How did you learn?

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I pretty much picked it up on my own as a young lad during my summers at a friend's place in Cobden, Ontario. ("young lad" is a term that always brings me back to those wonderful summers of my youth back then in Cobden)

I guess the goon stroke was my go-to stroke, later in life I picked up a book or magazine and learned to paddle somewhat better. I never had any formal instruction, no doubt I would have benefitted from it.
Goonie is a legit stroke. THE stroke for straight line river travel.
 
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Goonie is a legit stroke. THE stroke for straight line river travel.
During one of my whitewater courses, the instructor referred to the “goonstroke” as a “River J.” It’s a more powerful correction, appropriate when such a powerful correction is needed. The instructor cautioned not to hold it so long that the canoe lost momentum,, which could introduce other problems. Although he didn’t use it as THE stroke for whitewater, he certainly recommended it as a valuable correction stroke. Short and quick.

He asked us how often we should use it. We didn’t know the answer, which was “as needed.”
 
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Catamarans are fun. We have lashed canoes together several times on easy rivers. I have used a bed sheet as a sail.

My cousin and I hatched a plan once for a 150 mile trip down Roosevelt Lake, WA. This was in his canned ham trailer at 4 in the morning. We plan to lash 3 canoes together and build a plywood deck with a mast and a small outboard. Deck chairs on the deck. After many years at Burning Man, we decided to call it "Floating Man."
 
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I learned the basic strokes at a canoe camp as a kid long ago. Haven't progressed much beyond them and really don't need to for the paddling I do, but have used them enough to know which ones to use and when. My son started whitewater paddling this summer, so if he ever drags me along I might have to up my game. I can dream.

Would love to get a tandem lesson with my wife. Or maybe ask her to paddle stern some.
 
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I learned the basic strokes at a canoe camp as a kid long ago. Haven't progressed much beyond them and really don't need to for the paddling I do, but have used them enough to know which ones to use and when. My son started whitewater paddling this summer, so if he ever drags me along I might have to up my game. I can dream.

Would love to get a tandem lesson with my wife. Or maybe ask her to paddle stern some.
I think it’s useful for paddling partners, such as husband and wife, to alternate between bow and stern, which allows both people to become more aware of the different challenges in bow and stern, particularly in moving water. It also allows the husband who usually paddles stern to become more humble. Kathleen and I used to teach introductory canoeing to new members of our club. I had a call from a new member about our lessons. I told him that we usually prefer husbands and wives not to paddle together, because sometimes their marriage dynamics get in the way. He didn’t like that, but supported our fallback position that his wife should paddle in the stern half of the time. He liked that, and I quote: “That would be good, because when she’s in the bow, the canoe doesn’t go straight.”

With our club on day trips, Kathleen and I switched positions after lunch. This gave us confidence in both bow and stern. This was often useful, as sometimes paddling partners in other boats were not doing well, or just not getting along. So Kathleen and I would volunteer to switch with them. Kathleen with one of them, me with the other. New paddlers often have strong preferences for bow or stern. I would ask my new partner what position they wanted, and I would happily take the other. Same for Kathleen.
 
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my dad taught me. He was a part- time ranger doing backwoods patrols all summer, I started as a baby riding in the centre and trying to spear lily pads with my little 20" paddle, by the time I was about 4 I could do most strokes while sitting on a pack, by 5 or 6 I was occasionally in the bow seat and running white water, by 12 I had my own canoe.
What a wonderful way to grow up!
 
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Catamarans are fun. We have lashed canoes together several times on easy rivers. I have used a bed sheet as a sail.

My cousin and I hatched a plan once for a 150 mile trip down Roosevelt Lake, WA. This was in his canned ham trailer at 4 in the morning. We plan to lash 3 canoes together and build a plywood deck with a mast and a small outboard. Deck chairs on the deck. After many years at Burning Man, we decided to call it "Floating Man."
Was there alcohol involved?😉
 
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What a wonderful way to grow up!
as I look back on it, it was, but it was also a lonely way to grow up- I saw zero friends between the end of school and the beginning of the new school year. we'd spend the entire summer either in tent's, ranger cabins, or crew camps and were the only kids around for miles. He quit when they stopped allowing families to travel with the rangers, I was 13 by then
 
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I think it’s useful for paddling partners, such as husband and wife, to alternate between bow and stern, which allows both people to become more aware of the different challenges in bow and stern, particularly in moving water. It also allows the husband who usually paddles stern to become more humble.
My wife is wholly uninterested in learning new strokes when I try to teach her by demonstrating off the water. Doesn't even pay attention really. Hopefully seeing them in action will help her see her way clear to learning. But first I've got to get her in the stern, which is going to be problematic enough. And if I can't, that's ok too. Still my favorite paddling partner regardless, and I've at least talked her into an overnight this coming season. :)

I will say the last time I was in the bow, a couple of years ago with my kid in the stern, it was a little weird and discomfiting having so little boat in front of me. So I get the humble part that way as well.
 
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Whatever strokes I learned in Scouts were lost in the 25 or so years that went between the end of my Scouting and my rediscovery of the water... The only thing that stuck was kneeling... I've always preferred to kneel... feels right, somehow. And when I started solo-ing, I figured out that while reverse from the front seat works, a dedicated solo seat in the middle works better for me... and I eventually figured out the stroke(s) I needed to get going on my own.

These days, I mostly paddle a pack canoe, seated. Still like the kneeling solo/single paddle though.
 

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I began canoeing by myself all summer long at my family's lake cottage in Maine from age 8 to 16. Taught myself. But in retrospect, not much.

I began with the goonie stroke, as everyone naturally does. I "invented" sculling and draws and some other things. I learned I could control the canoe better from near the center. When someone told me that the J stroke was better than the goonie stroke, I began using that, painfully and uncomfortably, until I finally learned how actually to execute a J-ish correction when I was 40 (below).

So it went, on and off with rental canoes from time to time, until I was living in northern California in from 1979-1982. In 1980, I took a formal class in whitewater kayaking from experts at Western Mountaineering, such as Jeff Jones and Reg Lake, which started with pool rolling sessions and ended up with training on the American River, learning about eddy turns, peel outs and ferrying. After dumping five times in class 3 Old Scary rapid and only successfully rolling once, I decided I really liked technical whitewater paddling but didn't like skinny, constricting and claustrophobic (to me) kayaks.

So, I decided I would pursue whitewater paddling in my newly acquired Mad River Explorer. I somehow talked my way onto Sierra Club whitewater trips and paddled all sorts of rivers in the Sierra Nevadas and California coastal ranges. There was lots of informal instruction from open canoe experts there such as Bob Foote.

When I moved to Woodstock, NY, in 1982, I hooked up with the Appalachian Mountain Club, the NY/NJ chapter of which was heavily influenced by slalom racing and the Millbrook canoes of national racing champion John Berry (ME, Flashback, MJM). I took formal whitewater lessons from John Berry and Keech LeClair on the Hudson and Schroon Rivers.

I began open canoe slalom racing, which is the best way to quickly hone technical whitewater skills and suffer immediate penalty for technical skill mistakes. I began paddling with the Connecticut AMC, eventually becoming a member of the Whitewater Committee, a regular trip leader on the class 3 and 4 trips, and the co-creator and co-instructor of the solo whitewater curriculum.

So, by 1984, I was pretty much a competent class 4 whitewater canoeist, but when I went to paddle with Mike Galt and Bardy Jones in Florida that winter, I found out that my flatwater J stroke was inefficient and that I was incompetent with many of Galt's highly technical flatwater maneuvers, later codified by the Freestyle community. I bought a Bardy Jones Express (BJX) canoe from Galt, and my J correction finally clicked when I was lost and paddling alone in the Okefenokee Swamp on my way back to New York. Actually, what clicked was some combination of what I would now call the C stroke and Canadian stroke.

So, it took me 32 years, from age 8 to 40, to learn how to do an efficient flatwater correction stroke. I probably could have learned it in 20 hours of formal instruction and practice. I have since observed that many competent whitewater canoeists do not know technical flatwater technique, and that most flatwater-only technical paddlers are lost in swift currents and real whitewater.

In the summer of 1984 I bought my first decked canoe, got rolling instruction from Clarke Outdoors, and practiced 300 rolls in the lake in Maine. In the summer of 1986, I did 300 rolls in my new Whitesell Piranha open canoe in the Maine lake. Always seeking to improve my skills.

I'll skip my eight years as a sea kayaker and five years as a Hawaiian outrigger canoe paddler in my 50's and early 60's, all of which involved a lot of training and learning, and pick up in 2009 when I decided to go back solely to open canoes.

I still couldn't paddle with the flatwater finesse of Mike Galt that I had seen 25 years earlier, so I decided I would take instruction in Freestyle canoeing, which had long since evolved a teaching curriculum, its own nomenclature, and a set of optimal canoes. So, I took instructionals in the Adirondacks and Florida, which taught me some new maneuvers and honed others I was already using. The instruction was excellent.

During all the 40 years or so since 1980, I bought many paddling instructional books, later videotapes, later DVD's, and later internet videos, all of which are helpful but no substitute for actual on-water practice or formal instruction.

Summarizing a long life of self-instruction and professional instruction, I would highly recommend to anyone who wants to become a competent technical canoeist in all waters to take professional personal instruction in flatwater freestyle canoeing, river canoeing, and whitewater canoeing. That will only take up about 72 hours of your life, but bring a lifetime of improved paddling enjoyment and confidence.
 
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I feel like I must have gotten in a canoe with my dad at some point; I do NOT remember canoeing with the Boy Scouts. I do distinctly remember trolling for salmon on Bowman Lake in Glacier NP with my dad and his uncle (park ranger) in an aluminum flat-back canoe. I was 5-6-ish. It was memorable! Me being from Florida, I’d never seen pink fish flesh before. It looked wrong.

In high school, the cross-country team would rent canoes and go paddling down the various rivers in the Tampa area - Alafia, Manatee, Little Manatee, Hillsborough. Good times were had, despite a broken finger on one trip.

College took me to FSU and the many rivers and lakes up here. I bought a canoe after college and also took it scalloping off St. Mark’s and Wakulla Beach. It’s easy to get back in your canoe while wearing flippers!!
 
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My wife is wholly uninterested in learning new strokes when I try to teach her by demonstrating off the water. Doesn't even pay attention really. Hopefully seeing them in action will help her see her way clear to learning. But first I've got to get her in the stern, which is going to be problematic enough. And if I can't, that's ok too. Still my favorite paddling partner regardless, and I've at least talked her into an overnight this coming season. :)

I will say the last time I was in the bow, a couple of years ago with my kid in the stern, it was a little weird and discomfiting having so little boat in front of me. So I get the humble part that way as well.
I used to teach Stern Women for couples. Lady in the stern man in the bow. So often I heard from the men that it was psychologically unsettling to have so much water ahead of them. They were used to seeing lots of boat.
On the distaff side I heard from women that they felt much more secure in the stern as they could see what "he was up to". And they liked the techy aspect of the J stroke. Many of the wives said they did not want to be told what to do by their guy but were receptive to outside instruction. The men too for the most part ( though some were more hesitant to swallow their pride)

Anyone who has been in the bow with a twitchy dog knows that women do not have eyes in the back of their heads. I really prefer solo with the dog in front!
 
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Remember to pass it on.
In a week interested people can learn how to paddle if they pay attention.
 
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yc,
We can agree that whitewater skills take a long time to perfect. On the other hand, I paddled a technical section of the Trinity River in California with my sister in law who was 16 at the time. She is a smart girl and took instruction well. Most of the rapids and drops were short so we could scout them and make a plan. She executed some great draw strokes to pull us through some strong eddy lines. We fared much better than my wife and my friend who were much more experienced but slightly overconfident.

I have only paddled rivers with really experienced people a couple of times. It felt like dancing.
 
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Not sure who to thank or blame it on. Was it a generational thing, a cultural thing, a family thing, or nothing at all, but when I was young you learned most things by doing. Follow the teacher's instructions on the blackboard, heads down and do it. Grab the hay bales like so and swing 'em up onto the trailer like they're doing. Good. You have 3 more acres. Lace yer skates like this, hold your stick like so and mimic Yvon Cournoyer. But first shovel off more of the pond. Crouch down on the dock with your hands pointed out in front of you, and keep leaning forward and push off with your feet. Then when you're in dog paddle like the family pet. Eventually you'll copy how mum and dad swim and you'll be good for beyond the lily pads. Watch that old guy down at the town docks, the way he gets in and paddles away with his supplies. Try it. Do it. Learn.
Although an older brother introduced me to canoe camping I owe most credit for whatever seeped in and stuck in my imperfect self to Bill Mason; both his books and films. Tried it, did it, learned it. I am not a great paddler, don't miss throwing bales, still not overly fond of arithmetic, and am only an okay swimmer. But learning the way I did was simply using whatever resources were at hand at the time, and I'm happy.
In my dreams I'm flying down the wing in the old Forum with number 12 just a blur on my back. But I haven't laced on skates in years.
 

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I paddled a technical section of the Trinity River in California with my sister in law

Oh, the beautiful Trinity Alps and Trinity River. It's one of the rivers I dearly hoped to run once more in life, but that's fast becoming a quixotic impossible dream.

Another way I learned whitewater in California when I was a novice first class, aside from paddling with the Sierra Club and Santa Rosa club, was doing solo tandem trips with my novice second class partner, John. We paddled many class 1-2 and 2-3 rivers together, learning and muddling our way through rapids, often with just blind luck.

One weekend in 1981 we drove all the way from San Jose (me) and Palo Alto (him) to do the Trinity and Klamath rivers in far northern California. I had no information on the Trinity except that Ann Dwyer had given me the name and phone number of some paddler up in that area. I called him. He told me where to put in and take out, and then ominously intoned: "Whatever you do, don't go past that take-out. If you do, you will be in Burnt Ranch Gorge. You won't get out of there alive!" Okey, dokey, that sounded clear enough.

So, we ran the Trinity. It was gorgeous—the crystal water, the majestic mountains, the cloudless sky. There were strange old machines along parts of the shore, which we didn't know the purpose of: mining? fishing? We made it through all the rapids and took out at the take-out, avoiding a Burnt Ranch death.

A couple of years later, Bob Foote was running Burnt Ranch Gorge in an open canoe (Mad River ME), but John and I probably would have died.

Fast forward to the summer of 2004. I had driven from Connecticut to Sacramento to pick up my custom made Huki outrigger canoe. Paddling it on mountain lakes and tidewater rivers throughout the Sierras and northern California coast, I found myself traveling east along the Trinity River Highway, looking down at fond memories from 23 years earlier. I pulled into the old put-in, which had become a lot fancier for the raft company business. I wanted so much to paddle the gorgeous Trinity again that I almost thought of doing so in my 22' long, 30 lb., unmaneuverable outrigger canoe. I didn't do such a foolish thing, of course, but I plaintively vowed that I would come back one last time in a canoe that could run flat water as well as 2-3 whitewater such as that section of the Trinity River.

That was one of the reasons I bought my Hemlock SRT—to make another 10,000 mile cross-continent trip with a boat versatile enough to paddle lakes, rivers and whitewater, especially including the blissfully nostalgic Trinity River.

Windmills. And I'm no longer even Sancho Panza much less Don Quixote. Lots of windmills.
 
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First time in a canoe was at Scout camp. One hour, and I was hooked ! I assembled my first canoe, from a kit advertised in an outdoor magazine. Learned paddling by doing.
 
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GM,
I call our local neighborhood long ears, Donkey Oatey. One of my best friends.

I organized the Senior Class Canoe Trip when we finished high school in 1968. We had over 50 guys going up the C&O Canal then down the Potomac River the next day. . We camped at a designated place and were met by around 60 girls. It was the 60s so they left at midnight and came back the next morning to cook breakfast. The trip is still famous over 50 years later.
 
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