 and edge. Either way the risk of capsize is increased. Better to cross the seam and hit the rock. By reaching out a hand you can reduce the risk of capsize further by using the rock for stability.

Things to remember while developing your rock hitting skills:

  • Lean and tilt into rocks
  • Consider using your hands to cushion and guide your boat’s path
  • Account for friction after slamming into rocks and prepare to speed up after impact
  • Strike using the front half of your canoe as striking past midships can cause pin wheeling out of control
  • Although not essential, a plastic boat is both the toughest and slipperiest for bouncing off of rocks
  • Elbow pads!


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

Author’s Bio: Andrew Westwood is an open canoe instructor at the Madawaska Kanu Centre, member of Team Esquif and author of The Essential Guide to Canoeing. Article first appeared in