I was asked the other day about how the catch in a regular backstroke should be planted. The question came up based on a couple of short clips that I had posted earlier this year that showed a very shallow catch angle to the paddle. The question - "shouldn't the paddle be sliced in just behind the paddle position with a fairly steep angle"? On reviewing much of my own paddling I found that the angle at the catch varies considerably depending on the kind of paddling I am doing, seating height, correction needed, and how much I am day-dreaming. I headed out for a couple of hours of back paddling to think on this topic specifically and I still don't have a straight answer since it depends on a number of factors.
This clip shows a far-back, shallow angle, catch twice. Followed by another set using a higher angle entry and catch. In both cases, reverse power is provided about the same location, the grip hand is outside the gunwale, and both grip hand and elbow are relatively high.
In the end, I decided that it is more important to consider when force is applied and how fully the paddle is submerged into the water. The complexity of separating out the nuanced difference between catch and application of power is important - how to demonstrate/teach/explain and which is easier to conceptualize.
When tandem paddling, or solo paddling from a high kneeling or sitting position, it is much easier to start the stroke at a steep angle - there is just more space. The default when teaching/demonstrating would be to slice in from the side directly to a steep angle position, with the grip hand and elbow relatively high and good body rotation. The slice, if done at all, is very short limiting potential for 'goofing up'. When I am solo paddling in a more 'Canadian Style' position I will continue to use a shallow angle as this is more practical and allows more directional control, but applying reverse power only when the paddle is relatively vertical with grip hand and elbow high.
The concern with slicing into a steep angle is if the slice has to be fairly long (e.g. Canadian Style position) then the chance to apply power too early (too far from from the canoe), the probability of having an incorrect pitch on the blade (causing incorrect steering), and stalling in paddle motion before applying reverse power are all greater. If you watch the slow-motion of the steep-angle section just at the end of the slice there is a pile-up of water on the non-power side of the paddle. I expect this is due to my lack of practise doing the stroke this way but it shows the 'stall' and how it could cause problems. I also think it is more likely that power will start to be applied before the paddle is close to the canoe (basically doing a back sweep).
The concern with a shallow angle far back from the paddler is the application of power too early and wasting energy in 'lifting' the canoe or paddler. This is also a difficult concept for a novice paddler as the distinction is somewhat nuanced. Of course, there are issues with pitch on the blade and stalling at (or near) the catch as well - but in my bias opinion this is less likely than when using a sliced entry. In the first video (and slow motion) section you might notice the pitch of the blade is away from the canoe - this is inconsistent with the 'ideal' stroke and was being done at this point because of the need for an offside correction required due to the wind.
I will continue to use a shallow angle when 'Canadian Style' paddling, and a steep angle when in a higher seating position.
I should note that both of these sets are done when the canoe is actually in motion relative to the water. To get the canoe moving I usually use a short reverse rolling-J, or possibly a compound back with either a paddle flip or palm roll. The power portion of the starting stroke is very short, and the rolling allows for continuous correction. Very rarely do I use a 'C' stroke - I actually try to avoid teaching the C stroke as the catch and initial power are so often incorrectly directed and balanced.
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October 13, 2019