The Catch

Aloha all,

I have been paddling for just over a year now, real new and spend each practice and day thinking about different ways to improve my stroke. My focus right now is the catch. It seems that I begin my power phase to early before I have fully sunk the paddle in my catch phase. I have focused on this and when I am truly concentrating on the catch I can get that sweet spot where I feels as if I am pulling the boat not the water. My concern is that when I try and increase my speed for regattas I lose this sweet spot and lose my catch. Are there any training tips or thoughts on how to gain more constancy in my catch?


Submitted by joelmkrause on Mon, 05/13/2013 - 1:38pm

That's the paddler catch-22. I think it's necessary to learn the catch by focusing on a "soft" entry, but the goal should be to have explosive power at the front. The transition from a soft effective catch to an explosive entry is really difficult.

I think the most important part is understanding when you've slipped on the catch. Which it sounds like you do have the feel for. With that feeling, you can gradually up the intensity of your entry while maintaining a solid bite. Use the momentum from the air into the water to attack the front of the stroke. A few things to think about that may help you maintain your catch:

1) make sure your bottom shoulder drops and moves forward as you transition from the air into the water. Sort of like you're extending into the stroke.

2) Try to maintain the angle of the set up (above water) as you enter the blade into the water. You're pressing forward and down. Not pulling with your bottom or pushing with your top.

3) The depth that you bury your paddle is a factor of hull speed. When you're just getting your canoe moving you're going to have to bury very deep (and possibly choke up higher on your shaft). As the canoe gets moving you can bury less while maintaining a solid catch.

If you can, practice this in an OC-1 with someone holding the boat. When you're stationary, it forces you to get the mechanics perfect to not cavitate. In the beginning, you'll probably have to enter with a soft catch in order to not cavitate when you're stationary. But, over time you'll be able to maintain your catch when entering at 100% intensity even when the canoe is stationary.

#1 Tue, 05/14/2013 - 9:20am

9-10 I see people bending their top elbow (meaning their top hand comes close to their forehead) then pushing forward with their top hand; their blade doesn't get burried till past their power phase. Usually it's 8-10" of power phase that doesn't get full blade. How innefficient is that!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

So many paddlers in Hawaii do this. I've never seen a Tahitian video where the paddlers are paddling this way; using their small triceps to generate power by pushing their top hand forward.

If you have your stroker not generating power by pusing forward with his top hand (meaning locked top arm) and then you have guys behind him generating power by bending their top elbow and pushing hand forward. Even though they enter the water at the same time and exit the water at the same time; they are no more blending than two guys that enter at different time.

So Technique, "do you take timing as your lawfully wedded partner to hold.......", "I do".
Do you Timing, "take Tecnique as you...........................................", "I do".
I now pronounce you to go hand in hand till death do you part or the Kinect can make paddling happen virtually and convert back tecnique in to good technique with a simple downloadable application. Then Timing you will be free to maybe one day find another partner. Then Technique you will be free to enjoy all the other flavors their are out there.

#2 Wed, 05/15/2013 - 9:12am

Ok, the commentary is funny, but can you break it down really simple for me to understand. Exactly, what is the proper, preferred technique starting with the catch, elbow position, etc.

Much Mahalos

#3 Wed, 05/15/2013 - 10:19pm

#4 Thu, 05/16/2013 - 6:10am

I've seen this video a couple times. One of the things I don't like in the video is the disconnect between what he's saying and what he does in the example. A few of the times when he's going through the motions he bends his elbow almost 90degrees and then extents it. So it's better to just listen a little more than watch. Now when he talks about the top arm angle it's all good, but some of his examples don't follow what he's saying.

Now I've seen him paddle and he paddles what he preaches.

#5 Thu, 05/16/2013 - 8:01am

K den, let me give my two cents. Some caveats first: my comments will pertain primarily to OC6, but much of this will also be applicable to OC1, OC2, V1, V2 . Secondly, opinions and theories are like okoles.....everybody's got one....and they will usually express them without hesitation. Hence, here is my okole.....
Since you only asked about the catch, I will restrict my comments to that part of the stroke.

  1. The key to the plant, or catch, is the downward pressure exerted by the top arm. This downward pressure needs to be forceful and aggressive throughout the catch and the entire power phase.
  2. The blade of the paddle must be completely immersed BEFORE you begin to pull on the paddle shaft. If the blade IS NOT completely immersed at the point of the pull, you will hear the telltale "kerplunk" sound. The correct paddle plant will be silent at the point of pulling exertion.
  3. Your bottom arm needs to be "nearly straight" (e.g. approximately 175 degrees) and rigid in that DON"T bend your elbow.
  4. Your top arm needs to likewise be "nearly straight" (e.g. same approximation of 175 degrees) and rigid in THAT position. DO NOT bend your top elbow to create the illusion of extended is inefficient and a waste of precious time.
  5. The paddle shaft needs to be vertical/perpendicular to the water from ALL perspectives at the catch.
  6. The top hand must be directly above the bottom hand at the catch.
  7. Don't try to incorporate all of these details at once. Focus on them one at a time. Start slowly and then build your speed once you establish muscle memory. When you feel comfortable with one detail (e.g. you don't have to think about it on every stroke), then move on to the next detail, etc.

Good luck to you. You can spend most of a lifetime, as I have, analyzing and perfecting paddling technique and fitness. If any of this is confusing, or you have questions, send me a personal contact and I'll be happy to elaborate further.

Whatever techniques you adopt, always justify them by asking "why?" There must be a rational and reasonable answer to the "why" question otherwise the technique becomes questionable at best, and counterproductive at the worst. It is not sufficient to blindly accept information "because that's the way we've always done it, " or "because that's the way I was coached."

#6 Thu, 05/16/2013 - 9:51am

Do you have a video of this and in slow motion?

#7 Thu, 05/16/2013 - 9:54am

Sorry no, I don't have any videos like that. I have watched a lot of videos of Tahitian paddlers, some Olympic canoe paddlers and also a lot of marathon canoe racers. I was fortunate to be mentored by a number of elite marathon canoe racers and their stroke analysis and input was invaluable. Those are the sources of my technical philosophy. I looked for the common features of each stroke and put them together for outrigger racing. They're all quite similar.

There are several DVDs available on marathon canoe racing through J&J Canoes in N.Y.

I've purchased and used all of their videos and I recommend them highly, particularly the one by Mike and Tana Fries.

#8 Thu, 05/16/2013 - 11:33am

Thank you JG

#9 Thu, 05/16/2013 - 11:47am

Before I say anything else, I want to make sure that I give credit to Joelmkrause for starting this dialogue. I've always felt like the potential that OCP has for fostering productive dialogue is HUGE. And we often don't make the best of it.

So, on that note, in response to Mr. Earth, I am also horrified when I watch that video. Not only because it shows my premature baldness, but because of that bent top arm. My straight top arm is one of the few parts of my stroke that I'm actually proud of. But I am definitely one of those people who will loudly proclaim "do as I say, not as I do." While I think I have a good catch, the rest of the mechanics of my stroke need a lot of work. Hunched back, bent bottom arm, etc.

Every time I teach someone how to paddle or do a clinic, I compare the stroke to Maslow's hierarchy of needs. In my opinion, the catch is number one on our hierarchy pyramid. Hip rotation and shoulder rotation (as seperate items) are below the catch. And then comes the mechanics (degree of bend in the arms, angle of the wrist, exit, etc). I say that because I think that the mechanics of the stroke are arguable, and any club/coach may teach them differently. But, I don't think that the catch or rotation is arguable. And the catch, on our hierarchy list, towers over everything else.

I agree wholeheartedly with all of Jerryguy's points. However, I don't think that all of them are necessary for an effective catch. In my humble opinion, items 1 and 2 are really important for the catch. 3, 4, 5, and 6 are mechanics issues. You can have an effective catch without being perpendicular on your blade and with zero rotation. But you won't have an effective stroke.

Because he described them so well, I'd like to use his points and expand:


The key to the plant, or catch, is the downward pressure exerted by the top arm. This downward pressure needs to be forceful and aggressive throughout the catch and the entire power phase.

If you look at a lot of top paddlers, it doesn't look like they're applying top arm pressure. And when I was just starting as a coach, I would actually have people de-emphasize their top arm, because I didn't want the top hand to end up by the gunnel. But, I was completely wrong. If you have a proper catch and a positive angle on your blade, all the top hand pressure in the world won't drive your blade down. That drive is going 100% towards lifting the canoe. You can stand in the water and play with it. If you drive your paddle straight down (no angle on the blade) it'll go straight under water. Likewise, if you enter with a shoddy catch (easiest way to make a shoddy catch is to change the angle of the blade as you're entering) and drive down, the paddle will go down without any resistance. But if you enter with positive angle on the blade, maintain that angle as you drive down (my having your bottom shoulder press forward and down into the stroke), now continue to drive down as you pull back, you'll feel heavy resistance. That resistance is the sign of a solid catch. So, when the best paddlers look like they're not driving down because their top hands don't come all the way to the gunnel, it's a sign that they have a solid catch which is creating that resistance which then lifts the canoe. Make sense?


The blade of the paddle must be completely immersed BEFORE you begin to pull on the paddle shaft. If the blade IS NOT completely immersed at the point of the pull, you will hear the telltale "kerplunk" sound. The correct paddle plant will be silent at the point of pulling exertion.

I preach this same idea in near exact words, but I think it results in a lot of confusion. You're not spearing the blade forward. If you can imagine doing that in a moving canoe, you'd stop the canoe. You're pressing down. The important part is to hit and submerge the blade completely at a stationary point in the water. If you do it when the canoe isn't moving, then that stationary point will stay in the same place relative to you and the angle of your blade at the set-up should be identical to the angle of your blade at full submersion. But, when the canoe starts moving, that point is moving (relative to you). So, there will be a small amount of angle change (because the water point that you hit is getting closer to you). But, the idea is the same. You're pressing down at the catch and lifting the canoe up. As you reach full submersion you initiate your pull. Ideally it should all occur smoothly. BUT, this is where it gets hard and (I think) what JoelmKrause was getting at with his question.

If you do that, then you're accelerating through the water and your power phase is at the back. I think that the goal needs to be to get the powerphase to the front. To enter with explosive power. Watch any top Tahitian crew (and more and more our top Hawai'i crews). When they go Turei, they're exploding the front of the stroke then getting the paddle out of the water. Everything that we said above is all fine and dandy until you start hitting the front with explosive power.

Take a random sampling of 1000 paddlers in Hawai'i. I would bet that less than 100 have an effective catch. Now take those 100 and put them in a canoe that's not moving and tell them to hit the front at max power. I would be that 90 - 95 of them will cavitate through the stroke (meaning they've slipped). But, the few that can do it will literally fling themselves off the seat. The way that you know you have the catch is when it feels like you've just dug your paddle into mud. At 100% intensity at the front, it's literally impossible to bring the blade back (as it would be through mud). Either it comes out of the water or you fly forward.

In my opinion, that is where the stroke needs to go. To the point where you can hit the front at full intensity and not cavitate. And I really hope that someone out there can explain better how to get there, because I can't. But, I believe that the ultimate key is number one on Jerry's post: downward pressure. You're committing the whole weight of your being into getting that blade submerged. By bringing your bottom shoulder forward into the set and driving your body and arm down, you can maintain the catch.

#10 Thu, 05/16/2013 - 11:51am

As always, I truly enjoy your thoughts Luke. Mahalo for the kind words.

One additional thought I'd like to interject has to do with the application of explosive power. There's a very fine line between power explosion and jerking on the paddle. Power explosion is the correct mentality, but you need to keep that power constant and consistent throughout the entire power phase.......otherwise you end up jerking on the paddle and the boat consequently goes lurching through the water. What's wrong with that you ask? Well, just dissect a lurching motion for a end momentum at the explosive phase, then a slowing down of the forward momentum if that power is not maintained throughout the stroke. So, don't jerk the paddle.....

#11 Thu, 05/16/2013 - 12:06pm

This is a kayak technique video, but it shows the importance of top arm pressure to lock and propel the boat to essentially pole vault past place of blade entry. Look at 7:04 in the video for canoe technique.

#12 Fri, 05/17/2013 - 7:07am

Healthyearth -

Here is a video for your speed. Think about it - POP, LOCK IT & DROP IT

#13 Fri, 05/17/2013 - 7:24am

HUGE Mahalo to all for the outstanding feed back. I have to say lots of amazing tips. My crew and I spent over an hour yesturday working in the tank and trying to apply several different techniques that you all discussed. Much of what we focused on was, keeping the paddle vertical through the catch and power phase. Driving down down with the top hand, and being powerful through the catch.

This morning we took the boat out and we did a few laps around the pins. The boat was smoother, gliding, and more power. With some simple time spent focusing on the catch together our boat's blend was significantly better.

Luke, thank you for your feed back I have watched that video about 9 times. The bald spot is only slightly distracting.

Jerryguy, points 2 and 5 really stand out to me. Not to mention point 4 has really helped the crew not do the "chicken arm" to get their reach.

Earth has been great from the beginning actually watching tape of our crew and giving feedback

Thank you all so much for the great feed back, it truly is outstanding!

#14 Fri, 05/17/2013 - 8:18am

I too have found this thread and the various suggestions posted therein very helpful - thanks guys!

#15 Fri, 05/17/2013 - 8:45am

Good video. I love black people dancing they are the best dancers for sure. Nothing like when a girl toots that thang up and makes it roll. White people all the time think they dancing good just because they have rhythm. I saw this commercial today about some white guy that got lung disease from second hand smoke. He was saying he was a good dancer (I guarantee he wasn't a good dancer, just cause you like to dance doesn't make you a good dancer) and now he couldn't dance because he got asthma. He lost all credibility after he said that, I bet he doesn't even have asthma. A good white male dancer (if there is such a thing) is just a less than mediocore black dancer.

#16 Fri, 05/17/2013 - 9:44am

Does anyone have hd video of Shell or top tahitian team. ONe that is close enough to really see the detail of the stroke and timing.

#17 Fri, 05/17/2013 - 11:26am

#18 Sun, 05/19/2013 - 11:51pm

This guy def doesn't paddle like the tahitian 6 man videos I've seen. Look how far his right shoulder comes back when paddling on the right side. You can't see the full blade in this image from a good angle to make any conclusions, but if I were to guess; it appears he's not getting a full plant immediately. This post is all about the catch and full plant in a 6 man. Do you have a slo mo hd Video that shows the plant/catch in a 6 man.

I have video of a couple guys on my team that I think do it well. I wonder if what I think is good is the same as what this forum think is good. Before I ask them if I can post their video; will anyone like to participate in little test?

I don't want to ask them and nobody respond and then this great thread go south in prime time viewership.

#19 Mon, 05/20/2013 - 9:51am

Healthy, just ignore the exit, it's a technique used to steer or correct the V1's direction- power off the front, steer from the rear.

From my observation of the top Tahitian V6 crews, most don't fully plant the blade, most probably this allows for the high stroke rate they are known for and why the select paddles with lots of surface area at the bottom half of the blade.

In the video above, Lemmy would normally have used a double bend paddle ( as most Tahitians do) but for some reason on that day ( I've forgotten why) he took a straight shaft with him.

#20 Mon, 05/20/2013 - 1:12pm

very interesting for me to compare,the video put by Pat Dolan,on the sprint kayak technique,and the one of Lemmy.I know Lemmy from when he was a very little boy.His style is a little different than what was taught to me.I was always told to " 'ofati", to break,the top wrist when using the new(for me) style paddles with the T-top handle,and when you look at Lemmy's style,he does not,but when you look at the canoe guys in Pat's video,they do,more noticeable when they are on the rowing machine.Interesting because in the old days,we never used paddles like that,and probably came from those mainland people the T-top handle and technique on how to use.With the old style shaft,cannot break the wrist.

#21 Mon, 05/20/2013 - 2:17pm

I think that Healthy probably knows what an adjusting stroke looks like versus a "straight ahead" stroke.
Im going to agree that it seems like its a bit drawn out, but as this is regarding the "catch" I have to agree with Rambo, that there are certain strokes that dont require the full submersion of the blade on the catch...However with out the proper instruction and application I feel that those strokes in particular would hurt most Hawaiian 6 man crews if not done correctly.

I have also had the chance to sit in the paddling tank with a couple Top Tahitians, from two different "eras". both had slightly different approaches to the mechanics of the stroke, and catch.

The older era
-Had a more Hawaiian-esq long stroke style, that requires you to lean very forward. There where many similarities, accept he really emphasized to break your bottom elbow early on in the stroke.

The Newer era paddler who is Still placing in the top 3 in Hawaiki Nui 2012
- Had a much more familiar "Tahitian" looking stroke. "the one that looks like hes not working that hard but is going really really fast"
He had us Sitting a bit more upright than the older era stroke, and it seemed to me that it was easier to breath this way.
He also spoke of a different entry point for each seat through the 6 Man.

I would love to hear if anyone has had a similar experience, or has a complete and opposite opinion. The more feed back I/we get the better we all become as paddlers....theoretically

Keep up the fun

#22 Fri, 05/24/2013 - 8:12am

The "catch" is like throwing a rock out in the water. It will sink for many who toss it or skip for the few that know how to throw. Apply the "skipping stone theory" to your catch, and your canoe will fly.

#23 Sat, 05/25/2013 - 2:38pm

What is the skipping stone theory?

#24 Sat, 05/25/2013 - 5:02pm

Merely an example of Newton's 3rd law of motion where forces work in pairs: the stone, like your paddle blade, whacks the water, and the water whacks back.

#25 Sun, 05/26/2013 - 2:35am

This is all you need to know right here boys:

#26 Sun, 05/26/2013 - 9:38pm

I can't believe I just wasted 3 minutes watching that.

#27 Tue, 05/28/2013 - 6:31am

I've always wondered why people buy paddles made by Werner. They look like extra long, yellow-rubber raft oars.

#28 Tue, 05/28/2013 - 9:15am

Gahhrenns you no waste your time time with this video:

Bet you watch more than once?

#29 Tue, 05/28/2013 - 10:24am

I agree the last video is pretty good. Looks like there might be an app that can detect the position of the paddle to draw the white lines we see in the video. Anyone know what that might be?

#30 Wed, 05/29/2013 - 11:11am

White lines....could be he is using the "CoachMyVideo" program.

#31 Wed, 05/29/2013 - 12:55pm

i couldn't risk watching a 13 minute video. too long.

you seek the app Ubersense.

#32 Wed, 05/29/2013 - 1:45pm

Save time and skip ahead to 9:39 mark for watch the one-man canoe portion.

#33 Wed, 05/29/2013 - 10:38pm

How about the catch for seat one? Is it correct to sacrifice the catch and pull the paddle through the water to increase/maintain the stroke rate?

#34 Wed, 03/26/2014 - 11:09am

Catch is King. If your stroker cuts corners, the mistakes just compound through the rest of the canoe.
In my opinion if your stroker cant put technique at the top of their priority list then they have no business in that seat.

Pace all depends on the crew. Look at the pace that Paddling connection uses versus many other top Tahitian crews.

Paddling Connection has a much slower stroke rate but they are the fastest crew in the world.

In a nuttshell My priority list would be
-Technique (all of the above Reach, Catch, Drive, Return ect...)
-Pace setting and consistency; obviously you need to be fit to keep a certain pace for hours.
-Fittness / mental toughness

I only put strength at the lower end because in my opinion you wont always have your F350 Turbo Diesel in seat 1 where he may not always have his full blade in the water at all times. (Allthough I have seen that approach as well)

Just to clarify the blade not always being in the water = Depending on the conditions you are in, Seat 1 might be in mid air, in which case its even more important that they keep the technique and pace so everyone can follow. No water = No resistance and many people will just swing away...aka Burning Rubbah (rubber).


#35 Thu, 03/27/2014 - 11:17am

agreed. the sroker sets up everything. They need a full front deep reach and catch that everyone else can feel...a drum beat..easy to get timing because the canoe responds with that "catch" and other seats fall in line. Following a good stroker...can close your eyes and know where the timing is. ..they make it obvious. No slip sliding away.

#36 Wed, 03/26/2014 - 4:11pm

Makes sense. Thanks.

#37 Thu, 03/27/2014 - 5:52am

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