Flatwater Drills for Whitewater Skills: Power Circles


Even in my most advanced courses like Class IV Creek Week I focus on flatwater drills and skills. Why? Because in flatwater you don’t have the distraction of whitewater and all of the mental stuff that comes with it. This allows you to refine your paddling skills with focus. One of my favorite flatwater warm-up/skills exercises is the power circle. Practicing this drill helps develop boat control, paddling on edge, looking where you want to go while paddling and paddle dexterity. In the more advanced versions of this warm-up you also learn how to refine the bow draw. There are three levels of power circles you can practice depending on your skill level and comfort.

Beginner Power Circles


If you’re a beginner boater or new to power circles then start with this level first. Start by paddling forward with your boat flat (not on edge). Once you have some momentum behind you, edge your boat in the opposite direction of your last paddle stroke (if your last stroke in on your right then edge left). Take a long forward stroke (longer than a normal forward stroke) right beside your kayak on the inside of your turn (this creates forward momentum). Follow this by a shorter stroke on the outside of your turn (spin momentum). Maintain your edge the whole time you’re paddling and keep up this stroke cadence as you look to the inside of your turn (looking where you want to go). Your kayak should be tracing a large circle in the water. Once you’ve completed a circle in one direction you can switch directions and go the other way. I suggest starting from scratch (paddling forward with your boat flat) to go the other direction.

Power Circle with Inside Blade Only

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Once you feel that you can trace a big circle with control using the first level of power circle you can try doing a power circle with the inside blade only. Start your power circle in the same way as the basic circle, but after you initiate your turn use your inside blade only to create both the forward momentum and spin momentum for your circle. This requires a subtle feather to angle your power face just right toward your knee to create spin momentum at the beginning of your stroke without spinning out into a smaller circle. For the first attempts at this exercise take your paddle out of the water at the end of your stroke.

Keeping Your Blade in the Water


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The next phase of this drill is to keep your paddle in the water the whole time. These are the beginnings of figuring out the bow draw. It requires opening up the power face of your blade slightly toward your bow as you bring your paddle back toward the front of your boat (spin momentum) to start your stroke over again (forward momentum). If you practice this and develop proficiency you are well on your way to achieving good paddle dexterity.


Cross Bow Power Circle

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The last phase in the power circle series is the cross bow power circle. This is a fun exercise in flexibility, edge control and paddle dexterity. Start your power circle in the same way as the basic level and then start with a cross bow forward stroke into a cross bow bow draw. These strokes will be short and the circle that you trace with you kayak will be much tighter. It’s a good challenge and will definitely get you warmed up for your river run or playboating session!