From the Shop: Edge Control: the key to success in canoeing.

I was on the road last week for Cheat Fest.  This year marked 20 years since the first time I attended Cheat fest, and it remains one of my favorite events of the year.  It’s remarkable to see the progress Friends of the Cheat has made in cleaning up and restoring the Cheat River watershed over the past two decades.  I also get to see a lot of old friends- one pointed out I’m now the age he was when I met him at Cheatfest 20 years ago, and make new friends.  And the paddling is pretty good too.  Watching people on the water gave me a chance to ponder something I’ve been thinking about a good bit lately.  A few weeks ago, Bren Orton posted a video titled “5 Most Common kayaking mistakes.”  You can watch it here.  That got me thinking, what are the most common things people struggle with in canoeing?  What’s the one thing that holds people back, or separates good or great paddlers from not-so-great paddlers?

I’m going to say it’s edge control.  Or the ability to hold the boat on edge (or flat).  Some instructors also call it “tilt.” the good ones don’t call it “lean,”  because that confuses it.  “Leaning” is what you do with your body, but we’re talking about being able separate what you’re doing with your upper body and your paddle from what you’re doing with your boat.  If you watch a good paddler- one who looks smooth, they’ll keep the boat on edge while they’re carving, transitioning smoothly from edge to edge as needed.  They can tilt the boat independently from their paddle- leaning toward their onside while doing a cross-stroke for example.  They can quarter a wave or curler and roll the boat onto edge so the hull of the boat, rather than the side or bow,  hits the wave and deflects the splash away from the boat instead of into it.  If they’re paddling the boat flat, the boat stays flat instead of bobbling around.  They’re maximizing the potential of modern boats that are designed to carve.

On the other hand, if you watch someone who doesn’t look as smooth or comfortable on the water, you’ll notice they struggle to hold the boat on edge for any period of time, unless they’re using their paddle for support.  We’ve all heard the derogatory “just low-bracing down it” comment.  Or they bobble around and struggle to get where they want to go just using paddle power instead of carving with the boat.

The good news is this is a skill that’s very easy to practice and proficiency comes fairly easily.  You can practice holding your boat on edge paddling in flatwater- or keep a strong edge coming in and out of eddies and on ferries.  Practice on both edges, with both on and offside strokes.  Practice holding varying degrees of tilt and see how the boat responds.  Also, if you find yourself in a long flatwater stretch, see how still and flat you can keep the boat while you paddle forward.  This is an important skill too.

As a boat designer, I’ve also been thinking about how this impacts design- and boat choice for the consumer.  I want to make a boat that’s easy to edge, easy to hold that edge, and easy to paddle on edge, but also have good primary stability.  I feel like all of the boat I’ve designed do that well for paddlers of appropriate size.  For me at 165lbs, the Octane 91 is too wide for me and tricky to get up on edge, but the 85 is great.  I remember doing a practice run at a slalom race a few years ago in the 85 and coming off the water and another paddler commented “I didn’t know that boat could move like that.”  It’s all about being able to use those edges.  Even though the Option isn’t nearly as quick (I’ll get to that another time), I feel like paddling it on edge is incredibly effective.  I’ll close out the sales pitch by saying when you’re demoing boats, get a feeling for how well you can hold an edge in the boat at various angles, not just feeling out the primary stability and how far you can lean the boat over.

All of this gives me some new design ideas… back to work.