Wondering about paddling technique versus speed...

SWriverstone

Paddler
Joined
Jun 22, 2021
Messages
40
Location
Eugene, OR
Hi All:

I've been wondering a lot lately about paddling technique—not in terms of movement of the paddle and body (that's a whole 'nother topic), but in terms of stroke rate versus speed. Bear with me here...

I haven't done any back-to-back tests (and need to), but regardless of my stroke rate in strokes per minute, I normally paddle with no breaks in blade entry (to the water). As my rear blade comes out of the water my front blade is entering the water. Constant, cyclical motion 100% of the time. Put differently, my boat is under forward power 98% of the time (I'm guessing that other 2% accounts for the sub-second delay between the tip of the blade entering the water and full force against the blade.)

Lately, I've been wondering if I might achieve the same overall speed (or something very close to it) with significantly less effort over time...by pausing briefly between each stroke to allow the boat to glide (e.g. "coast" through the water)? I'm not talking about long "recreational lily-dipper" pauses...but maybe a 0.5 to 1.0 second pause.

I should mention that I'm only talking about doing this in long (16' or longer) sea kayaks with good hull speed. We all know there are plenty of rec kayaks out there that have such abysmal hull speed that the split-second the boat is not under power it slows down dramatically.

It seems to me that when you paddle with "constant blade entry" (for lack of a better phrase) you're not really allowing the boat to glide (e.g. "coast" through the water) at all—you're just powering it through the water all the time.

I guess the only way to know would be to do a test: paddle a given distance (the longer the better) in relatively calm, flat water both ways and see what the time/speed difference is using the "constant blade entry" technique and the "pause to glide" technique. It's pretty easy to measure speed over distance. Much harder is to measure perceived effort—but I think you'd still have a pretty good idea.

(I suppose you could also paddle using each technique for a given length of time, like 20 or 30 minutes, and compare how far you paddled each way.)

If (hypothetically) I can maintain 4.5mph over a mile with the "constant blade entry" technique...
...and maintain, say, 4.3mph using the "pause to glide" technique...then my hypothesis is that "pause to glide" would be more efficient over a full day of paddling because you'll be less tired (from the cumulative benefit of all those "micro-rests" on each stroke).

Yes, this is pretty unscientific, I know. LOL I'm not an engineer. All of this is just a hunch based on hundreds of hours of doing straight-line workouts in relatively calm water on big lakes. And yes, I know if we're talking about paddling in big seas and swell with breaking waves, it's probably a different scenario because you'll occasionally be forced to pause in your strokes (because of a breaking wave, or to place your blade just past the crest of a wave, etc.)

Scott
 

eriktheviking

Paddler
Joined
Jul 4, 2009
Messages
203
Location
Prince George, BC
Back in the day (many many days ago) rowing in an eight (and later sculling), we did a lot of work to reduce the stroke rate but increase speed with power on the stroke but slowing the return for recovery. The power came from driving legs and core strength- quite a lot given the bend in the oars. It seems like a decent idea but the time scales are quite different- a 15 minute rowing race vs 3 or more hours continuous kayak paddling. Possibly due to age (or mileage) I'm much more susceptible to shoulder injury now so I have to be careful about too much emphasis on stroke power over attention to technique. Using a GP has been good to help manage that as well.
 

Kayak Jim

Paddler
Joined
Mar 5, 2016
Messages
275
Location
Comox Valley BC
I used to paddle with a guy that used that "glide" phase in his stroke, but he only did it on one side. Tried it. Couldn't get the hang of it. Never did ask him why he did it, or even if he was conscious of doing it.
 

JohnAbercrombie

Paddler
Joined
Dec 7, 2011
Messages
3,028
Location
Victoria, BC
I used to paddle with a guy that used that "glide" phase in his stroke, but he only did it on one side. Tried it. Couldn't get the hang of it. Never did ask him why he did it, or even if he was conscious of doing it.
If you watch K1 racers on video (or K1 paddlers training), you can see that- the pause is very short but it is there. I've seen both the '2 stroke and pause' and the 'stroke-pause-stroke-pause' variants.
There's almost a rhythmic musical feel to it.
Taking a fraction of a second to get set for the next stroke can be helpful when I'm (still! :) ) trying to work on basic stroke technique.
 

SWriverstone

Paddler
Joined
Jun 22, 2021
Messages
40
Location
Eugene, OR
Back in the day (many many days ago) rowing in an eight (and later sculling), we did a lot of work to reduce the stroke rate but increase speed with power on the stroke but slowing the return for recovery. The power came from driving legs and core strength- quite a lot given the bend in the oars. It seems like a decent idea but the time scales are quite different- a 15 minute rowing race vs 3 or more hours continuous kayak paddling. Possibly due to age (or mileage) I'm much more susceptible to shoulder injury now so I have to be careful about too much emphasis on stroke power over attention to technique. Using a GP has been good to help manage that as well.
This is exactly one of the images I had in my mind when I started thinking about this! I've seen rowing crews do that slow-recovery thing—and the whole time the shell is still gliding fast through the water.

My idea isn't to make up for the pause by putting more power into the stroke, but use the same amount of power (in the stroke) I normally do...but just use fewer strokes (because I'm pausing to glide)—hopefully reducing the wear on my shoulders and body.

I'm heading to the lake now for a workout—if it's not too mobbed with idiots on jet skis I might do a couple of time trials—maybe they'll give me some rough idea of whether adding a pause is way slower? Or about the same? (Stay tuned.)

Scott
 
  • Like
Reactions: CPS

cougarmeat

Paddler
Joined
Sep 17, 2012
Messages
847
Location
Bend OR USA
SWriverstone, to each his/her/x own, but is there a reason for getting from here to there so quickly? I also like fast boats and precise technique. But … if I’m paddling alone, there is no hurry - smooth and easy (unless I’m trying to outrun a storm). If I’m paddling with others, the goal is to stay with the group. In that case, I can focus on the mechanics of the forward stroke without increasing the cadence. More stoke, glide, stroke, glide … I try to make each phase of the stroke match what was shown on the “Performance Forward Stroke” DVD. Of course that doesn’t work so well if the wind is against me or I’m in seas breaking over my stern quarter.

As John suggested, you could use the speedometer on a GPS and paddle for a few minutes using different styles. See which gives you the most speed. But if you consider the long picture, you may want to focus on technique that will be kind to your body for a lot of years.

When I first met mountaineer, Lute Jerstad, he was going up the mountain slowly, with a little rest at each step. The young students were racing up the trail. Lute told me, “Those kids will be in camp first, but they will be so tried and have nothing left.” I’ll get up there too, but I’ll have reserve energy to deal with setting up camp and my body won’t feel broken the next day.

I do understand the curiosity factor and trusting your own experience. But I know of at least two DVD’s by Olympic caliber paddlers and I’m guessing, watching a similar video (youtube?) would show how the best in the world do it. So you could get your hands (eyes) on one of those DVD’s and watch it. Again, they are racing. And racing - serious racing, not just trying to keep your bow just that much ahead of your friend’s - for me, that is not a sought goal.

Once I asked a Guide/Instructor how fit I needed to be to sign up for any of their classes/expeditions. SHE said if I could paddle at 3 kts for 3 hours I would qualify for any class or expedition they put on. Getting to 3 knots is easy, being able to maintain that average for a long time requires pacing.
 

SWriverstone

Paddler
Joined
Jun 22, 2021
Messages
40
Location
Eugene, OR
@cougarmeat thanks for the good comments! And good question about "Why so fast?"

For me it's not really about speed; it's more about the ability to go farther (and see more) in the same amount of time. Equally important (again, to me) is what might be called "reserve capacity" to get out of trouble. For example if I discover somewhere that tidal currents are more than I planned for, it's good to know I can "put the hammer down" and sustain 4-5 knots for several hours if I have to—which in some situations could get you across against the current and out of trouble. (But yes I know—careful planning can do the same, LOL).

I guess it's also true too that as a former whitewater racer (in my youth) I became somewhat addicted to endorphins. :) It just feels great to go hard for several hours! (And I sleep better that night.)

I haven't been able to do any meaningful tests of different strokes because the past few times I was on our local lake, it was a madhouse of powerboats and jetskis, LOL. (But I'm gonna get out there early one morning before that crowd gets going.)

Scott
 

cougarmeat

Paddler
Joined
Sep 17, 2012
Messages
847
Location
Bend OR USA
Scott, I just got back from a trip to Ozette Lake so I’m sorry for the delay. I completely understand putting the hammer down - to get out of trouble with currents, to out run a storm, to reach an upside down kayak. I bought two DVD’s - each with a different expert. I like to have two sources that agree. They differed in their trouble shooting section but were pretty much the same in actual technique. When I’m paddling with others, I try to channel their style in the phases of the stroke but in slower motion so I can get the positioning down and help the muscles “memorize” the movement. In going fast, it’s easy to be sloppy and “cover it up” unless you have an actual standard to compare against.

There is another aspect to “going further”. One of my paddles is a Warner LIttle Dipper. The blade is much longer but narrower than some of my wider blades. As a result it is a much easier draw through the water. I haven’t done any measurements but it might be the surface area is the same, just a different profile. So you would be moving just as much water but easier on the joints.

The downside is you can’t really “crank” on it because the blade will flutter - it is not designed for a deep dig. But it moves the boat, moves it well, and you don’t feel it as much at the end of the day. To be clear, this would be the paddle you use for a long day’s tour, not “Who can make it to the island first.” On long trips, I take two paddles and select them to be different so I can change up or down.

I also used the narrow one when I was learning to roll. I didn’t want to become psychologically dependent on a wide blade. I knew the roll depended on body position and hip snap. If a person can roll with just a small stick, a wide blade isn’t really necessary.
 
Last edited:

SZihn

Paddler
Joined
Jul 1, 2021
Messages
128
Location
Shoshoni Wyoming
This is an interesting subject to me also.

Yesterday I took a little trip on the lake about 2 miles behind my house and I did the math when I got back to my truck.

I have a large map of the lake and from where I launched to where I turned around to come back is almost exactly 6 miles (about 300 yards farther then 6 miles actually) so I am safe to say it was a 12 mile trip.

I left at 3:32 in the afternoon and I got back to the launch point at 8:22. I didn't push hard and I stopped 4 times to eat a granola bar and drink some water, with all 4 stops being about 5-7 minutes each. So I was actually paddling for about 4.5 hours Deducting the stops that averages about 2.66 miles an hour.

I don't think that's all that good compared to some of the posts I have read.

I didn't keep my strokes consistent because I wanted to vary them so as not to get too tired doing the same one for 4+ hours, and I was not trying to make time or go fast, but I was interested to see what I had done in MPH after I got back to the truck.

So if 2.6 MPH is just moseying along, what is considered normal for kayaking speed, and what is considered better than average?
The wind was light and the chop was never more then about 4" tall.
 

JohnAbercrombie

Paddler
Joined
Dec 7, 2011
Messages
3,028
Location
Victoria, BC
Yesterday I took a little trip on the lake about 2 miles behind my house and I did the math when I got back to my truck.
12 miles is a pretty respectable distance.
:thumbsup:
Which boat were you paddling?
What paddle are you using?
BTW, some paddlers use km and km/hr but I think many of us use nautical miles for distance and knots for speed.
 

SZihn

Paddler
Joined
Jul 1, 2021
Messages
128
Location
Shoshoni Wyoming
I was in my Necky Chatham 17.

The paddle is just what my wife bought on line when we got the Old Town Loon Rec-Kayaks. It is fairly long for me at about 6 foot 9 inches and has asymmetrical blades that are fairly large. I don't think there is anything special about it. Just a generic kayak paddle, plastic or nylon blades and a 2 piece aluminum shaft.
 

JohnAbercrombie

Paddler
Joined
Dec 7, 2011
Messages
3,028
Location
Victoria, BC
I think a 6'9" paddle is about 205 cm. long? For sea kayaking, the 205-220 cm range is pretty common. There are a lot of factors involved: torso height, boat width, paddling style (high angle/low angle). Also, the overall paddle length measurement doesn't take into account the many different blade shapes available - long skinny blades vs shorter wider blades. Lots of info online.

The 'propellor' (aka paddle) makes a difference but more important IMO is technique, and the size of the motor! :)
Studying stroke technique online videos or DVDs can help prevent bad habits developing. In-person coaching from a good forward stroke coach (and not all sea kayak instructors are good at stroke technique) is preferred, but you are not close to easy opportunities for that.

2.5-3.0 knots is a common pace with occasional stops for drinks/snacks/picture taking in the groups I paddle with.
For me, anything above 3.5 knots requires some focus and the right boat and paddle. (Low-powered motor! :) )

Freya Hoffmeister is the most accomplished long-distance paddler ever. Check out her posts and figure out her average speeds on the days she paddles.
http://freyahoffmeister.com/posts/
Also note the number of hours of boat time on some days. !
 
Last edited:

CPS

Paddler
Joined
Oct 27, 2020
Messages
173
Location
BC
2.5-3.0 knots is a common pace with occasional stops for drinks/snacks/picture taking in the groups I paddle with.
For me, anything above 3.5 knots requires some focus and the right boat and paddle. (Low-powered motor! :) )
I agree with those numbers. Pretty much what's sustainable for me on a longish day of paddling. I can get my boat to go faster, but it's a case of diminishing returns. I expend enough energy that I won't be able to go as far as if I paced myself.

Now if I only had a new kayak...
 

cougarmeat

Paddler
Joined
Sep 17, 2012
Messages
847
Location
Bend OR USA
If it were a shorter run, maybe you could kick it up a bit. But for 12 miles with light wind (maybe against you?), I think 2.66 average is just fine. You have to read posts with a grain of salt. In on video for a WindSail, they show a guy holding a GPS that displays about 6 knots speed. But in the background, you see a paddler casually passing that boat. So the speed probably had more to do with the current than the sail. I can paddle at 4 knots all day if the current is flowing in the direction I’m traveling. If flowing in the opposite direction, ...
 

SZihn

Paddler
Joined
Jul 1, 2021
Messages
128
Location
Shoshoni Wyoming
Thanks guys. It's good to know I am not a slug out there. I have nothing to compare it to here. Other then the 4th of July I and my wife have not seen any other kayakers on the lake. Not even one. And on the 4th all I saw was the sit-on-top kayaks some by our local Wal-Mart.
So I have only those folks I talk to on the phone and those I see on line to learn from. As I progress I may be up to about 3 MPH and that makes time over distance easy to figure. But winds will be the thing I will simply have to learn from by doing it. 3 MPH can turn into 1 MPH with a head wind pretty fast.

My next trip I intend to paddle up-river about 6 miles and see what that is like, going into the current. Right now the river is a bit low and slow because all the snow melted off the mountain due to the very high temps we had in April. As I write this it's 99 degrees outside and not fun in my shop but I have to keep working. I can't go on the water today because I am teaching a small gunsmithing class starting at 5:00 and going to 8:00 so by the time I get out of here it would give me less then 1 hour of paddling before it was dark. Maybe tomorrow

It's supposed to cool down after today, so tomorrow may be better anyway.
 
Top