Paddling Essentials and Drills

Notes taken by leslee at the April 7, 2013 Paddling Clinic with the Gorging dragons


  • Do the “hip dance” as soon as you get into your seat on the boat so you get into the position where both hips are square and you are sitting tall
  •  Go through a mental checklist on your very first stroke
    • This is very similar to the concept we used last year during our warm-up paddling when we checked our form and technique starting with our heads and working down
    • Think benchmarks (included in each section below)
    • Each one of you now have your own personal mental checks to work on as well
  • Be big and dynamic with your body while ensuring that the boat retains smoothness
  • Remember that when hips are rotating properly your paddle will be straight up and down and that this is the strongest position for the paddle
    • Think of that chart that demonstrated how the power of the paddle changes with the angle of the paddle, both vertically and horizontally
  • Work to use your big muscles for power.  It is the big muscles, not the small ones, that drive the power
  • Visualize fence posts in the water and drive the hips forward to grab that fence post and pull yourself towards it
  • Remember, hips move first, then lower, middle, upper back, then shoulders, and finally arms.   This applies for both the pull and the recovery.  Shoulders should only be rotated as much as the hips, not more


SITTING IN THE BOAT:  Put yourself into position to control the weight on your paddle and to use your big muscles

  1. Hip tight against gunwale
  2. 70% of weight on outside cheek
  3. Both feet forward
    1. necessary for hip rotation
    2. hips need to swing freely when feet are planted
    3. leg drive comes from pressing off the floor with solid pressure from both feet
    4. pressure from your feet relates to your hips
  4. Weight is on your sit bones
    1. be forward on your sit bones
    2. keep a straight spine
  5. Tall on your paddle side
    1. hip bone and under arm are in a straight line

SETTING UP THE STROKE:  Get your paddle and your body into position to apply maximum strength

  1. Hip rotation ALWAYS leads the forward motion
    1. First movement is the hips rotating
    2. Outside hip comes forward and creates instant rotation
  2. Focus on effective reach
    1. Top hand is outside the boat when setting up
    2. Top hand is as far away from face as possible (think awful smell!)
    3. Extend to create a positive paddle angle
    4. For the stroke the paddle must be started on a positive angle / pulled to neutral during the power phase / finished on negative angle on the exit

THE CATCH:  Find the spot for a solid plant for your paddle blade past your feet – a solid catch is a quiet catch

  1. Enter with a positive blade angle
    1. Hip continues to come forward and down to bury paddle in water
    2. Close the distance between gunwale and the armpit (think braided arm pit hair being pulled down to gunwale!)
  2. Enter with minimal front to back movement (don’t lose reach by having to pull back on the paddle)
    1. To get farther forward move hips farther forward – don’t reach your body and your arms farther forward
  3. Fully bury the blade before initiating pull
  4. Transfer body weight onto the blade
    1. Reach / arm extension
    2. Torso / back position
    3. Paddle angle
    4. Clean entry
    5. Bottom shoulder / armpit

THE PULL:  Think head and chest coming straight up

  1. Accelerate the blade through the pull using large muscle groups
  2. Initiate the stroke with leg/hip drive
  3. Co-ordinate sit-up (de-rotation) with the pull
  4. Stable top arm (no breaks or prying motion)
  5. Straight bottom arm
  6. Continue to accelerate the blade to exit
    1. Hip drive
    2. Solid core through sit up and de-rotation
    3. Stable top arm
    4. Straight bottom arm

THE EXIT:  Exit cleanly without losing pressure on the blade

  1. Maintain powerful pressure
  2. Exit at / before hip
    1. At / before hip
    2. Clean exit, lifting with top thumb


  1. Use exit to begin hip movement that will carry through the recovery
  2. Recovery is efficient and close to the water and to the side of the boat
    1. Paddle comes out just above the surface of the water
    1. Recover from hip, core, elbow, then hand
    2. Top hand stays outside the boat



  1. THUMB YOGA  (done without paddle)
    1. Back must be kept straight – move straight forward from hips – do not round shoulders and drop head
      1. Outside thumb on side of boat
      2. Outside hip comes all the way forward as you slide your thumb forward along the gunwale
      3. Movement forward is hips first, then lower back, then upper back
      4. Once down, sit back up
    1. Back must be kept straight – move straight forward from hips – do not round shoulders and drop head (think about keeping arms close to your ears)
      1. Hold paddle above head horizontally with both hands
      2. With arms straight bend forward


    1. Hold paddle above head horizontally with both hands
    2. With arms straight rotate and turn upper body towards your partner
    3. Keeping arms and back straight drop down and place paddle in the water
    4. Goal:  gets you used to proper body position for position 1 (ready)

WEIGHT ON THE PADDLE: The goal of these drills is to trust that you can lean on your paddle, and eventually put your weight on the paddle

  1. BRACE
    1. Slam the paddle into the water in the “brace” position (ie. flat)
    2. Lean out of boat as far as you can with your weight on the paddle
    3. The other side of the boat will need to lean out for balance
  2. DRAW Do one side of the boat, then the other
    1. Place paddle in water in “brace” position
    2. Lean out of boat as far as you can with your weight on the paddle
    3. Draw water under the boat
    4. Should be bubbles on the other side of the boat
    5. Force those bubbles under the boat
  3. QUARTER DRAW  The idea is to feel the weight you are putting on the blade while leaning out
    1. Lean out with paddle out at a 45 degree angle
    2. pull (draw) toward the boat
    1. Quarter draw for 6
    2. In 3,2,1 straighten paddle angle to regular draw
    3. Regular draw for 10
    4. In 3,2,1 angle paddle to quarter draw
    5. Repeat


    1. Smoothly go from position 1 (set up)
    2. to position 2 (catch)
    3. to position (power phase)
    4. to position 2 v. to position 1
    5. do not sit up during drill – stay down and push through the water through the whole count
  2. PUSH PULL Begin in position 2 (catch)
    1. Push
    2. Pull
    3. Repeat


  1. SLO-MO Emphasis is on being relaxed through recovery
    1. Paddle normal
    2. Slo-mo in 3,2,1
    3.  Count 1 (pull), 2 (recovery), 3 (recovery) for 10
    4. Normal in 3,2,1
    5. Normal for 10
    6. Repeat

ENGAGING CORE / MOVING HIPS: The goal of these drills is to emphasize that the top hand should only exert downward pressure on the paddle – shouldn’t need to be gripping the paddle

    1. Paddle normal
    2. Slide top of paddle under wrist in 3,2,1 for 10
    3. Repeat
    4. Goal:  Top hand should only exert downward pressure on the paddle – shouldn’t need to be gripping the paddle
  2. ONE ARM PADDLE (2) Begin in position 2 (catch) but with upper wrist placed on the top of the paddle so you are not holding onto the paddle with the upper hand
    1. Paddle for 10
    2. Wrist off the paddle in 3,2,1 (you will be paddling with just one arm)
    3. One arm paddle for 10
    4. Repeat
  3. ONE ARM PADDLE (3) Begin in position 2 (catch) using only bottom arm (top arm is off the paddle)
    1. Paddle for 10
    2. Place top arm on the paddle for 10
    3. Repeat



    1. Keep both arms straight for entire stroke sequence
    2. Goal:  Get used to not bending at the elbow during stroke (some bending is okay)