Up: Class V
When approaching difficult drops, and when paddling through them, you want
to paddle hard and fast! Speed, speed, speed, power. Keep that momentum up.
Build your speed before the drop, maintain it through-out. You often only have
a few seconds of good time to build speed before the drop. Here are some of
the ways to build speed successfully in those crucial moments. Get lined up,
then start powering. Read the water and put in paddle strokes in the right
places and the right time, as mentioned in the "Timing" section. It is also
important not to do to many harmful correction strokes while you are trying to
build speed, apply those techniques previously mentioned about "Working up
front". Stick to mostly forward and cross-forward strokes until you get your
momentum. Then after your moving with speed, you can put in a few quick angle
adjusting strokes. A note on the type of paddle strokes to use while building
and maintaining speed....lean slightly forward and stay in this position. Place
the paddle close to the bow, keep the shaft vertical, and end the strokes at
Next, to maintain speed, your line, and your up-right position, match power
with power. What I mean by that is when encountering resistant water features,
rocks, holes, waves etc, put a hard paddle stoke in at the same time that they
encounter your boat. When water or rock offers you resistance by its power, you
match it with your own power. This is really important for keeping control and
Match Power with power.
When punching holes, keep your paddle in the water! As usual, paddle hard, and
time your last stroke to catch the fast water flushing into the hole. Pull
hard, and pull yourself through the hole. Next, place a stroke that reaches
over the boil line as early as possible. This might involve getting the paddle
up high to get it over the boil line fast enough. To sum it up, the stroke in
the green water pouring into the hole, and the stroke past the boil line come
in very quick succession.
Pulling through a hole.
And in general, it's a good thing to always keep your paddle in the water, and
always do a stroke. Stroke in the water, in the air, on rocks, in holes.
You all have heard the reminder that "If you are afraid of it, lean in to it",
well here is something good to remember for encountering large stuff head on,
"If you are afraid of it, stroke through it"!
Boofing is the action of landing the boat flat, or near flat after launching
off of a vertical feature, wether water or rock. Its called a " Boof" because
that's the sound the boat makes when it lands nicely flat. When you don't boof,
and you land straight on the nose of your boat, it makes a sound like "Oops".
Not really. However, good boofs prevent many bad things from happening, like,
pitoning on the rocks below, losing all your precious speed, filling up with
water, getting flipped from the sudden stop of motion, and being pulled back
into a hole at the base of the vertical feature. Here are the three most
important factors for getting a good boof; One, approach the lip with lots of
speed, faster than the speed of the water if you can. Two, lean forward and put
one last hard paddle stroke planted at the lip of the drop. Three, while
pulling on that last stroke, thrust your hips forward, and throw your upper
body back to the stern. But make sure to bring your body back to center upon
landing as to not have your center of gravity be in a bad position. Those are
the three important factors. Now here are a few more things to keep in mind.
That last hard boof stroke will always turn the boat to some degree. So as to
not boof of too sideways, try to calculate that turning affect into your angle
of approach. Its kind of hard to do for a canoer, but if you can turn your boat
slightly to your on-side right before your boof stroke at the lip of the drop,
then you would be the "Master of multi-timing". It's a rare honor given by the
river gods after your death. Furthermore, upon landing, instantly reach beyond
the boil line and pull the boat out of the sticky water at the bottom of the
Sammer styling a boof
Face Your Work
There are some exceptions, like in ferrying, but for the most part, face your
work. Rotate your upper body towards where you want to go and then reach into
that direction to do your strokes. Then bring the boat to your paddle.
Face your work.
Planing can be a useful technique to help prevent the bow of the boat from
getting caught in weird currents, whirlpools or unwanted eddies. To get the
boat planing you need to have speed, and unload the bow. First, you approach
the water feature you want to glide over with good momentum. Right as you
encounter it, do a strong forward stroke, like a boof stroke, kick the hips
forward and lean back as you drive the boat over the undesired feature. The
relative speed of the boat versus the current increases suddenly, which makes
the boat plane. A few very quick strong strokes keeps the boat planing and
drives it over the feature. Here it is crucial to have fast, crisp, short
strokes to keep the momentum up.
Unloading the bow.
Staying On Top Of the Water
It is paramount to stay on top of the water and not get bogged down. This often
means driving the boat in curved lines, crossing the grain of the water, and
riding on top of long high features in the water. This is where reading the
water during a scout really helps. Look for the micro features in the water,
look for the higher water, look for the paths that avoid low areas in the
water, and look for ways to quickly travel through low areas without getting
caught in them. These are the fast lines, the dry lines, and the non-munchy
lines. As soon as your boat is bogged down, or even worse, under water, you
have lost speed and direction, and find yourself fighting the water.
Staying on top is staying alive.
Facing Upstream, From Eddy to Eddy
Friend, mentor, and national slalom canoe champion, Alan Whittern, told me
once "In difficult water you should be spending more time facing upstream
than downstream." Seemed a little strange at first, but in no time . . . it
made complete sense. This is what makes a huge difference between having
control in a rapid, and not. Unfortunately it's typical for a canoer to pick
a good line down the entire rapid . . . and hope for the best. But what too
often happens is, as the boater takes on a little water, or gets thrown off
his line, or finds unexpected features in the rapid, things start to get
exponentially worse fast. Then that boater really starts to hope. This might
work most of the time for class III, and sometimes class IV. But definitely
not class V, and not comfortably in class IV. Besides, even if you can get
away with it in the easier stuff, you want to train to become better.
In advanced water, a canoer always needs to know where he is going, and be
very directive in his paddling. So before you even drop into the rapid, find
your first eddy-out near the top of the rapid, or even right before it. Then
while you're in that eddy, find your next eddy by looking over your shoulder.
And don't leave that eddy until you pick one out. If you cant find one by
looking over your shoulder, and you're in the nar, its time to get out of the
boat and take a look. Pick out the next eddy below it too, a "plan B" eddy,
just in case you miss the first one. I have even gone so far as to pick a plan
"D" eddy when it really mattered. For your first one, pick one out that's not
too far below you, the closer the better. Hopefully its right below the next
little drop. These eddies are typically tight and harder to get into. That's
why you over looked them in the past. But if you look hard, you will see them.
Just focus on your next eddy, then go for it. Then do the same eddy choosing
over your shoulder again, all the way through the entire rapid. That way
you're breaking the rapid up into controlled little steps. You're in control
of the whole situation, you're not being taken for a ride. If something goes
wrong, it won't build-up. Just dive into your chosen eddy, or into the next
eddy down. This is the ultimate way to train for more difficult water, and the
only way to paddle in it. And personally, I find it a lot more fun. But as I
mentioned before, these mid-rapid eddies are generally not easy to get into,
but by practicing all of the previous tips ... you'll become good at it.
Which leads me to my last tip ...
Face upstream, from eddy to eddy.
Constant Practice, three or four times a week
Remember, it is more important to be a master at every move you make, a master
at every paddle stroke you use, a master at keeping your lines, than it is to
push yourself up to the next level with sloppiness.
In addition, muscle memory is probably more important than all the skills you
can learn. If you want to be paddling difficult whitewater confidently, in any
boat, there is just no way around it, paddle at least a few times a week. You
need to trick your body into believing that the boat is an extension of itself,
so that when you're in your boat . . . your hips and torso know what to do
naturally. That way you can use your brain for other things, like all that new
stuff you just learned above!
Practice, Practice, makes you obsessed.
Up: Class V