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Should tandem paddlers ever paddle on the same side?

Glenn MacGrady

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". . . the late freestyle paddler and canoe builder Mike Galt once wrote: 'Decide at birth on which side of the canoe you want to paddle, then never, ever change.'”

"There are many good reasons tandem teams should stick to paddling on opposite sides of the canoe—and going straight is just one of them. Still, there is a common exception to this rule."

 
I have been forced to paddle with many different people in my bow for many years. I am a dedicated lefty, never switch unless there is a necessary reason. One of those reasons does not involve a bow paddler getting tired and wanting to switch sides. If they switch to the left, I just keep paddling left as well, never had a problem keeping things straight. Sure, it's kind of like riding a moped, you don't want anyone to see it, but it still works.
 
Many canoes want to bow up into the wind..If your course is cross wind both paddling on upwind side keeps you on course.
What is not mentioned is sideways drift..This can be a big problem in strong wind and waves.. If you are paddling on the downwind side be ready to release one hand if the boat goes over the paddle.. Otherwise out you go.
 
Being the racer/sit and switch type, and paddling solo a lot, it's rare I find a bow partner with the same cadence, especially when some digging is necessary. So, when conditions allow, I just ignore the bow paddler and paddle my cadence, switching as necessary for steerage. It's sort of like walking your own pace. I'm a die hard bent shafter of 40+ years, and I would rather switch than try to put in a steering stroke. Commonly in the bow I just ignore what's happening behind me (assuming we don't have to maneuver). I call it "solo mode", and it soothes my frustrations with less experienced partners. We may not look pretty, but we get there pretty efficiently. On four and six week trips with the same (less experienced) partner, you do what you have to do to make things work. I'm less a stroke nazi when I need or desire to use a straight shaft.
 
Only paddle on the same side in windy conditions on a lake as the article describes. I've worked at paddling on my weaker side (right) whenever things are not too difficult so now right or left doesn't make much difference. I'm not a sit and switch paddler but I like to change sides occasionally for a rest. My steering strokes are done on most strokes and have become pretty efficient and relatively minor. I'm sure I'm not as efficient as hit and switch people but I find it much more relaxing.
 
Like @Mason , I just do what it takes to stay straight and on course. I have never paddled with an experienced canoeist, so I just do what I can to make the trip as great as possible. I almost drove my son out of the sport altogether by trying to follow all the "right" techniques and make him do them as well. It was an adventure in frustration and eventually ended with him wanting his own solo boat. If he wouldn't have had the guts to make the request (and explain why), he would have likely just given up and the last five years of memories would have never happened.

Maybe someday I will paddle with someone who can teach me the ways of canoeing righteousness. Until then, I am just thrilled to have a partner with whom to experience the outdoors.
 
"There are many good reasons tandem teams should stick to paddling on opposite sides of the canoe..."
That word Team sounds like a competitive term, which doesn't apply to any canoe tripping I do.
Early on I practiced paddling and correction strokes from both sides, so whichever partner I might have the pleasure to share a canoe with will also enjoy the day. Eventually I became ambidextrous enough to paddle as badly on either side, port or starboard. On our upcoming August trip this season I'll say to my "team member"-wife, as I always do, "Pick a side, feel free to change your mind, and paddle only when you feel like it." There are "how to" rules of course, all having to do with sensible safety, otherwise it's all about escapist freedom.
 
This is more so for racing and less about tripping but it is different reading that people in a tandem boat (team) that ignore their partner. And paddle how they want? How does that help move the boat down the water the most efficient way possible? Everyone needs to be in sync, blades hitting the water at the same time, same amount of power, same cadence. That is the whole point of a tandem canoe, to have a partner, to go faster. No matter how green I was when starting the most important thing I was made to do was to match the person I was following or set a consistent cadence. Everything else can be worked around. Anyways a cruiser up on edge flying around a corner with both in sync is a pretty awesome feeling.
 
Clint, I thought you might chime in. Of course what I was talking about is long distance tripping, not day paddling or racing. I love the feeling of synchronous strokes, perfect switches, the feeling of raw efficiency. But on the last two trips, it wasn't going to happen. Recreational paddlers that show up with 56" bent shafts make me shudder. On one trip, the fellow hadn't even used his brand new carbon bent shaft paddle (and I had to correct him several times which way the paddle should be oriented). And then there are the lillydippers..... I can either force them to paddle efficiently (stroke nazi), myself struggling to paddle that slowly (a 56" paddle is not known for quickness), or I can ignore them and maintain my own efficiency and get there faster with them paddling their own cadence and side, and lessen any chance of personality conflict. It's sort of the same feeling as driving behind someone that's going 10-15 mph under the speed limit. Again, we're not racing, but we do have to get along together for 4-6 weeks in a remote setting. Of course, in whitewater paddling, where every stroke has to be performed properly and timed correctly, there has to be coordination.
 
For those interested in tandem synchrony I recommend Shawn Burkes new book the Science of Paddling.

It does not go into intraboat personal conflicts. But synchrony is a goal albeit not always possible.
 
I rarely paddle tandem and almost always from the stern position, I will make attempts to convince my bow paddler to stop doing a sweep stroke. If they can accomplish that then I don't care what side they paddle on (I'm an all on the right all of the time guy), if they can't eliminate the sweep then I prefer they not paddle at all or limit it to occasional lily dipping.
 
I rarely paddle tandem and almost always from the stern position, I will make attempts to convince my bow paddler to stop doing a sweep stroke. If they can accomplish that then I don't care what side they paddle on (I'm an all on the right all of the time guy), if they can't eliminate the sweep then I prefer they not paddle at all or limit it to occasional lily dipping.
The effect of a bow paddler sweep is far less than a stern paddler sweep.. And almost ALL stern paddlers carry the blade along the path of the gunwale in back of their hip.

The stern paddler is its own worst enemy.. Or if done with forethought its own best friend in rounding curves in the water. The stern sweep gets the back skidding..

The bow is relatively pinned... Its got to do with the pivot point which most designers feel moves forward a foot to a foot and a half when underway..Remember the effect of the little weight with long arm( the stern) that balances the big weight with the short arm ( bow)in the scales experiment in high school

The stern makes or breaks the course.. Once the stern skids the bow can sharpen the turn.. The basis for FreeStyle canoeing
 
For a while I had a great tandem partner and we followed the best practice rules alluded to above. The grace and performance of paddling together is worth it. I always paddled stern and can paddle both sides well, though I will stick to starboard when entering rapids.

Now I paddle solo. I’ve been unable to find another like-minded canoe partner.
 
I've never paddled on the same side as my wife other than some cross bow strokes. When we are broadside to the wind I paddle on the downwind side and switch to my six foot paddle for more leverage from my sweep. I have also asked her to incorporate some draw in her stroke to help pull the bow into the wind. If that becomes too difficult I'll change course and get my bow more into the wind so I can make headway, and then do a zig zag course hopefully avoiding being broadside.,

The thought of both paddlers on the same side sounds like a bad idea to me, but if Clff recommends it, I'll give it a try. I can see the advantages, and as long as it feels stable, why not?
 
Everyone needs to be in sync, blades hitting the water at the same time, same amount of power, same cadence. That is the whole point of a tandem canoe, to have a partner, to go faster
LOL. Different strokes for different folks, as the saying goes. The whole point of the thing for me is to NOT go faster, but to enjoy the experience, and if lucky enough to have a conversationalist in the bow, being able to talk about the experience and life in general, without going "Hut hut" or whatever it is you switcheroos say.
 
I wish my wife would just pick a side and paddle.
Does this explain why you're now building a solo? :)
...people in a tandem boat (team) that ignore their partner. And paddle how they want? How does that help move the boat down the water the most efficient way possible?
It is extremely rare that I paddle tandem but when I do I couldn't care less about what my partner does or how efficiently we are moving. Very few things in my life are being rushed through and I can compensate for whatever they do up there so enjoying the moment is key.

I have friends who find their enjoyment in proficiency, order and efficiency so I understand but that's not me. I'll always be an untrained water whacker who is satisfied as long as the boat goes where it's supposed to go.
 
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