Steering: A question of balance

This post is for paddles are predominately steer. How do you maintain balance in your body and insure that your basic paddling skills are practiced?

This spring and summer I practiced with our crews, and a few others that lacked a steer, for the World Sprints. I steered almost exclusively from March until August. My coach said I needed to put in my own time, extra, to keep up my paddling skills by getting out in the OC1. But we practiced 5 days a week and I was too exhausted to add more time on the water in the OC1.

My Pilates instructor commented that my back muscles were obviously developed in an unbalanced way, one side being much more muscular than the other. This concerned me and I yearned for time on the water paddling evenly on both sides of the boat. The steering for sprints involved much left sided work as we honed our turns around the flags.

A few weeks after we returned from Calgary Va' Sprints, my left subscapular muscle, the one under the shoulder blade went into spasm and I was on the sidelines for three weeks while physio appointments, Ibuprofen and heat worked their magic.

Our senior masters women's team has decided to train for distance next year and specifically focus on racing the Queen Lili'uokalani in August 2013. The team has asked me to be their steer. I am not sure what to do. I don't want to become a one sided paddler and I don't want to be injured due to excessive steering and I do want the joy of just paddling.

I look forward to feedback, advice and comments from other steerspeople.

Submitted by ho'okele on Sat, 10/06/2012 - 5:43am

A bunch of steersman that I know actually spend a lot of time on surfskis as their means of cross training. You have to maintain a good center of balance in a surfski versus having the ama on an OC1 as a crutch.

I believe that SUP will also help out the balance issue.

#1 Sat, 10/06/2012 - 6:08am

Sorry to say, but Hawaii does not have a Queen "Lilly" race. Kai Opua does host the Queen Lili'uokalani race, the worlds largest long distance outrigger canoe race. :)

#2 Sat, 10/06/2012 - 10:22am

My daughter is a steerswoman almost exclusively. When her crewand pulls crates, tires or noodles for extra resistance she is allowed to paddle and someone else learns to steer when the canoe is less likely to "run away".
She also paddles surfski to balance herself.

#3 Sat, 10/06/2012 - 11:05am

missjacque, I meant no disrespect. Queen Lili'uokanlani race, indeed!

Humm, so surfski seems to be one training tool used by steerspeople to keep their muscles balanced.....I don't know much about that sport... will do some research.

My shoulder injury, according to my physiotherapist, was due to a cumulative overload of the muscles on the left side. I find that I correct and paddle much more on the left than the right when I steer. And of course in sprint turns, its always an ama side turn so lots of cranking with the steering blade on the left. Maybe I should join a dragon boat team and get a seat on the right side of the boat - LOL!

#4 Sat, 10/06/2012 - 12:33pm

ho'okele, sounds like you're favoring the left (ama side) to avoid huli & protect the ama. This role is the responsibility of everyone in the crew (particularly seat 5 - 'keeper of the ama'). Let the crew do their job - paddle & stay upright - and you concentrate on keeping the boat straight & catching bumps. Having said that, you also need to be wary of the conditions & keep the canoe in a safe position but not to your physical detriment. Try not to favor one side over the other - steer & paddle on both sides.

#5 Sat, 10/06/2012 - 5:24pm

Balance not only your muscles, the steersman for my 40 masters crew, told me that power balance of the crew is something he pays a lot of attention to, for make his job a little less hard.

If your canoe pulls to one side or the other you'll tend to spend a lot of time paddling on one side of the canoe. The rig setup is something else. He also told me something I never really thought about but makes total sense, in surf he hangs the right side a lot, "if your gonna huli it's gonna happen when the steersman is paddling on the left side, as there is no way to counter it."

He is one the best steersman I have had the pleasure of paddling with, so I'll take his word. Surf ski, v-1, oc1 are all beneficial, you can't be afraid to huli, so getting over the ama is crucial to being a good steersman. Don't know if any of this helps, just my mana'o.

#6 Sun, 10/07/2012 - 8:04am

Hasto and Fluidepaddler, I really appreciate your comments and suggestions. I am encouraged by the idea of allowing the crew to bring more balance to the boat itself and me spending more time on both sides, steering as well as paddling.

Being a rather inexperienced crew, we are just learning to put together the variables that will make us faster and more connected in our boat.

From what others are saying it, it will also be important to train in a solo craft, be it OC1 or surfski, to keep the basic paddling skills honed and the muscles working well together.

#7 Mon, 10/08/2012 - 4:11pm

Your last post gave it away. Newbie steersmen often build a bad habit of leaning to the left or always paddling too much on the left. You are probably doing more harm than good by being on the left side so much cause you're pressing your ama down in the water and causing more drag. I would have a few practices where you paddle on the right as much as possible. You may or may not want to tell your crew members what you are doing cause if they are scared of the huli then they'll overcompensate on the left cause they know you are on the right. I would talk about it with your crew and let them know your strategy. Hopefully they will notice the ama lighter and see the canoe move better. Your right side paddling will offer you more more fresh muscle for your race. You have to give your left side a break. Maybe in the beginning of this new strategy the boat will perform worse, but once you girls improve this aspect of your race you will see hull speed improve. Sometimes you need to take a couple steps back if you want to get ahead.

Surfski will not help you out nearly as much as a one man would right now. Actually a surfski would do nothing for you right now and it won't help your muscle balance since your are forced to use each side equal amount of time. I've got a few more reasons why you shouldn't do ski, if you must know just ask.

I know of a certain star steersmen that tries to always paddle or have his weight on the right side when 1,3,5 are on the left side.

#8 Mon, 10/08/2012 - 8:56pm

As some of the above have mentioned, creating that balance is up to you and your crew. And it is a huge factor in your overall hull speed too. With 5 days a week of practice, everyone should learn to steer, this will make them better paddlers. Also in 5 practices your crew could learn to hip check/brace stroke and fly their AMA, so that you can paddle on whichever side you'd like ;) the lightness in the canoe once the fear of huliing is gone is so much fun your ama will just skip across the water.

#9 Tue, 10/09/2012 - 2:05pm

Healthyearth and honeylulu4, I really appreciate your comments and suggestions. You are so right to suggest that I have been overcompensating in my efforts to protect the ama. I never thought about the extra drag this could cause. I'm glad you pointed this out to me and have encouraged me to paddle equally on both sides - I will most definitely be working towards that now that I am aware of this need.

healthyearth, I will be focusing my solo paddling on OC1 as I am not that interested in paddling something different from outrigger given that outrigger is my primary sport. I have already found OC1 offers me much direct feedback in terms of my stroke efficiency and my physical strengths from side to side. Surfski would seem to be a whole new sport, as far as I can tell from my research, with a whole new set of paddling skills. I think I have my hands full already with just outrigger paddling!

#10 Wed, 10/10/2012 - 8:30am

I'm also a newbie steer and there's definitely a noticeable drag if there's more paddler on the ama side. If you bring a GPS watch with you, you will notice the speed drop.

I feel that the job of seat 6 will be much more easier and seat 6 will have much more paddling time if seat 5 knows how and when to help out with steering. I think tracking the canoe straight is kind of a whole team effort (maybe excluding seat 3,4) instead of just seat 6.

I've been trying to paddle more and minimizing the poking but it's definitely taxing especially when using the 45 degree draw strokes.

#11 Wed, 10/10/2012 - 9:26am

Funny how you can tell from the responses who steers and who doesn't.

One of the hardest things about being a steersman is staying in good paddling shape while having to steer practices all the time. The general advice of "spend time in a one man" is good and is the usual response, but yeah... the time commitment gets tough. What I tended to do was try and get out at least one time a week extra in the one man, while also not steering all practice every practice. It's good to get other folks better at steering, plus you get some paddle time. I'd always try and work it so that for part of practice I'd be in 5 and someone else would steer.

The other super hard thing about steering that folks don't talk about is injury prevention (muscular balance is part of this). Steering is definitely not good on the body unless you're steering on lakes and shit. I never have found an ideal way to manage this, but the best approach I've come up with is as follows:
1 - work super hard in the off-season. I was training at least 3 days a week in the gym focusing on muscular balance, stabilizing muscles and core stability.
2 - stretch. Seriously. A lot. I tried to do active stretching for at least 20 minutes before practice and static stretching for at least 20 minutes after practice. I'd also stretch the morning after practice.
3 - ice. Even if it's just "a little tweaked" you're going to want to ice it. I bought some of those big cold pack wraps. Those little tweaks start getting worse otherwise and before you know it your compensating and then shit goes pear shaped.
4 - rest. Avoiding over-training if you're a steersman is really hard. Make sure you get enough rest.

It's tough.
There is nothing like steering all season, busting your ass, having bruises and strained ligaments and sciatic pain and shoulder issues... and then going to time trial and getting your ass kicked because you've not been able to get all the paddling training in.
And you've seen the way old steersman get up after sitting for a while, yeah? Hard on the body man.

#12 Wed, 10/10/2012 - 9:49am

Funny thing about surfskis is that one of Hawaii's greatest watermen and steersman rarely, if ever, paddled a one-man. If he wasn't surfing bumps on his surfski, he was mostly in the Ala Wai paddling an Olympic K-1. Now that's balancing symmetries.

#13 Wed, 10/10/2012 - 10:26am

I am only responding back to protect my repution for always being correct.
I think your post was directed toward me. My advice was directed only toward her and her situation as described when considering her goals and her time horizon. I started surfski 2 years ago, I have a really good idea what happens to an individuall when taking on this task of learning the ski.

I know that sufski can help one become a better paddler in certain situations.

#14 Wed, 10/10/2012 - 11:10am

malachi, you are taking the words right out of my head and typing them here....especially the part about steering all season and then getting left behind in the time trials because you haven't had the time to maintain and improve the skills and fitness needed to paddle.

I like the challenge, much of it mental, of becoming a good steersperson and understand that time on the water in seat 6 is the best teacher. However I resent being shackled to that seat as other paddlers shun the opportunities to steer, in fact, state outright, "I'm never going to steer!" I also often feel under appreciated as the crew blasts away at a good practice while I do my darnest to keep the boat running smoothly and efficiently.

I value the community here, the insights offered by more experienced paddlers and the encouragement by folks who have paddled the route ahead of me.


#15 Wed, 10/10/2012 - 11:50am

I'm surprised noone has mentioned training in a V1 to help practice steering more smoothly in addition to regular paddling

#16 Wed, 10/10/2012 - 1:10pm


Its the best seat in the house." your controlling everything, seeing everything," and if you take little brakes to eat a sandwich or something, no one will see it. I had back problems for 30 years and finally got the right tests done and they said I had osteoarthritis and got pills that fixed it. I must have seen 50 different doctors. Ive been paddling since 79. with a bad back at times.

less poking is less drag, also less dead weight. so if possible pull as much as you can. and poke as little as possible.

study and experiment with different ways to poked 2 hands or one hand. if you look at it 2 hands is more stable. reaching under the canoe more and less. straight down or a little back wards. think of it as a rudder on a OC1 the right angle can make a difference in the turn . when it grabs you will know.

Straight line is the fasts. So if its getting away poke hard.

study currents, tides, surfing, "Be water my friend".

Your bow man is your best friend out there. Delegate your crew with encouragement and a iron fist. At right times if needed, only when needed. also know your paddlers.

bla, bla, bla, sorry I'm rambling.

#17 Wed, 10/10/2012 - 1:41pm

You are from North Van, mulus?! You have loads and loads of experience, bad back and all. You have eaten many a sandwich back in the king of all seats while not poking often and coaxing the most out of your crew. I need you, mulus, as my steering mentor! I can offer to buy you a sandwich, on land this time, or even a bowl of soup, so we can talk steering more and I may be able to convince you to share a few gems of your steering wealth with me!

I paddle with FCRCC senior masters and live in the West End. The rainy season is coming...time to tell the tales of the high seas while warm and dry inside....

#18 Wed, 10/10/2012 - 2:10pm

Sorry healthy, it was for hookele. Because you don't have to paddle a surfski with a wing paddle. A short single blade canoe paddle will do just fine. Even better w/o the rudder. Go try and see how it goes in the chop? Lots of fun? But no can beat the 6-man for learn all the skills, especially on a glassy windless flat day when you can take it out all by yourself and practice paddle steering going forward, backwards and turning. Remember to stay close to shore, because when the wind picks up, unexpectedly, at least you can call somebody for swim out for help you paddle back to shore.

#19 Wed, 10/10/2012 - 2:10pm

Take some tips from the most experience oc6 steersman eva, Nappy. I'm sure if you watch Nappy steering in this video you will pick up a few things like "setting the paddle" and "progressive poking".

Actually it's quite a fun video, i was sitting seat 1 and Nappy copped a hit from behind (can't see it in the video) which put him on course for the rocks, i did an emergency steer from seat 1 and Nappy come up after race and said ""Rambo thanks, you saved my ass"" ...haha. Well that's my claim to fame anyway. Have fun.


#20 Wed, 10/10/2012 - 4:35pm

Rambo thanks for that link! It's great that you were able to set up a camera behind Nappy. Its not often that I've seen videos showing the steersperson so clearly. He certainly makes the steering look almost effortless!

#21 Wed, 10/10/2012 - 7:21pm


I'd forgotten about that great video. thanks for the reminder that it's out there.

#22 Wed, 10/10/2012 - 8:39pm

Notice how cool, calm and easy going Nappy was in the video? Take everything in stride and no let things bother you. It's all part of the race. To this day, I can still hear his voice saying: "hit...hit...hit..."
Mahalo Rambo

#23 Thu, 10/11/2012 - 11:48am

Unfortunately not everyone is like that Koa, when you see Nappy scratch his head another steerer had just abused Nappy with some very disrespectful choice words ( you can hear it on the original video but I cut the audio) I had a nice little talk later after the race to that other steerer. Such is Nappy's cool, when I mentioned it later to him, Nappy just smiled and said" no matter Rambo, it's his problem"

#24 Thu, 10/11/2012 - 12:27pm

Yes-sir-ree Rambo,

Main thing: Aloha Spirit prevails. If no more in the canoe, time for jump out!

#25 Fri, 10/12/2012 - 9:55am

Thanks ho'okele
I didn't realize you were from the creek great paddlers over there. and great coaches too. my oldest daughter was teaching me( go figure) core muscles and ball work in a gym and that really helps . but now the only reason I paddle is just to be out there. on the water. less for the competition aspect. it always bewilders me how little people show an interest in being out on the water, there missing so much.

Great video Rambo. of Nappy the legend. man what a tight race . Id be afraid of bottoming out. I maneged to get a picture of him this summer with my two youngest kids. I wish we had time to talk with him . he was just getting called on stage. at a race. good times.

#26 Fri, 10/12/2012 - 10:52am

Hey Mulus, so you were at World Sprints too? "less for competition" were just there to watch or you competed....?!

I saw Nappy there too and a few of my paddling pals were chatting with him...unfortunately, my newness to the sport and ignorance of some of its icons caused me to miss a chance to listen in and maybe even meet this amazing paddler and steersman...hopefully there will be a 'next time'!

Rambo, in the clips that you included in the video showing Nappy steering, it seems that he didn't throw in that many paddle strokes...relatively speaking. Was that because you just choose to show segments that highlighted the technical steering sections? Or did those clips represent a lot of the race, in which case, perhaps his best technique was to let the boat move unimpeded by unnecessary correction strokes, which also meant just poking as needed without the added complexity of adding paddle strokes.
Kind of wordy, hope you get what I'm asking. I'm squeezing all I can out of seeing a video of a good many vid's highlight seats 4, 3, 2 and 1 as the gopro is set up on the ama - its not often we get to see a race from the steersperson perspective.


#27 Sat, 10/13/2012 - 7:51am

Maybe this will answer your as to why there is not a lot of steering corrections in the Nappy video.

Most people over paddlesteer or over poke steer, then spend equal time correcting this on the other side. Others have said it above, currents, eddies, wind, rigging setup, canoe paddler balance etc all play a part in keeping the canoe running in the require direction. A simple example of this is if you correct a canoes course with a chosen steering stoke which brings the canoe back on line, then 1 second later a swell/ wave/ wash/ another canoe, hits your canoe and knocks it off direction again, so you start the correction all over again. An experienced steerer would anticipate this and set the canoe on a course where the interference would bring it back online for him.

This can only be learned by spending time in the canoe but some people are born steerers and do this instinctively, I know many people like that, most have been around water or the ocean all their life. The basic steering techniques can be taught by coaches or self taught from reading good books, I recommend Steve Wests " The art and skill of steering"
Reading the water and anticipation comes from time in the canoe in many different conditions and having a passion for it, good steerers are also usually good thinkers and great motivators but there are the exceptions, sometimes another seat is the motivator.

Try learning to poke more but only just enough to do the correction and set the canoe where you want it, paddle steer less, only very strong women can paddle steer effectively, it's very tiring and not as economical as a well executed poke that might last for a count of 2. Paddle steer is usually an advanced technique that you would use when a poke might disadvantage the run or stability of the canoe.

I should also point out that the crew in the video is not a very experienced crew, the canoes not moving very fast like it would be for an elite crew or even Nappys own regular crew, so Nappy would be doing things slightly different.

Grab the book, practice and learn to do one thing well before moving onto other things, observe the good steerers (definitely not me :-) ) and get on the water as much as possible.

Cheers R

#28 Sat, 10/13/2012 - 7:11pm

Rambo, thanks for your reply! Much helpful information therein.

#29 Sat, 10/13/2012 - 8:12pm

Please register or login to post a comment.

Page loaded in 0.209 seconds.