MacKenzie Reversal - A first try

I some fun learning (and relearning) reversals so I thought it might be of some interest to others if I provided my learning path. Turning around in the boat provides some additional options with regard to weighting (and releasing) the stems when doing reverse and cross-reverse moves. How to turn around gracefully and without tipping over is the trick.

I will freely admit that I am not graceful doing these, and I am told that the extra stroke that I put in when not turning the canoe (e.g. running straight) is not correct.

It turns out that what I was shown was apparently a later interpretation of a MacKenzie reversal - I was talking with a mentor this summer (2022) and got some updated information. The original reversal (from Tom MacKenzie) was a quick transition from forward to reverse facing, usually ending in a racing stance without changing the direction of the canoe motion. This reversal would allow for stopping the canoe (forward stroke) or for rear weighting for additional rearward pitch without a seat in the way. What I had been shown originally did involve a turn but there was a paddle placement during the move.


Smoothly and efficiently reverse seating direction in the canoe is the goal. I would recommend starting with a cross axle when first attempting because of onside completion; it is just easier. Use a slippery kneeling pad since it makes moving and sliding knees and feet easier - nylon surface, and pants. I do most of my FS without shoes to avoid catching the mat and I find it more comfortable.

Steps (using cross axle to start) to complete a reversal:

  1. Start in a seated wide kneeling position
  2. Lift your on-side knee (slide foot around under body, while raising knee). A wide kneel is important to leave space for this movement.
  3. Slide off side foot under seat and point knee diagonally out to the off-side. Unlike a transverse kneel where you may be further down the boat keep knee close to the seat to leave room for reversal.
  4. Use a straight through on-side stroke, or a slight sweep or stern draw, to initiated offside turn.
  5. Rotate raised knee down to the off side, right next to other knee (pointing sideways) AT THE SAME TIME - pass paddle feathered with power face up across the boat, rotate body, and go into high-transverse cross kneel. One of the things to remember is to use toes down on both feet - this makes the lift of the knee in step 8 below easier.
  6. Plant the paddle in running draw for a cross axle and hold. You are free to do a cross Christie, or even just level paddling.
  7. Continue cross axle to completion
  8. Rotate body to face stern of canoe, AT THE SAME TIME - slice paddle forward, slide foot to point off-side knee forward, keep offside knee in chine to allow for other foot (later)
  9. Lower body to seat, at the same time lifting the onside knee.
  10. Slide foot of onside (raised knee) under body to go back into a seated wide kneeling position.




I encourage you to experiment with the above process. Initially start with forward motion, and use a cross axle as part of the transition. After that try an axle, then try out use of Christie or Cross Christie. Although I finished off with forward paddling, with a reversal to reverse paddle, this combination can also be modified as well and is probably more appropriate for continued FS routine as it frees the trailing stem.

When first learning I practised doing an axle and cross-axle with a Transverse high kneel first and then progressed to continuing the reversal. Once I had the reversal successfully completed with a cross-axle I worked on the reversal using an axle.

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June 18, 2019 - updated June 20, 2022.