Article about FreeStyle..what why..the benefits

Glenn MacGrady

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Here is a Karen Knight video I remember posting on Solotripping.com years ago.

She opens her routine with a move called the Hiding Harold. This is named after whitewater canoe racing champion, canoe designer and wilderness tripper Harold Deal. Harold told me that when he first developed this stunt paddling in Florida, it was not a turning move with a gimbal stroke at all. He used it to paddle forward with an underwater Indian stroke, so that spectators on shore would just see a canoe hull moving straight across the water with no human visibly involved.

 
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Missing the point.

Freestyle is about better boat control, through improved paddle physics, thoughtful bio-mechanics and changing hull shape in the water.

The interpretive gig was interesting for a while and may be again, with better athletes, but it is an extension of FreeStyle skills beyond the useful to the artistic. Karen happens to be the best yet artist of that art form solo as the Mravetzs are tandem.

Her performances at Salt Lake City's OR Summer Market in the mid 90's brought tears to many eyes.
 
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Glenn MacGrady

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I am one who argues against carving up canoeing (= single blading) into terminological or pedagogical boxes such as freestyle canoeing, flatwater canoeing, quiet water canoeing, river canoeing, whitewater canoeing, Canadian style canoeing. To me it's all just canoeing--controlling a hull by receiving and applying pressures on a single blade paddle in any sort of water.

Of course, we do need to communicate and teach constrained curricula, so some level of terminology is necessary. What some people call freestyle today was originally called sport canoeing by Patrick Moore and Mike Galt in the late 70's and early 80's. The word "sport" really mean "sporty"--as in maneuvering a sporty solo canoe in sporty ways just for fun. Paddling a Grumman or a big tandem solo was like "trucking". The new batch of dedicated solo touring canoes of the mid to late 70's were analogized by Moore to sports cars--though he seems to admit in his memoirs that the ideal sport canoe was never actually designed and built.

Mike Galt then put a boombox on the shores of the Hillsborough River in the mid-80's and began paddling to music. The artistic era began. What became to be called "interpretive freestyle" was formalized and competitionized. I didn't see the artists of the 90's other than Karen Knight, but she still seemed to be the best of the women I've seen after 10 years of retirement in 2010 when I saw her give an exhibition.

About this time, having familiarized myself with the current scene, I formed the opinion that, somewhere between the late 80's and late 90's, interpretive competition had become the giant tail that wagged the entire freestyle curriculum. The focus was all about turns, turns, turns. (Okay, some sideslips too.) Tryon Lindabury, the many times national tandem champion, called it "drilling holes in the water". The primary emphasis was on maximizing turns not only with paddle strokes, but with (almost mandatory) heeling to the rails, pitching the hull bow down with weight shifts, and transverse cross positions. These were the things that got the most points in interpretive competitions; ergo, it seemed, these were the things that were heavily emphasized in the core freestyle curriculum.

The influence of interpretive competition also affected boat design. The standard touring canoes of the "sport canoeing" era were displaced by more specialized "freestyle" hulls that could be turned and heeled more easily. Rocker increased and depth decreased--so as to more easily "rail" a canoe at a fairly low and safe angle. Some of these canoes are not particularly seaworthy as solo tripping or even touring canoes, at least in my opinion.

All of that was an elegant way to teach maximal turning control in flat water. No doubt. But the giant tail--the interpretive freestyle exhibitions and competitions--have become sparsely attended if not moribund. And most of the recent participants have been, by simple observation, AARP if not Medicare members.

I asked myself and some of the participants: How relevant is a curriculum of canoeing that is dominated by the maximal scoring maneuvers of an artistic/interpretive exhibition that no one but a few old people currently participate in?

Back to terminological and pedagogical boxes. If we subtract away interpretive competition from freestyle canoeing, what then is the residue? What is non-interpretive, non-artistic, non-Karen Knight "freestyle"? To me, it's just advanced flat water canoeing.

I note that the regional symposiums that used to be called "Freestyle Symposiums" have now been re-branded as "Canoe Symposiums". Good. I vote to limit the use of the word "freestyle" to the artistic/interpretive exhibitions. The symposiums should just teach the practica of advanced flatwater canoeing, which I understand they currently do with a rich curriculum that goes beyond the drilling of holes in the water.

As one who is even more interested in keeping the single blade art alive than I am in terminology, I recommend these regional canoe symposia as the best available teaching venues for learning the ancient but dying art of the the flatwater single blade.

I do hope there is a course in these symposiums that teaches the five or six basic single sided correction strokes. Being able to go straight on flatwater in wind and waves--reflexively and autonomically--should be the first learning priority for any canoeist. Turning is secondary if not tertiary or quaternary. Otherwise, kayaking will continue its genocidal advance. Literally anyone can go straight with a double blade, almost right away.
 
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The first thing I noticed when I solo'd a canoe for the first time was that it was easy to turn where you didn't want to go, and hard to go straight. I agree not enough emphasis is put on going straight with a single blade, especially in a solo canoe. On flat water lakes or ponds you spend 99.999999% of your time doing just that. On a twisty river it's about 50/50... there is always a bit of straight when transitioning from a left to right bend.

But I also agree the going straight part is all lumped into controlling the hull. Wind and waves are often my enemy on 'flat' water. I guess you could call dealing with that the art of turning while appearing to go straight.
 

Glenn MacGrady

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But I also agree the going straight part is all lumped into controlling the hull. Wind and waves are often my enemy on 'flat' water. I guess you could call dealing with that the art of turning while appearing to go straight.

That's right. Going straight is nothing more than the muscle memory learning of a few counter-turning techniques that will offset the combined turning forces of (a) the forward paddle stroke itself, (b) wind, and (c) waves.
 
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I could quibble with a few points but in general, Glenn's assessment is accurate (in my opinion).

We've offered a "Wind and Waves" class in the past but it was poorly attended.

The Midwest Canoe Symposium is offering a "Canoeing Essentials Clinic", a "Kids Class", a "Forward Stroke Clinic" and "Touring Technique Clinic" (sit and switch). Full classes include "Obedience Train Your Canoe", in addition to the full spectrum of "FreeStyle" classes. Where we have an appropriate venue, we typically offer a "Creekin" class where we apply various FreeStyle techniques to a moving water venue.

We've removed the extreme heels and pitches from most of the FreeStyle curriculum. We're now covering those techniques under "Special Topics". Our focus has shifted to teaching FreeStyle techniques as they apply to real world paddling.

Yes, there will be an interpretive exhibition/competition on Saturday evening but that will not be the focus of the symposium.
 
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Glenn MacGrady

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For those here who may not know Marc Ornstein, he is the multiple-time national champion in interpretive freestyle, a canoe tourer, a former whitewater paddler, and a current ACA canoe instructor. He also makes and sells great wooden paddles and stripper canoes under the "Dogpaddle" name. I'd estimate with some accuracy that he's of AARP but not yet Medicare age . . . and acts half of that.

BTW, Marc and just about all the other canoe symposium instructors I've met are really good teachers.
 
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The first thing I noticed when I solo'd a canoe for the first time was that it was easy to turn where you didn't want to go, and hard to go straight. I agree not enough emphasis is put on going straight with a single blade, especially in a solo canoe. On flat water lakes or ponds you spend 99.999999% of your time doing just that. On a twisty river it's about 50/50... there is always a bit of straight when transitioning from a left to right bend.

But I also agree the going straight part is all lumped into controlling the hull. Wind and waves are often my enemy on 'flat' water. I guess you could call dealing with that the art of turning while appearing to go straight.

Some years ago we noticed that folks new to canoeing were focused on turns and wanted to do these nifty high speed turns.. But they couldn't keep the boat going straight.. Its not a turn unless you start from going straight... So we spend a lot of time on going arrow straight in the first place.. The subjects were kind of crestfallen that they were put back into basic forward touring correction class!

Wind and Waves is a difficult class to hold. Often Mother Nature refused to deliver the wind and the waves at the appointed class time. But she would gleefully do so for the exhibition when it was not wanted.
 
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I'd love some wind and waves training. Maybe one should hold the class following a fan boat?
 
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Hi Bird, You were talking about turning while trying to go straight, during wind and waves conditions? Did I get that right? Well, just an observation from the peanut gallery:
Let's say the wind is on my right bow and pushing me to the left. I stick the paddle in on the left side and paddle away with no "J" to the stroke. If I'm still being pushed over I'll paddle harder. If the wind is from the left side I'll do the same but only on the right side.
It kinda tickles me that I'm able to push with my stroke without needing to give up any of my effort for correction. Of course it really helps to have paddled on both sides some without the wind.
That's all I know and a little bit more.

Best Wishes, Rob
 
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Miserable day here on Lower Saranac, 15F/-10C, the snow driving up the lake horizontally and the propane burner without a valve.

Going forward in a straight line without correction is one of the keys to efficiency; less effort wasted in turning the boat back online, and correction lowers cadence too. There are several options in our forward strokes that increase yaw or an arc off course. Angling the paddle shaft across the rail increases yaw; the solution is exaggerating getting the top hand out across the rail so the shaft is vertical. Running the paddle along the rail increases yaw; better to stroke parallel to the keel line with catch and recovery more abeam the rail than the power portion of the stroke. Stroking aft of one's body yaws the boat; better to end the stroke earlier, before it starts arcing in. This is usually at the knee for kneeling paddlers, the at the hip for sitters.

Doing all these things won't make a hull run straight, but they all decrease yaw or tail wagging, bringing us to the double paddle or some correction. Sit and Switch paddlers just switch sides every 7-10 strokes. Kneeling straight bladers often employ a thumbs up or thumbs down pry, or pitch the blade to correct yaw with a loaded in-water recovery.

A more efficient "correction" is the Bow Pin; creating a wave on the bow's offside with energetic, forward strokes and letting the stern skid, the hull basically correcting itself. It's a balance thing, the canoe moving forward slightly crabbed, but both time and force of overt correction are eliminated. The paddler gains by being able to use higher cadence and channelling his/her entire muscular effort into forward motion. The "Bow Pin" terminology is Glenn's; seems the best description yet, certainly more panache than "balanced crab".

With the canoe at rest, get it moving with an onside forward, hit two sweeping cross forwards, then come back onside with a series of short forward strokes ; the catch as far forward as torso rotation and reach allow, the stroke parallel to the keel and isolated forward, ending when the blade comes abeam the knee, and paying enough attention to keep the top hand out, across the rail so the paddleshaft is vertical in the water. Sure, you'll lose the "pin" or balanced crab every so often; just reset it with a couple cross forwards, followed by onside forwards again.

It may help to heel the canoe a little to engage hull shape in the aiding the action. Offside heels carve the bow onside. Onside heels help the paddler get the shaft vertical across the rails of wider boats. The boat will fly. The practice mantra comes from Mr Tom Foster, increase heel in either direction as hull dimensions indicate until the canoe is arcing along an "Inside Circle". Yeah, we back off that to align towards and reach our destination.
 
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Glenn MacGrady

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A more efficient "correction" is the Bow Pin

Hey, I'm usually criticizing terminology, but that's one of mine. A few years ago on Pnet I began calling the "inside circle forward stroke" the "bow pin stroke" or the "carve balancing stroke". What's a proper canoe stroke unless it has at least three different confusing names?

It surely does work. Going upcurrent on a river is a good place to use the bow pin stroke. That's what I was doing last week on the Silver River in Florida as an alternative to my mediocre switching technique. The bow pin works nicely into the current as long as the current is linear and smooth. If you encounter an eddy shadow or a wave, that can knock you out of the gentle carve, but the same thing can happen with wind or waves on a lake. It takes persistence and focus to keep the bow pinned and periodically re-pinned. But when it's working right, it's more efficient for me than switching or making heavy duty corrections.
 
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The terminology can get me muddled, but when I focus hard and reason through, I get it. Often it's the simple things that trip me up, and I repeat lazy habits...don't daydream and follow the rail...don't daydream and follow through past my hip...That's why taking a "refresher" in springtime, in the comfort of my basement rec room, really helps to reinforce many paddle strokes. I'm a student of life, and my life includes paddling. Thanks Charlie, Kim, Marc, Glenn and others for making me a better paddler.
 
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I've been hearing a few people online extoll the benefits of the "bow pin" for a couple years now and always wrote them off as loonies who paddle very short and very highly rockered boats. Maybe it works for them to some extent in their tiny little boats but it certainly isn't going to work on something longer that a normal person would paddle.

Then this summer I wanted to cover some water in a hurry but found myself in my Kite (Osprey), which, while a fine boat, is far from fast by my standards and isn't very fun for hit and switch paddling. Trying to come up with some way to keep going straight while pouring on the power and keeping the correction strokes to a minimum I soon found myself on my knees, farther forward of my seat than normal, and reaching far out in front with the paddle taking very hard but very short strokes and getting a dozen or more strokes/side before any correction was required. My normal seated hit and switch technique, ending before my hip, would get me about 2 strokes with no correction if I was putting the screws to it in this hull.

It's not a stroke I employ all the time now, or even most of the time, but it's nice to know it's there.

Alan
 
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I use the "inside circle", "hull carving", "bow wave pin", "Andrew Westwood 2 X 4" technique much of the time, in a wide variety of boats, in both whitewater and non-whitewater situations. How well it works does depend on hull design, and yes, it will work in an Osprey, as well as a Flashfire or Wildfire, and a wide variety of non-whitewater hulls.

As Glenn pointed out, it does require quite a bit of focus to maintain the hull carving on the desired arc, particularly when trying to open the circle up to approximate a straight line, and when a straight line has been approximated it doesn't take much to knock the boat off the circle to the opposite side. And as Charlie pointed out, the boat does crab a bit toward the side opposite the paddle, but even so, the elimination of correction strokes still results in greater overall efficiency.

It is important to understand that although with practice the "circle" can be opened up to one of very large radius approximating straight line travel, as soon as the circle falls off to the opposite side, something must be done to avoid yawing dramatically to the off-side. Whitewater paddlers will typically just switch over to cross-forward strokes and start carving an "off-side, inside circle". But another option which Alan alluded to, is to switch paddling sides and hands and incorporate the hull carving technique into a hit and switch style of paddling so as to decrease the frequency of the switches, sometimes dramatically.

It isn't necessarily the most relaxing way to paddle, but when paddling into a headwind, or attaining upstream against current, the increased efficiency that comes from eliminating correction strokes really makes a difference.
 
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