Edging an open canoe on flat water

One Simple Question?

One simple question was all it took to start an afternoon of exploring paddling techniques.

The question was intended to challenge and stretch my understanding of ‘correct’ paddle technique. Which it did. And I’m still working out the answer.

What was I doing? What was the question?

The actual question I’ll get to later, but this was the first day of a new phase of professional development for me. It was also an opportunity to work with a local coach who I have paddled with before and respect for his calm coaching style, knowledge and professionalism, Matt Haydock (Rapid Development). He is also local (Fort William based) and works with various high profile coaches and organisations.

Those of you who follow Otter Adventures of Facebook (@OtterAdventures) or Instagram (@Otter_Adventures) may recall that I have been accepted onto the Scottish Canoe Association’s Mentor Development Programme for 2019. This means that I will be providing support and development to aspirant coaches and leaders, but in a quite different way to lecturing at college or university.

Link the two together and I get to experience mentoring as a client so that I can use that experience to help others when I mentor them. I also get to spend time focussing upon my own paddling to ensure that I am up-to-date and current in my own beliefs and practices.

I have found that is sometimes hard to let go of what you believe when you learned it 35 years ago. It is not only a physical process but a mental one as well. Times change. Everything moves on and new developments and research inform current thinkings and practices.

Two open canoes on a jetty in the Great Geln
Every journey has to start with a single step. In our case, it started with one simple question and a few paddle strokes around a sheltered part of the Great Glen.

Start of a long journey

Where did we start this journey or mentor/mentee relationship?

In a cafe having breakfast and coffee!

We spent the morning chatting about our backgrounds, experiences and ambitions for our paddling. Sharing these helps both sides decide where the journey is going and whether the ‘relationship’ is likely to work.

During a relaxed morning, we also identified several areas that I wanted to work on in my development. Be that awards, standards or training courses I’d like to aim for in the future. At this early stage, there was no agenda for my development set and no time scale written down. These will all come in due course.

Onto the water

Matt has previously seen me in sea kayaks (at the Cumbrae Sea Kayak Symposium in 2018 and on the Falls of Lora, Oban). For this reason, I suggested that we choose canoes for this initial session and went from there in the future.

With that in mind, and Matt knowing that I wanted to develop open water skills, we headed to a nearby location where there is a calm canal, open water and also reliable moving water. This would give Matt the opportunity to see me in an open canoe in a wide range of environments.

Canoeing in the Great Glen exploring one simple question
Trying to get as much weight forwards as possible involved moving kit bags and also my body as far as I could (without leaving my normal paddling position).
Edging an open canoe on flat water whilst exploring one simple question
One of the keys to success in open canoeing is being able to use ‘edge’ to help achieve a task – even on flat water.

Not all plain sailing!

Matt did say one thing shortly after asking the question that I partly disagreed with. He said that the outcome was possible otherwise he would not have set the task.

Unfortunately, and probably due to my primary school teaching background, I’ve seen too many ‘teachers’ only asking questions they know the answers to. Why can’t we set tasks where the outcome is not known, where there is an opportunity for both parties to explore and discover on a level playing field?

I am guilty of this as well – we all are if we stop and think about what we say.

However, can we phras questions in a way that invites exploration and discovery without making ourselves the

Moving on

With the wind being unreliable on the open water (i.e. it didn’t blow hard enough), we paddled onto the moving water section. This was created by a weir that helps control the levels of water in the Caledonian Canal itself. Thankfully we had experienced rain a few days before and there was a good flow of water to use.

Canoeist looking to cross a moving flow of water
The weir was a place that I felt comfortable paddling even though I had not done so in a canoe for several years and had never paddled here before. Confidence and psychology can be a barrier to the desire to push harder and develop quicker. Thankfully, I felt relaxed and willing to dive straight in…

The concept of where to paddle (in relation to the boat and paddler) continued, but with some difficulty as we identified that my canoe was too stern-heavy. This was causing issues with being able to achieve the task that had been set earlier and to transfer this to open water (no wind) and moving water.

Unfortunately I had to drop back to my existing techniques (see videos below) and put the new developments on hold until I can set my canoe up properly. This will involve a kneeling board, sailing rig and a few other minor tweeks.

Matt’s question?

Is it possible to paddle only with forwards strokes (no ‘twiddly’ bits) on the inside of a (flat-water) turn and still make the canoe turn?

You get in a canoe (or kayak) and explore that question and see what you come up with…

Good luck – I’m going to be working on that until Matt & I meet for my next session in September / October time.

Attempt three (of five) consecutive runs where the focus was on the breakout and turn into the eddy. I had identified a spot where I wanted to end the run. I was also endeavouring to get there without using a cross-deck bow rudder – only body and boat movements.
It turned out that there was a combination of a micro-eddy against the shoreline running the wrong way and the canoe being too long to stretch from the main flow and across two contradicting eddies… So a paddle was needed.

Please feel free to leave any constructive comments and observations you notice in the two videos in the ‘Comments’ section below. Or to share it with other coaches for them to use the videos as a coaching tool.

If you would like your own 1:1 or 1:2 session with me, I have recently launched an exclusive booking option for half-day paddles sport session.

Thanks to Matt for the additional pictures and video (the ones of me).