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Open Canoe Skills Session #1 by Gary E

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Open Canoe Skills Session #1 by Gary E

The first session of the Open Canoe skills took place on a blowy and rainy Monday evening… but the weather didn’t manage to dampen the five budding canoeists’ spirits or their skill development.

The session began with Keith explaining how to select the correct size canoe paddle. There are two basic ways to do this:

  1. With the blade touching the floor, the top of the paddle handle should reach up to somewhere between your chin and your nose.
  2. With the handle touching the floor and your elbows tucking into your sides, you should be able to have your forearms parallel to the floor and grab the part where the shaft meets the blade.

Once we all had our paddles (and a spare just in case), we were shown how to safely get the open canoes down from the racking. This is surprisingly easy if done with a partner and done in a slow and controlled manner. Without much delay we had five canoes, six paddlers and 12 paddles ready to get onto the water and start practicing some skills – four solos and one tandem.

As mentioned earlier, the wind was blowing which meant we spent the initial part of the session in the shelter near the compound while we were all getting used to handling the boats and seeing how the wind affected them.

Once we were all reasonably comfortable and happy to push on we journeyed out of the shelter and crossed the main channel where we briefly felt the gusting wind in full force before finding more shelter closer to the dock walls.

While in the shelter Keith demonstrated how to do the ‘J Stroke’ which enables you to keep the canoe straight while paddling solo without needing to keep swapping which side we were paddling on. Initially this felt a bit unnatural, however, before long we were all getting much more comfortable. We also practiced doing some turning with sweep strokes and seeing how edge and trim affected the efficiency of these strokes.

Once we’d all got a bit dizzy with all the turning, we agreed that we’d paddle up towards the naval base which also happened to be into the wind… how better to get some extra practice of that recently learnt ‘J Stroke’. To Keith’s surprise we were all up and past the naval base without much hassle – good students or good coaching (or perhaps a bit of both).

While in the shelter of the top end of the dock, Keith demonstrated how you’d rescue a canoe should anyone capsize – we managed to do this without anyone getting wet. There’s definitely a technique to it which involves using your own canoe to leverage the capsized canoe, getting that right will save a lot of grunting and wasted energy.

We then switched to the different ways of moving sideways – draw strokes, sculling draws, and another canoe specific stroke the “pry”.

Before we knew it, it was almost 8pm and time for us to head back to the compound. The wind had dropped slightly, but there was still enough to give us a bit of assistance. We zipped downwind further practicing those ‘J Strokes’ and stern rudders to keep us tracking straight. Once back at the compound, the canoes were put back on the racks, the paddles stowed and the compound locked… with five rookie canoeists heading home with a lot of skills to mull over and an enthusiasm to get back to practice and further develop.

A group of people in boats on a river

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We’ll be running these canoe skills sessions every Monday over the summer months to introduce new people to basic canoe skills and to provide a pathway for people to access some of the more advanced canoe trips that are on the club calendar.

Also throughout the summer (starting mid/late June) there’ll be some open canoe trips on easy slow moving rivers and lakes arranged to progress these skills away from the docks, then longer term there’ll also be some intro to canoe expeditioning and canoe white water trips added to the calendar.

Why not get booked onto the next session and get the practice in now so you’ll be raring to go for those trips this summer 👍🏻