A Story of Pauline's Favourite Stroke - The Compound Back Stroke
A Reminder of the Influence we have as Teachers/Mentors/Coaches

I woke up this morning and realized that I have been instructing or coaching most of my life - just over forty years. I often meet students and athletes that I worked with many years ago and occasionally I cringe when they say (or demonstrate) something that I apparently taught or showed them. No matter the outcome, good or bad, it is always a good reminder that anything that I say, do, or show can be picked up as 'the truth' and carried forward for many years.

I think we all have cringe worthy stories of students demonstrating something that we couldn't have possibly done (but probably did), and then finding out they have been sharing their knowledge as 'the truth' for years. I want to focus on something more positive, although still a reminder of the influence that we can have on the experiences of others.

Last weekend I was helping out with a Paddle Canada Instructor Maintenance Clinic. Pauline had driven in from western Manitoba to take the clinic because her certification was going to expire later this year without some TLC . I had not paddled or seen Pauline in person for several years, and the last time she took a course with me must have been more than five years ago (possibly even 10).

Pauline is a partner/operator of River Song Wilderness - a back country canoe guide company. Since she is out tripping almost continuously her paddling and instructor skills are very high, I was pretty sure that I would learn as much from her as she would from me during the clinic. One of the tasks that I had set for the group in the clinic was to introduce and teach a paddling skill using some of the recommendations from Paddle Canada - except I wanted to move the participants outside of their comfort zone. One of the concerns that has been raised within the instructor community is the amount that we talk (talk, talk, talk...). With this in mind I had the group work through several lessons without any talking at all - none, all in mime, no voice, zippo... This was surprisingly easy for some, and very difficult for others.

Pauline had convinced her group to introduce, demonstrate, and allow us to experience the compound back stroke. I was surprised that a number of the paddlers had never seen or heard of this very useful power stroke – overall it turned into a useful learning and sharing experience for everyone. Pauline had to teach some of her group the stroke first, and then they worked out how to teach the stroke to the rest of use (without any vocalization). The group did a stellar job (with some rough edges, but that was the point). During the discussion afterwards about teaching methods, alternatives, ideas on what works (and doesn't) I found out that Pauline had been telling people this was the "Charles' Stroke" and that it was her overall favourite. Apparently, I had demonstrated this stroke as part of a course a number of years ago and it had changed Pauline's paddling experience. She found the stroke powerful and useful just about anytime going backward (or stopping) was required. She felt the stroke gave her more power, but also far better control than a more standard reverse stroke. Over all, it was beautiful, graceful, and just plain cool - everyone should know and love this stroke.

I have no memory of presenting or discussing this stroke with Pauline, although it is covered in many of the courses I run, and I often use it when coaching/teaching. I suspect that the introduction she remembers was during a drop-in session rather than part of my course.

I am glad that Pauline really enjoys the stroke: "I love the compound back stroke! I'm very thankful for your expertise and instruction, you have had and continue to have a profound influence on my paddling and on our paddling community."


The video above demonstrates the compound back stroke from several different perspectives. The demo is in a solo canoe so the stroke is finished with a reverse J (in tandem canoes this is only done by the bow paddler - the stern completes using a normal back stroke).

  1. Catch: The catch is started with a strong body rotation; the paddle is pushed vertically into the water with the blade reversed from the normal 'back-paddle'. Think of the catch setup like doing a draw but rotating your body further toward the back of the canoe - basically a draw stroke but from the stern. This means that the grip-hand thumb is on the inside (pointing to the middle of the canoe).

    Your Grip-hand and elbow should be at the top of the paddlers box, with your forearm parallel to the water and at your eye level. Your body should be fully rotated so you can easily see the stern of the canoe, maybe with a slight lean toward the stern of the canoe.

  2. Power Phase 1: Pull the paddle toward the bow - uncoil the body rotation, and pull your arms forward. Most of the power comes during this phase of the stroke, it is bio-mechanically stronger than a normal reverse stroke.

  3. PowerPhase 2: As the paddle passes the hip, flip the power face by rotating the wrists away from you (grip hand thumb out). Continue with a normal back stroke. If a reverse J is required, this second part of the power stroke will be quite short.

  4. Completion: The stroke is completed as you would a normal reverse by slicing the paddle out of the water (sideways) just after the blade passes your knees. Continue into a full body rotation to start the next stroke.

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September 26, 2019, 2019