How To Paddle Fast

I am writing this post to share what I believe what makes paddlers fast and what we (Hawaii) need to focus on to beat Tahiti. I don't believe it is to late for anyone reading this post to become a champion, but it will take hard work and change. Here are a couple points.

1) Technique: There are a lot of different ideas on how to paddle. What is correct, and what are the Tahitians doing? To paddle fast, the power must be in the beginning of the stroke. There is only one power phase and that is when the blade is planted in the water. Many men love to rip the water because they feel it is making them go fast. The truth is that if you are ripping water you are not paddling your most efficient stroke. The best thing to think about paddling correctly is to put the blade in with out a splash. Think that your blade is going into cement. You then are applying power to pull your self past the blade. You are never pulling water to you, you are pulling yourself in the boat past your paddle. This allows you to paddle with the body and get the greatest lift. This also keeps all the power in front because if you don't get the blade out early or you pull to far back then the boat will not get a true glide. Once you make a good stroke and get your blade out of the water then it is about maintaining top speed with least amount of work. I think about spinning a basketball on my finger. To keep the ball going, you are tapping it. If you hold your fingers on the ball to long, then the spin (speed) is lost and the ball falls off your finger. So, to paddle correctly, its about putting the blade in the water cleanly and applying power ONLY in the front and repeating.
Okay, you are probably thinking, " Pat, we all know this." Of course you have heard this, but there are not many people that actually do this. The Tahitians do this. It is naive to believe the Tahitians are going fast just because their stroke rate. If everyone in the 6 man is paddling what I think is "correct," then they will be fast. For crews to pick up the stroke rate and believe they will go faster is dumb. In sprint kayaking, there are two world class 1000 meter kayakers that will make my point. One kayaker paddles at a 100 stroke rate, while the other paddles at a 120 and they both finish the race within a second of each other. They both are putting power in the front and getting it out before their hip. So it is about what works for the individual paddler or the crew. If people in Hawaii train properly then, paddling at a higher rate will come. But, I see Hawaii crews trying to do a high stroke rate, and all they are doing is slapping water and not getting a efficient DISTANCE PER STROKE. A high stroke is not good if you are not moving the boat further then a lower stroke rate would. It comes with feel.
I have watched video of Shell and what they are doing is they all apply the power up front together and move the boat each stroke. When it comes time to go for a bump, they all can bring up the stroke rate efficiently and get on easily. They have the greatest boat speed because they move the boat the greatest distance for each stroke they put in. I am not saying brining up the stroke rate is wrong, but Hawaiians, we need to feel the boat speed for each stroke. Not just bring up the stroke rate and believe we are doing the right thing. Each crew is different, you got to find what works for your crew.

2) Training: You must train properly. There are many different theories but what I believe is that to be a good distance paddler you must also sprint. As endurance athletes, all body systems must be worked from the O2 system to the creatine phosphate system. Don't get me wrong, most work will be done aerobically but all other zones of training will be worked in different proportions. No person can tell me that in a long surf race you are not sprinting at any time. Surfing requires short bursts of power and speed. How are you going to have that power and speed if you don't practice it. Endurance is easy, paddle long and keep it aerobic. What Hawaii is not doing, is learning to sprint. Look at world sprints, the Tahitians spank us because they know how to get the boat up the quickest and with the most speed. Again this comes with feel. To just bring up the stroke rate because you are sprinting is wrong. The crew needs to be paddling together correctly so the stroke rate can rise, and the boat speed will come up. Tahiti does this and that is why they get on any bump on a southern line in Molokai with a bad tide. They have speed to get on anything, and they do it with the least amount of strokes so they can rest and recover down the wave. The Tahitian stroke is the old Hawaiian stroke without the long pull. They twist and use the big muscles. Big muscles = core, not arms. And to change to all double bends is cool, but why are you doing that? If you like it and paddle better with it, good on you, keep on using it. But, if you get one because the Tahitians use them, maybe you should think about it what you are trying to do.

Alright I believe I have said enough for now. If you want to talk or have any questions, call me. I will be happy to talk to anyone about what I believe. I hope this makes some sense and sorry for my poor grammar. I am a kayaker, not a writer.

Submitted by PatDolan on Wed, 10/21/2009 - 8:05am

We do let 7 years old kids paddle at school... no 'ama, lash two canoe hulls together = no huli , pfd = nodrowning , kids on the water = lot of fun. school teachers just don't do it by themselves, they got help from a paddling school.

#71 Mon, 10/26/2009 - 11:01am

Brilliant. Start them young. Show them how to have FUN.

Side note people... Strength, flexibility, and endurance... all of this to back up smart paddling, with good technique.

#72 Mon, 10/26/2009 - 11:27am

This is a great post. One item I would like to ask Pat, or any others willing to share, regards sprinting workouts. You stated that sprinting workouts are key to being an effective endurance paddler due to the frequent bursts needed during races. Could you, or others, be specific in detailing different sprinting work-outs. Mahalo for all the comments and banter!! Great entertainment on a slow day at work!

#73 Mon, 10/26/2009 - 11:38am

he teaches their paddlers is that before anything else is understanding how to utilize the Mana of the ocean to come through their blades and into their bodies and tap that power to move the canoe

manaekahi, I was lucky enough to talk to Gérard Teiva (Shell's coach) once. To me what he said sounded just like what my karate teacher was saying when I was a kid. Talking about energy flow.
Karate teacher : "you must concentrate your energy in your abs and let it flow trough your legs as you kick, letting it reach your foot at the exact time you touch your opponent"
Gérard : "feel the energy comming from your feet on the bottom of the canoe, let it flow trough your legs, your body and your arms and then release everything trough your paddle when it anchors in the water"
It was very interesting, seeing paddling as a martial art.

#74 Mon, 10/26/2009 - 11:57am

my thoughts on sprints are that you use timed sprints, unless you have a measured distance. I use intervals that are no longer than 1:30 on and no longer than 1:00 rest. shorter or longer intervals can and should be used. But this is the time of year where long distances with lower intensity, should be used to build up a base right now.

#75 Mon, 10/26/2009 - 12:28pm


epic thread. i think when you get infected with the need to be in the ocean, then you have a deeper sense of how it will help you to get you to where you want to go. If you paddle, surf, swim or dive a lot then you get the feeling.

I think mana is earnt from doing water-time. How long has the average Primo and Shell paddler been in the water? Long time...

Shell are really comfortable with Ka Iwi now. So they sussed it out. Good for them. Lucky they funded by a rich oil company so they have time and resources to acquire that knowledge. Thats just tough breaks for the rest of us. I'm not bagging any opportunity to be funded to do what you love. Wish I was funded to paddle!

Obviously Shell (and Tahitians) know the most vital thing to protect is knowledge. Knowledge of water, knowledge of making the canoe go fast, knowledge of courses, knowledge of vaa construction, knowledge of fitness and training.

I am not really in favour of promoting other canoe sport regimes above others - there is stuff to learn from k1, c1, v1, oc1, v3, v6 and twin hull v8's.

The main thing I have taken out of this thread is that if you don't do the time training, studying how you effect the ocean or learning how to travel with the ocean then you might forever feel like your paddling upcurrent - against the natural flow of things.

If teams are really serious about competing in Hawaiki Nui then the financial outlook is that they are going to need a lot of money and a lot of time to train there. Right now every team in tahiti is breaking down their strategy, going over waters, preparing for the mission for hawaiki nui. Thats going to be added to the years of knowledge they already have....

Props to Aaron Creps, i thought his thoughts were solid, some of it was brushed off unfairly.

#76 Mon, 10/26/2009 - 12:34pm

Regarding sprints, well the answer to that are suicides. Almost all sports do them, but I can't figure out an effective way to do them in a one-man or 6-man. Any ideas?

#77 Mon, 10/26/2009 - 12:45pm

I think the easiest and most effective way to do that is to have someone keep time and/or distance for you so you're not having to constantly look at the watch, which would take away from maximal exertion. Race against teammates/training partners/personal After each time or distance, come to a complete stop before taking off again with little to no rest.

For distance, you could do a ladder:
100m, 200m, 400m, 800m, 400m, 200m, 100m
The distances are short enough to illicit the explosiveness intensity of a suicides drill and induce cardiovascular demand

Time would be likewise.

#78 Mon, 10/26/2009 - 1:05pm

The first ten strokes you make are going to be more beneficial to the explosiveness of your paddling, and if you start going into longer sprints your not training on explosiveness more than higher intensity paddling. If your training to have a higher top speed or faster acceleration than you work on your first 15- 30 seconds. The thing with endurance ocean paddling is you are paddling 8- 30+ mile races, hopefully with bump, and its constant acceleration. Pulling yourself and or a six man into a bump as fast as you can.

The shorter sprints will work on increasing your speed, the longer sprints with allow you to maintain that speed. longer paddles will work on the endurance, and there is no substitute for having a base, lots of miles under your belt.

Again you have to do all this while in control of your stroke.

#79 Mon, 10/26/2009 - 3:40pm

Great post "Manaekahi". All throughout Polynesia "mana" is the word and practice that remains consistent with all Kanaka Maoli. Maybe that's why Shell prefers paddlers with Tahitian ancestry to be part of their crew due to their intimate understanding and application of "mana".

Your post reminded me to be grounded, mahalo.


#80 Mon, 10/26/2009 - 6:46pm

First of all we need to stop saying the Tahitians are laughing at us. Are they? Do we laugh at anyone we beat? I don't. Outrigger paddling is so much more than who is beating who. Yes we all want to win but deep down it's about doing our best and sharing the Aloha with others. That's why our sport is soooo special. If others have no Aloha and beat us who needs them? If we beat other and have no Aloha who needs us?

Let's figure out how to beat the Tahitians so that they in turn figure out how to beat us again an the cycle continues.


#81 Thu, 10/29/2009 - 10:36am

kumunalu: Great comment. I agree 100%.

#82 Thu, 10/29/2009 - 9:48am

For one last comment on an upwind race in the cold, I refer the forum to Joe Glickman's "The Gods Must Be Freezing" at

#83 Thu, 10/29/2009 - 10:35am

Just curious yankee, what does this have to do with this thread?? Perhaps you should have started a new thread. Seems really out of place, but for the fact that Pat participated. No worries, I was only curious.

#84 Thu, 10/29/2009 - 11:37am

Aloha cut2above ... Have you explored the flatwater Olympic kayak option for your child? Hawaii Canoe & Kayak Team will accept middle-school aged paddlers. Learning to balance and power a K1 will make paddling on a surf ski (the boats used in the ILH races) a piece of cake. It's a small club (at the moment) and the coaching is great. My 17-year-old daughter learned a lot from it. There are even programs in the summer for paddlers to attend Olympic development camps. K-1 paddling is practically invisible in Hawaii, but many of local paddling community's top athletes have embraced it at some point and it took them to national teams, international competition and the Olympic Games. It's definitely worth a test drive.

#85 Thu, 10/29/2009 - 2:45pm

I second that mikegordon about k-1. The two problems I see are availability of k-1s and lack of flat water areas to paddle. Perhaps the resurrection of the Puakea Hawk might be the affordable answer to supplying these scarce boats? On Oahu, the filthy Ala Wai, Kawainui stream, Wahiawa reservoir, MCBH, Hawaii Kai, and behind Kahana Bay are probably suitable for K-1 paddling. On Maui, there's some secret reservoir? On the Big Island, perhaps the lagoons of Hilo? On Kauai, perhaps Wailua River if not for the big boat wakes? Frankly, I thought the Tahitians were good because they learned all the advance training methods from the French Olympic K-1, K-2 and K-4 Team that trained there?

#86 Thu, 10/29/2009 - 7:32pm


Frankly, I thought the Tahitians were good because they learned all the advance training methods from the French Olympic K-1, K-2 and K-4 Team that trained there?

The Tahitian's already have specialised advanced Va'a knowledge. There might be some elements of French Olympic K1 training programme that have transferred, but I don't think it's any serious competitive advantage, in fact it might even be a hinderance - you've got two different canoes with different skill sets (rudderless), different waterform, different distances and mana. Also as a support to the strength of Va'a and outrigger, I am sure that some of the top outrigger paddlers have stuff to teach any Olympic regime, French or otherwise.

#87 Fri, 10/30/2009 - 8:43am

What a lot of you guys don't realize, is that the Tahitians were ALWAYS bad a$$....period. They didn't just become good the past few years. As far as just being paddlers, they were always better than Hawaii. I am old enough to remember clearly that day in Hilo, at the state regatta, in the 70's when a bunch of tahitians jumped in the canoe in Hilo and absolutely destroyed Hawaii crews at the regatta. For me, that changed my impressions of paddling forever. That was the most awesome thing I ever saw!!

The tahitians problems back then was that they were still paddling in the lagoons. With the exception of when the race ran from Kaunakakai Wharf, I think 1978, they would struggle a bit in the channel, but they were always competitive...always. Maire Nui comes to mind. I say this because I can still remember the Steinlarger sprints Walt Guild put on right after one of the channel races. FFPP, one of the tahitian crews in the channel race which finished in the top 10, stayed over and their paddlers paddled in the sprints. They KILLED the one man and the 3 man. When TC steered FAAA to victories, I knew that it would be just a matter of time.

Then, Hawaiiki Nui was born. This race got the tahitians out of the lagoons and into the open ocean. Now, they start developing better open ocean paddling skills (catching bumps), steering skills, and by learning from the Hawaiian's, they developed their paddler changing stills. What's happening now is the result of them mastering those skills. But, just strickly paddling, up and up, one on one, Tahitian vs Hawaiian, no question man for man they are better. They have always been better.


#88 Fri, 10/30/2009 - 10:09am

ToKo2, note identify of thread initiator and then subject matter of first photo in thread. Both connect, though remotely. All tie back to dedicated paddlers.

#89 Fri, 10/30/2009 - 12:41pm

So many things I wanna say about jaws post but just better not.

#90 Fri, 10/30/2009 - 2:02pm

The Kaunakakai year was 1976. Outrigger won in 1975 and 1977. It took a while for Tahiti to regroup while Blazing Paddles, Offshore, Lanikai, and Outrigger were winning. When Tahiti came back they became a factor, but not every year until recently! When Austrailia won a few times it was with surfski paddlers, and when the Illinois Brigade won in 1985 it was with primarily marthon canoe paddlers. The bottom line is developing the best paddlers from surfskis, OC1s , or vaa and having them pay their dues in an OC6 will produce the results.

#91 Fri, 10/30/2009 - 8:45pm

Morning Guys, thought I'd throw in a few lines(alot of lines) before I get ready for the last ILH kayak race of the season. Koa, Mike thanx for the great info. My son will be doing his last exhibition race today and next year will be a freshman which will make him a legal competitor. Koa your reference to K1's and how they were introduced to the tahitians brought to mind the importance of how balance and symmetry are very important and often overlooked. I have never paddled in one ,probably cause i can't fit in it. Too Large, built like my mother!. My son was trying one out after the races and found out how difficult it is to balance it. It seems that the ladies wether us men like it or not seem to have better balance than us. Must be the hips. Anyway, the balance and symmetry that I refer to is how a boat rides in the water and how the paddler contributes to this. In kayaking . the way a person paddles definately affects how the boat will run. The difference between the novices and the more experienced is very noticable. Where a novices boat will rock or list to one side, the more experienced will not. Even the least trained eye can see that something is not right. So whats the fix, something I will call symmetrical paddling , trying to even out the power of each stroke on either side. We all know that we as paddlers have a dominate side and can't wait to get there because we feel more comfortable. We tend to leg or horse that side because we feel stronger over there. We may need to back off on the power so as to keep the boat from pulling to one side. Sometimes when we power up we lose the technique.alot of motocross riders will actually slow down in a turn to go faster. So what am I saying, I like to think of it this way, if my steersman could paddle more instead of steering" I like the odds". Five against six,"not good. Six against five "way better"
As I log off to get ready for a great day down at the Ala Wai, I read some of the last threads in this great discussion of ours on the tahitians and different training methods and what to do. I thought of a paddler out there who in his own right is and always will be a legend ,though he may not want to be. I met him once as a young man starting out paddling. He has done all this and he has done all that. He will probably be watching todays Pa'a race and tomorrows C/G race. Sword Murakami used to say this about him and his team, "they was cracking the tops and you guy's was still in the turn". Marshall Rosa and Outriggers Open Fours
"Water cures all" "Big Boys, Kick and Glide"

#92 Sat, 10/31/2009 - 6:32am

What are some got tips to practice to get the power up front. Just tap and release.

#93 Mon, 11/09/2009 - 11:07am

Many paddlers tend to rush the front of the stroke, so the power comes in past the point of maximum potential. A good way to get out of this habit is to practice pausing the stroke for a couple of seconds before the entry. In those couple of seconds think about three things - have you achieved good rotation, aim at a good clean entry and apply power on entry. The pause stroke is also good training in a crew as it helps with even timing of power and concentration.

This has been an interesting thread. Many good points about technique. For those of us that have been to Tahiti you can't help but be awed and even envy the way va'a is just so visible, everywhere. The Tahitians have a huge advantage simply with the numbers of paddlers they have, and the incredible resources - including great coaching and administration. But more than that, va'a is part of the culture. Some may call it mana, but when you have that magical connection between mind, body, paddle, canoe and the ocean, with an ancient and unique history in which the canoe is intrinsic, all acting together to one, then it is simply what it is - natural.

That's hard to emulate elsewhere, but attempting to try is not the way. Sure, learn, but in the end there is more tahn one way to paddle. We need to identify and work on our own competitive advantages, work hard, but above all else, be confident.

#94 Mon, 11/09/2009 - 10:57pm

Pat. Excellent post. Do your comments about paddling faster but effectively apply directly to the OC1 as well or does that become more of a combination of factors? If you could comment about the OC1 paddle size/length, stroke rate in relatively flat water over a long distance and any other tips I would be very appreciative..

#95 Wed, 11/11/2009 - 11:25am

Paddling since 1977, still living through the evolution of canoe paddling. The idea of planting your blade in cement and spinning the basketball were taught back then. We used the analogy of the canoe sitting in mud. How then are you going to move the canoe foward while sitting in it? Basic theory, 1- plant your blade deep into the mud. 2- pull yourself to your blade to slide the canoe foward. Of course, the rest is all science...using the correct mucles, body posture, blade angle, etc.
Coaching for a long time and it puzzles me why more coaches do not focus on teaching the so called technique. To much emphasis on getting in shape. This is especially true to coaches who coach open either know how to paddle or you don't. Wrong already! How you suppose to blend?

#96 Sun, 12/05/2010 - 7:03pm

Wow, just read Pat's initial post just can't be said any better than that, especially w/ regards to the trends involving stroke count etc.

#97 Tue, 12/07/2010 - 7:37am

Excellent thread Pat. This needs to be brought to the fore front of our sport if Hawaii,or ayone else , is to be successful. If my daughter were 12, I would sign her up at HCKT and watch her develope funamentals in a formal setting.With great coaching and a FUN atmosphere. And, as she grows with HCKT, have her play with the V-1, gain experience there, have her apply the funamentals of K-1 to the V-1, and turn her loose in the HVA.
The Olympic program is suffering. Less money for develpment and support..Our problem here in the U.S. is that our country rewards "stick and ball sports". Paddling is a secondary sport here in the U.S. But, not in Tahiti.They have national support: All of Tahiti. Therefore,since our sports are not considered a "first level" sport, I think, less attraction to The U.S.Olympic K & C team.Hence, less funding. We all know how hard it is to chase down sposorship!! My humble opinion. And, yes 123, HCKT can provide an avenue to continued education and possibilities of scholarships..Also, look at the outstanding athletes that have come out of the Hawaii program over the years since it's arrival in Hawaii. We here in Hawaii, as do the Tahitians, have a deep ocean centered athletic pool.
The Tahitians: are the fastest outrigger paddlers in V-1 and OC-6 in the world at this moment. but, they've taken their share of beat downs. As have the Hawaiians... It's all cyclical. That's what makes the sport evolve. Straight shafts, single bends, double bends, T-tops,etc...It's a matter of time.
This is why we need the USOC&K program, HCKT, and HVA.They all serve a critical purpose. It's just not enough to read up on periodization theory without the proper technique application. A formal program...Some people are just spinning their wheels and trying to, as Sean stated, "buying the next new gadgit" (para phrase), and thnking that's what is making , or makes, them faster. HCKT has certified coaches that know how to coach and what to look for. Now, there are alot of coaches out there that have done the " hard yards" to get where they are. But, I think you'll find simularities in coaching with alot of the great coaches. in fact, some of those great coaches are products of said HCKT.
V-1, K-1, OC-1, are all great tools for fundamental technique application AND conditioning. BUT If you want to be fast in the OC-6. You need to spend time in the OC-6 doing blending, figuring out when to push and when to rest, and where your pain threshold tolerances are as a unit. Placement of paddlers within the crew all needs to be worked out with time in the boat.

#98 Tue, 12/07/2010 - 5:16pm

Im from Canada and am of Native hereatage. and the way we were brought up was when you get to practice the first thing you do is say hello to the water. Im not sure if thats Mana but it defenetly help's

#99 Tue, 12/07/2010 - 5:59pm

Hire Teiva as coach.

#100 Sat, 03/07/2015 - 11:02am

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