Paddling Technique

Greetings Paddlers,
During my nearly thirty years of organized outrigger paddling, I have seen and heard about a wide spectrum of paddling techniques, everything from full-on tits to the gunwale 70s no tee-top style to to the quickest upright marathon stroke, and I was wondering, what is the definitive outrigger paddling technique? Is there one? Don't be shy. Mahalo, Jim.

Submitted by Jim on Tue, 04/24/2007 - 3:09pm

My god Jim, thats like asking what the best one-man is. I'm gonna watch this one closely. This should make some good entertainment...

Goto? Jc9?


#1 Tue, 04/24/2007 - 3:21pm

Different strokes for different folks. With all the different body types and water conditions you encounter, I don't see how there could be one definitive technique.

#2 Tue, 04/24/2007 - 5:13pm

This is too painful. I don't think I will be able to sleep with the unlimited wise ass responses that keep popping into my head. Poopoo has a good point though...we probably need to determine which one man is best first...then which paddle...then we can explain which stroke is best and why. Then I can lament the fact that even though my stroke is best and I have the best one man and best paddle, people keep beating me!
So, which one man is best anyway?

#3 Tue, 04/24/2007 - 5:15pm

I'm not talking about tempo or stroke rate-just describe the actual movement.

#4 Tue, 04/24/2007 - 5:32pm

Any coaches out there? How do you describe the technique to new paddlers?

#5 Tue, 04/24/2007 - 5:37pm

Dammit Jim,
I could tell you weren't listening during practice! Am I going to have to go over this AGAIN?

#6 Tue, 04/24/2007 - 7:15pm

Hi all,

" if you want to learn how to surf, go surfing " this quote in paddling is " time on the water "

Maybe we have to limit the conditions we paddle in to discuss this;
Suggestion to begin with:
- flat water
- no wind
- no current
- 'ideal paddler'
- oc1

Very general - my 'ideal paddler':
don't rock the boat,
don't roll the boat,
limit your motions to the necessary minimum - motion means torque and torque means energy spent, not as forward energy;
think speed skating or olympic biking in a velodrome - the slightest uncontrolled motion will throw you off balance, speed. So my ideal paddler sits rock solid in the middle of the boat, could balance something on the head.

sit up straight to allow rotation
always stay in the 'paddler's box'
don't slump
legs are very important, largest muscle, think kayak
shoulder and hip rotation

keep the boat gliding

you can't hear your paddle at all - catch, stroke, release, all silent
paddle is pulled parallel to keel line - to avoid torque; that means the paddle is upright at all times.
force applied to paddle doesn't change throughout entire stroke

paddle size: its just like transmission in biking: highest gear is most efficient, but can't be used in all terrains
paddle length depends on many factors, paddler, boat, seat ... one general rule that I like: when the blade is fully immersed, your
top hand should be at eye level.

What do you think ?
There is quite a bit of literature about kayak technique on the internet. Rambo has some nice pdfs in his 'locker' at the bottom his excellent website; try to find " Barton's mold ". That is an Olympic champion discussing his thoughts related to this topic.

Wind and waves is a different topic of course.

#7 Tue, 04/24/2007 - 8:25pm

uhhh curse… is too much a point, there, to write to real. it depends, which talent you try to shift. nearly each large man more paddler has smaller than ideal Schlagmann, whom one would train in a man six. thus knows who? it constitutes not too much, what the body. as long as the movement is liquid efficient, balanced, and. when training I mostly the interaction of the paddle with water regard. as long as all six do paddlers the same thing in the water and it are efficient, I am lucky. I have some large literature and illustrations, which came down from the long-term coaches of HCKT and of US crew, but everything them is not electronic on the material paper. So OH well…

uhhh Fluch… dort ist eine Spitze, zuviel, zum wirklich zu schreiben. er hängt ab, welche Fertigkeit du versuchst, zu verschieben. fast jedes große Mann paddler hat einen kleiner als idealen Schlagmann, den man in einem Mann sechs trainieren würde. so weiß wer? es macht nicht zu viel aus, was der Körper. solange die Bewegung flüssig leistungsfähig ist, ausgeglichen, und. beim Trainieren ich meistens die Interaktion des Paddels mit Wasser betrachte. solange alle sechs paddlers die gleiche Sache im Wasser tun und es leistungsfähig ist, bin ich glücklich. ich habe einige große Literatur und Abbildungen, die unten von den langfristigen Trainern von HCKT und von der US Mannschaft kamen, aber alle sie ist auf dem realen Papier, nicht elektronisch. So OH- Brunnen…

uhhh damn...there is a bit too much to actually type. it depends what craft you are trying to move. almost every great one man paddler has a less than ideal stroke that one would coach in a six man. so who knows? it doesn't matter too much what the body does. as long as the motion is fluid, balanced, and efficient. when coaching i mostly look at the interaction of the paddle with the water. as long as all six paddlers are doing the same thing in the water, and it is efficient, i'm happy.

i have some great literature and illustrations that came down from long time coaches of HCKT and the US team, but it's all on real paper, not electronic. So oh well...

#8 Tue, 04/24/2007 - 11:33pm

I've found this on Mindy's blog from Corey the coach of Imua Westcoast.

#9 Wed, 04/25/2007 - 5:50am

So in a OC6 is it important that everyone has the same "style". If everyone is entering and exiting their paddles at the same time is it a disadvantage if they have different styles compared to a team that has identical strokes?

#10 Wed, 04/25/2007 - 6:30am

It is easy to get caught up teaching style and not technique. If we follow three simple rules poached from sport biomechanics 101 we can't go too far wrong;

  • The technique doesn't injure the participants in the long term or short term.

    If "yes" go to the next step;

  • The technique gets you from A to B.

    If "yes" go to the next step;

  • The technique is faster then other techniques used in those conditions.

    If "yes" technique is good.

  • Good biomechanics and coaching will necessitate a technical progression for paddlers to progress from novice onwards.

    How about an "open source" paddling technique page Keizo? I'll start it out with;

  • put paddle in water,
  • pull boat forward,
  • remove paddle from water,
  • repeat.

  • #11 Wed, 04/25/2007 - 7:21am

    AlanC has a good point. Simplicity. To expand on what Jc9 said, if you focus on paddling in the water properly, the body will follow. The main thing is that all 6 people are applying at the same time.

    Some things I find myself saying over and over...
    -Paddle with the body
    -Find the resistance
    -Elbows straight
    -poop on your face

    So what is the best one man?
    What is the best paddle?

    Poops on your face

    #12 Wed, 04/25/2007 - 8:08am

    I've always taught my child that the best paddle/canoe is the one that wins the race. Remember, "If you're not first, you're last."

    I will be so proud of him... you know, as long as he's fast.

    #13 Wed, 04/25/2007 - 9:00am

    Painteur, I think your guy really nailed it. That's as good a technique demonstration as any I've ever seen when it comes down to straight mechanics. AlanC, you sound kind of defensive there-you must have a really ugly style or something haha, nah, nah, I dig what you're saying about the style vs. technique thing. Jim

    #14 Wed, 04/25/2007 - 1:48pm

    oldguysrulepaddlin on Guam

    In the latest edition of the Kanuculture 'Guide to Outrigger...' Steve West has about 5 chapters on paddling technique, evolution, single vs double bends, Tahitian vs Hawaiian styles, etc, etc. I think the beauty of the sport is that it seems, looks and sometimes (but for me not often enough) 'feels' so simple; but is really not. He has a great line about how at the highest level, outrigger is a 'technical' sport and to get faster we'd all be better off being more technially correct than trying to always get stronger. 'Simple' is nice, but simple ain't always 'simple...'

    #15 Wed, 04/25/2007 - 6:24pm

    the paddle into the water insert. shift your more poopmaker (however) BEHIND the paddle. in few the fatiguing way do.

    das Paddel in das Wasser einsetzen. dein poopmaker (aber) HINTER dem Paddel verschieben. es in der wenigen ermüdenden Weise tun.

    put the paddle in the water. move your poopmaker(but) PAST the paddle. do it in the least tiring manner.

    #16 Wed, 04/25/2007 - 7:45pm

    AlanC, that's a good idea. Definitely need a page or article about stroke. I will have a lot more time in a few weeks, so maybe some of these things will eventually get done.

    jc9_0, I am waiting for the explosion in german people coming to the forum, but it hasn't happened yet. I don't care about the web space, but maybe you can at least put the normal english at the top to make it easier to read?

    #17 Wed, 04/25/2007 - 9:01pm




    #18 Thu, 04/26/2007 - 12:06am

    Hi Keizo and jc_9,
    it's verry funny for me to read this german-language :-)))
    Sorry it's OT
    Aloha from Bremerhaven/Germany
    Olaf OC

    #19 Thu, 04/26/2007 - 3:20am

    haha. right on. :)

    #20 Thu, 04/26/2007 - 4:01am

    So back to my question. If timing in a OC6 is good, how important is it that all the paddlers are using the same technique? I know it looks good, but is it faster?

    #21 Thu, 04/26/2007 - 6:45am

    I thought that it matters where & when paddlers are applying power more than how graceful they actually look doing it and more than even if they are entering/exiting the water at the same time. Like if one person has great reach and enters far forward and the person behind him/her enters not so far forward then even if they apply power at the same time for the same amount of time, their position in the water will be slightly different so the physics of the whole thing is slightly off, so the boat won't move quite as quickly as is ideally possible. Or you could have a group that looks like their timing is all off in the recovery, but who all power exactly the same time in the same place in the water and kick everyone's butts. Is that true?

    Where was it that you get the German translation tool? I have a German friend that I want to annoy as much as possible (as an adolescent display of affection)...

    #22 Thu, 04/26/2007 - 8:00am

    Yeah, yeah, yeah, my OC technique is not the best that's for sure!

    I agree that paddling is a simple concept, but very, very hard to learn. The interaction of three-dimensional movements into an (ideally) one dimensional outcome (forward hull speed) is a huge challenge for many.

    I always refer back to some of the "knowns" about swim technique where Olympians are often 16 x more efficient than novices; to put that in perspective, for the energy a novice expends to go 100 m (110 yds), an Olympian would go 1600 m (one mile). Yikes!

    I am sure paddling is much the same, although not to the same degree

    I came to paddle sports coaching without a paddle sports background, so my perspective on technique is not based on "this is the way we always did it" but on comparative biomechanics and coaching as well as sport science.

    I also get in trouble for being culturally insensitive (when I look at paddling cultures other than Hawai'ian) as I learn about technique and training.

    I am lucky enough to have recently been part of our newly redesigned Canadian flatwater coaching education program and I really like the approach to coaching technique. In this model technique / performance is taught using three key elements;

    1. balance
    2. propulsion
    3. boat handling / steering

    These elements are taught in the order presented and revisited as soon as one becomes a limiting factor again. I would add blend as a fourth element when dealing with team boats.

    Each of these elements is in turn affected by phases of the stroke which include;

  • set-up ( I add entry here as well)
  • catch
  • draw (they changed this from pull to emphasize forward boat movement not paddle slippage)
  • exit
  • recovery (including rotation and reach)
  • Each coach can emphasize / de-emphasize phases or rearrange them to fit their way of teaching the stroke.


    One concept I have been hearing more about in flatwater paddling is zeroing the blade.

    This involves the paddler recognizing the relationships between hull speed and paddle speed relative to the water.

  • In the recovery the blade is moving faster than the hull and the water
  • In the set up the blade is stationary relative to the hull (zero) but moving relative to the water (fast),
  • At the entry the paddle goes from hull speed (fast) to water speed (zero) as quickly as possible,
  • Through the pull, the blade is stationary (zero) and the hull accelerates (fast),
  • At the exit the blade goes from water speed (zero) to hull speed (fast) as quickly as possible,
  • In the recovery the paddle moves faster than the hull and water again.
  • Team boats

    For team boats (OC2 and up) I would say there is more evidence that everyone do the same thing than there is evidence otherwise.

    In my opinion, the most important aspect of team blend is that the pulls match up (catch, pull, exit) and the resultant power being transfered to the hull is the same across all seats. Remember;


  • power = something close to hull speed
  • force = resistance on the blade
  • velocity= stroke rate in the water
  • Next would be ensuring the visible aspects of timing are all in synch- entries, exits, recoveries. I think of this as the cadence of the stroke.

    Flatwater team boats have been trying all sorts of variations in timing for decades and still return to everyone doing the same thing in the water. Sometime the more powerful paddlers are in front, sometimes in the back, sometimes in the middle, but always doing the same thing in the water.

    At least the boats that win World Championships and Olympic Championships do that!


    #23 Thu, 04/26/2007 - 9:07am


    1. Timing isn't just good, its critical
    2. If all six paddlers are entering/exiting together and applying power together in an efficient manner, does it matter what they are doing technique wise?
    3. How much fiber is too much?

    poops out

    #24 Thu, 04/26/2007 - 8:40am

    Does the Canadian program describe the actual movement like that guy in the Newport video? How much of the propulsion is supposed to be supplied by the top arm?

    #25 Thu, 04/26/2007 - 8:45am

    A vivid memory, more than once, in the Molokai race. Being passed by Tahitian crews, their timing not even close, stroke rate about 74.

    #26 Thu, 04/26/2007 - 9:14am

    As of yet nothing in video format (like the Newport link above) as the course is still designed as a facilitated coaching education course with a huge "hands on" component.

    I do know that videos are planned for flatwater solo (K1 and C1) and team (K2/4 and C2/4/15) boats, but when they are available is tough to say.

    For top hand, from what I understand, when you paddle properly the top arm does "nothing but stabilize" the blade so that the bottom arm can apply the force that results in hull movement.

    It requires two frames of reference to ensure proper hull movement re top hand. Think of the blade as a fixed point relative to the water and the top hand as fixed point relative to the hull. While fixing the top of the paddle in place and applying pressure to the hull via the bottom arm, the hull will move forward relative to the blade. Allowing the top hand to move (i.e. push forward) you risk paddle slippage and reduced forward hull movement.

    The top arm connects to the core through the top shoulder, chest and torso. The resulting isometric effort (without movement) is needed to stabilize the propulsive elements, but is not directly as part of the propulsive musculature, work works very hard in conjunction with the core musculature

    Does that help?


    #27 Thu, 04/26/2007 - 10:06am


    What are you teaching about the 'leg drive' in your course ?
    What are you teaching about hip rotation ?
    How do you improve balance effectively and what do you use to assess the results of such training ?

    Most of the things that I read about technique comes from kayak literature on the web, the outrigger posts are rare.

    #28 Thu, 04/26/2007 - 11:15am

    If a crew has poor timing the easiest way (not always best though the tahitians prove otherwise) to compensate for that is to raise the stroke count. It lessens the time the paddle is in the water and thus reduces the effect of bad timing.

    As for the tahitians even though their timing looks bad I'd be willing to bet that they are applying the power together. What they do in the water is excellent.

    No one answered my fiber question....


    #29 Thu, 04/26/2007 - 11:23am

    Water soluble or insoluble fibre?

    All the top performers (speed) use a 4:1 ratio of soluble to insoluble based on cancer reducing averages of 20-35 g / day.

    Cows and goats consume more insoluble fibre and the results are evident.

    #30 Thu, 04/26/2007 - 11:43am

    water soluble of course.

    Damn goats

    #31 Thu, 04/26/2007 - 11:55am

    eckhart asked about the role of ‘leg drive’ and hip rotation as taught to flatwater paddlers in kayak and canoe.

    Comparative biomechanics

    What is important to recognize as we compare and learn from these other paddle sports are the similarities and differences in the seating positions.

    Looking at C1, or high kneel canoe, first as it is also a "canoe stroke", we need to acknowledge that there is no seat and the paddler is in an upright kneel, supported on the paddling side knee/foot and balanced with the non-paddling side foot. As such, there are less constraints on body movement than in OC1 not to mention a much higher centre of mass.

    In K1, the seating position is very similar to OC1, especially the hulls with single foot wells and a higher foot well to seat height difference. The main difference is the kayak stroke mechanics. However, if we overlook the bilateral kayak stroke itself, most of the K1 body position is the same as that in an OC1.

    Leg drive

    Keeping with the K1 comparison to OC1, leg drive in K1 is very important and a central concept to paddling technique (note: in C1, leg drive is just as important but there are significant differences due to the paddler's stance in the hull).

    Leg drive is often thought of as the initiation of the stroke. For for paddlers who visualize and paddle with a stroke seen as pull (i.e. the paddle moves back past the hull) leg drive is often a passive action. However, those paddlers who visualize and paddle their canoe as if drawing the hull forward past the paddle develop a very strong active leg drive.

    The difference of seeing the stroke move past the hull or the hull move past the stroke will activate very different sets of muscles and muscle sequencing. It is a simple difference but a cornerstone in understanding correct paddling mechanics;

    In drawing the hull forward, core musculature generates force that is stabilized agaist the paddle, then transfered through the leg drive so as to result in the forward movement of the hull.

    One quick sidebar: the biggest difference between OC seating and K1 seating is that K1 seats are slick so as to facilitate rotation while OC seats are often foam for comfort. The foam seats often limit rotation through higher static friction. Simply wrapping a grocery bag around the seat or some other semi slippery surface will enhance rotation a great deal. Alternately, layered clothing can allow the same "slippery" effect.

    How do you improve balance effectively?

    Improving balance effectively often means going outside of your comfort zone; either in boat choice, seat height, water conditions or something similar. There are some drills and exercises that paddlers do to stress balance skills. Some of the more popular ones are;

    • Flying the ama (just off the water not shoulder height!) while stationary in flat water: use paddle on right to feather/brace as needed.
    • Flying the ama while stationary in flat water: use paddle on left to feather/brace as needed.
    • Flying the ama while moving: feather and brace as needed, again with paddle on left and right side
    • Flying the ama while moving: try to paddle and maintain hull speed, again with paddle on left and right side
    • If possible rig the ama on the right and see what happens (some OC1 designs allow this and if you were motivated you could do it for an OC6 too)
    • Raise the seat height slightly using foam pads
    • Paddle with your eyes closed (when far from hazards!) and repeat the above drills

    What do you use to assess the results of such training?

    To evaluate whether technique training is making you faster or more efficient you can look for a few things;

    • Faster training and racing results with minimal fitness training,
    • A greater distance per stroke- can be measured on a set course you count strokes on or using a GPS,
    • Better boat control in rough water,
    • Lower heart rate for a given hull speed in similar conditions,
    • Higher peak hull speed,

    You're right that OC technical literature is rare, but there are some excellent resources out there and the Kanu Culture / Steve West's new book The Complete Book on Outrigger Canoeing comes to mind as one.

    #32 Fri, 05/04/2007 - 10:59am


    Has there been any studies that study power transmittal (to a boat; e.g., kayak or even a dragonboat... seems like concepts would be similar/same though understood that synching is key for team sports like dragonboat... for this discussion we can assume perfect synching) versus the paddling cadence used. An argument could be made that the faster you paddle the more power you transmit, but it seems like there is a point of optimality beyond which you are kind of "splashing water around" and not moving the boat forward as well.

    One analogy that comes to my mind is steering a cup of coffee and getting the fastest steering going quickly and continually. What seems to work best is to start with fast, shallower (thereby less power engagement) movement and then going to slower but deeper (thereby more power engagement). If you start and stay with slow/deep stirring you feel a lot more resistance starting up. Conversely, if you stay with fast, shallow stirring you won't get the swirling terribly fast.

    I hope this question makes sense....

    #33 Thu, 08/07/2008 - 11:46am

    These are my observations from racing canoes (not OC), others have different opinions and you can translate it to OC however you may.

    In our river racing, we often view the short and long stroke not exclusive of each other. We're talking about marathon and ultra-marathon races with single blades, so that is my context. But, there are situations where both are needed in the same race.

    We have multi-man boats that will employ a short quick stroke of say 75 spm. Others will employ a long, deep pull with about 65 spm. I'm of the opinion that you need to use both in longer races. I've found that the long, deep pull is very effective at moving the boat faster through the water, but it's difficult to maintain for very long distances. For many of the canoe racing teams, the shorter, quicker stroke is much easier on the body and requires fewer calories and still remains below the aerobic threshold. You can keep the boat at hull cruising speed and simply crank away like this for hours. Usually, not so with the long, deep pull, unless you have an extremely fit team.

    Our experience is with races that are 260, 340 and 400+ miles. So, my approach is to use a shorter quicker stroke for the majority of a long race except when we want those bursts of speed or simply to break up the monotony. We're also switching sides at about 20 strokes.

    Long, but not definitive, reply to your inquiry. Often times, it comes down to what stroke you or your team can do effectively. If a soloist or team cannot effectively use a long, deep pull at a slower cadence, they may be faster with a shorter, quicker stroke -- or vice versa. We all need to practice both so we're good at both.

    For you experienced OC paddlers, is this what you've found also?


    #34 Fri, 08/08/2008 - 5:55am

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