How to paddle with fewer strokes


Do you feel like you paddle hard and still miss lines on the river?

The problem may be that you’re paddling too much. Paddling is sometimes overemphasized in instruction causing loss of control and unnecessary energy expenditure.

A few years ago I posted this video of me running one of my favorite rapids:

Both my Creek Week students and folks online expressed surprise at how few strokes I took to run the rapid smoothly.

Embrace the pause to keep your eyes on your goal

As you’re paddling downstream you want to cultivate a relationship with the current so that you feel when you can pause.

In the video above, I can pause because the water is carrying me with enough momentum. That gives me time to keep my eyes on the exact spot I want to put my boat and boof stroke.

Talented paddlers take strokes that are intentional and powerful. They know that the timing of their strokes is just as important as the speed they generate with them.

Boat angle matters

Setting your boat angle, looking where you want to go and maintaining balance in your boat are often more important than paddling hard.

You need enough momentum to travel as fast or faster than the current. That means only a little faster than the current. When you gain too much momentum exiting an eddy, it’s easier to get spun out of control and lose your edge when you hit the downstream current.

I see this happen to my clients all the time, and we work on reducing their momentum and increasing their precision with angle and vision.

How to practice paddling less
  1. Experiment with your speed during your peel outs and ferries.
  2. Take pauses in rapids and focus on your stroke timing.

Take on these practices to paddle smarter, not harder. Bonus, it’ll boost your confidence too!

My annual Class III-IV Creek Week starts next Sunday and I’m stoked to work on this strategy with the participants!

For fun, here’s another POV of me running Boxcar: