Learning Process - FreeStyle (Quiet Water Technique) Turns

I am in the process of learning more FreeStyle (or Quiet Water Technique) and I thought I would share some of my experience in building up to doing those nice smooth turns (Axle, Post, Wedge, Christie, FreeSpin). I find much of the skill involved with completing these and looking effortless starts with the ability to paddle in a straight line, and understand where the canoe will turn even when you are not paddling.

With this in mind I am going to use my progressing for learning an Axle. The end result is an onside turn, with the canoe heeled to the onside, using a running draw. The turn is initiated with a C or J stroke and completed (after the turn) with bow draw rolling into a forward stroke (or sliced back with a palm roll into reverse stroke). A successful Axle should make a 180° turn or pivot.

Progression Steps (at each step just add to existing skill or set of moves):

  1. Paddle in a nice straight line - pull your paddle out and let the canoe glide (don't add any heel or adjust pitch) Do this a few times until you can get a least a bit of time with a nice glide in a straight line without any yaw or turn. My goal is 10 seconds.
  2. Add a strong 'J' or 'C' stroke to initiate an inside turn. Let the canoe glide it should slowly turn until most of the momentum is lost. Make sure that you can consistently get a slow inside turn. (repeat a bunch of times)
  3. Shift from a seated kneel to a high kneel. Let the canoe glide - the turn should be a little faster. Shifting to a high kneel will slightly weight the leading stem (bow) and release the trailing stem (stern) to skid over the surface of the water. (repeat a bunch of times)
  4. Weight the inside knee (heel the canoe) until the chine is well engaged - the turn should be even faster and more complete. This releases both the leading and trailing stems and allows the canoe to freely turn. As you become more comfortable with the position you should be able to push the onside gunwale to the water. (repeat a bunch of times)
  5. When you have the turn working without a paddle - Add a running draw in front of your paddling station to complete an Axle. The use of the paddle at this stage really augments the movement of the canoe and can provide some minor adjustments to the speed and arc of the turn.

These same steps can be used to develop the progression through any of the FreeStyle turning manoeuvers in both onside and offside in the forward, reverse directions - Axle, Post, Christie, Wedge. The difference in reverse is that you can't easily transition to a simple high kneel - just slip back on your seat. I find a reverse christie easier to start with, as a running draw behind your paddling station can be difficult without a really good body rotation.

The following clip provides an idea of what this progression might look like - remember each of the steps is likely done multiple times as you build up skill and control. I don't really recommend skipping to the end until the building blocks are in place.

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August 28, 2020