Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Forward stroke again

The focus of this blog is and always will be instruction. Even the coverage of my inside passage trip was based in instruction. I had a lot of time to think while paddling in Alaska. We did around 325 miles in 18 days of paddling. Which averages to 18 miles per day. By my math around 700,000 paddle strokes were done in those 18 days. That is a lot of time to think and tweak your forward stroke. In the first few moments of the trip I thought to myself - how many strokes will I do? And towards the end of the trip I started to think - How many strokes are left?

Psychologically there is a very interesting thing that occurs when you talk to people during a trip like that. In the beginning people will say "wow! you have a long way to go!" which is a painful sentence to hear. And then at some point what they say changes. It becomes "wow! you've come a long way."  Which is an amazing sentence to hear. Our last night of the trip we were in Haines counting the minutes to get back on the water. We were ready to be done. We were waiting to take showers and a woman who said she was a kayaker asked where we came from. When we told her we came from Ketchikan and got there in 17 days she was speechless. Then she warned us about the wind.

If your going to do a trip involving 700,000 paddle strokes though your stroke has to be efficient. I noticed a couple of things with my forward stroke in the 18 days we were paddling. When the water got choppy and rough I tended to shorten my paddle stroke, and I think this was because I wanted to be able to brace if I needed to. But the by product was it slowed me down. I had to remember to lengthen my stroke out to not give away speed.

There are three things I like to watch for in my forward stroke:

Number 1 - Am I planting my paddle up by my feet? I want a nice long forward stroke utilizing as much of my rotation as possible.

Number 2 - Am I making my stroke too long? Where is my paddle coming out of the water? It should be at my hip. Any further back and I am lifting water up, instead of pushing my kayak forward.

Number 3 - How much blade is going in the water? In the middle of my stroke - or yours - the water line should be right at the throat of the paddle, where the shaft joins the blade. More than this, and I am wasting energy. Having the shaft in the water is only causing resistance in the water. But not having the blade fully submerged and I am giving up surface area that is providing propulsion.

I need to hit three sweet spots in each paddle stroke. Every time. No exceptions. Every. Stroke. Counts. And when you have 700,000 of them you get some time to think about it. But at the same time you have to control what those thoughts are.

When meditating - a foundation of Buddhism - it is important to keep your mind focused on the present. I always think of the forward stroke as a meditation. It has to happen without thought. Yet must be thoughtful. It is important to remember when meditating and your mind wanders, which it will do, that you bring your focus back to the present. But at the same time it is important to accept the wandering without chastising yourself, which is just another thought taking your focus away from the present, your chastising yourself for something that occurred in the past - just go back to your focus. The same thing has to occur with your forward stroke. When it strays from perfection, which it will do, just go back to focus. Check your three sweet spots, make sure your rotating, make sure your posture is correct. Make sure you are pushing with your feet.

Stay focused and in the moment and a fluid, beautiful forward stroke will come.


  1. I could use a meditation lesson from you...or a book recommendation. You can hold the forward stroke practice - won't be needing the actual stroke.

  2. I like Steven Hagens Meditation Now or Never.

  3. A belated "bravo" on your expedition, PO. Well done and keep up the reflections on the time on the water so that we can continue to share the experience! We're inspired! Duncan.

  4. Thanks Duncan (and Joan!)! I'm doing my best to get video rolling from the trip. But believe it or not you just gave me an idea for a blog post! I just have to figure out when to write it.

    Thanks again.


  5. Nice post.

    I'm not overly familiar with Buddhism or meditation, but what I love most about kayaking is, as you say, that intense sense of the "now" I often feel: when my stroke is smooth and rhythmic, propelling me effortlessly along; and the only conscious thought in my mind is the next stroke, and the one after that.

    It's a very good place to be.


  6. Brent,

    You know more about Buddhism and meditation than you think as you just summed them both up perfectly. Thanks for the comment.