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This article is all about the use of Fundamentals for moving sideways

By Dave Rossetter – paddlesport instructor at Glenmore Lodge

Over the past years when introducing beginners to the sport and working with paddlers at all levels the following areas have been in my coaching: 

These are known as Fundamentals:

Power transfer

What I perhaps didn’t do in the past was label them as such however, now this gives me a structure.

dave rossetter coaching

Fundamentals for skill development
The skills we learn in paddlesport are all about being able to move the boat to a desired destination, preferably in a controlled, efficient, and economic fashion, in order to achieve this we need to:

  • Have an active posture, allowing the body to move freely, with the muscles sensitive to movement and free to act quickly. Whilst being able to effectively transfer our weight, changing the centre of gravity and remaining in balance.
  • Be connected to our boat allowing us to react to the movements of the boat, paddles and water around you.

This allows us to feel / anticipate the movement of the boat through the water and efficiently transfer power from the body to create movement of the boat. The paddler can perform strokes that generate power, turning and stability; control the speed, angle, edge and trim of their boat; and move efficiently and economically.

Resulting in the controlled and efficient movement of the boat to achieve a desired outcome.

Regardless of the discipline being followed these four areas keep us in control of the craft no matter what the environment is doing. The ability to blend them and change them to help you is vital for any boater. Doing this means that we don’t rely on just arm power and therefore allow us to freely perform the strokes.

This has been brought into the coach education courses right at UKCC Level 1 as a way to help new coaches deliver information but also as a way to observe and analyse performance.

The use of Fundamentals for moving sideways


Moving the boat towards the paddle side.
Stroke used in canoes and kayaks.

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Moving the boat away from the paddle side.
Stroke predominantly used in canoes.

dave rossetter coaching

Draw stroke

  • Good upright posture connected to the boat
  • Looking (upper body) in direction of travel
  • Hands over the water on the same side you are travelling towards
  • Vertical/upright paddle shaft as possible
  • Blade in water throughout stroke


To have an efficient and effective draw stroke we need to look at our posture in the boat first.

We need to have our pelvis in the middle position. With the pelvis in this position it allows our surrounding muscles to be relaxed. A relaxed muscle is able to contract or tense quicker, is more sensitive and mobile than a muscle under tension. In the picture (plate A) we can see the paddler able to rotate their upper body over to the side that they would place the paddle on. This is possible due to the upright upper body with the pelvis in the middle position. To aid finding this position sit on the boney bits of your bottom – ‘Sit bones’ or ‘ischial tuberosities’.

In the picture (Plate B) we see the paddler applying the upright body with the middle pelvis position.
We can observe this due to the freedom to get both hands over the side they are paddling on/the upright head and the body rotation achieved.

This also allows the paddler to reach out comfortable giving the full range of movement.

dave rossetter coaching

Our next fundamental is connectivity and specifically connections within the boat.
We use the points of the body that are in contact with the boat; and a basic level of tension through our main upper body (our core) to connect the boat to the body. This is essential to achieving control over the boats movement.

Connections within the boat are:

  • Where and how we sit
  • Where the knees are and the points they touch
  • Where the feet touch
  • Any other points of contact

dave rossetter coaching

Knees up under the knee braces under the cockpit/feet touching footrest and side of boat.

dave rossetter coaching

Knees pressing against the side of boat/use of kneeling thwart.

Just because something is touching or in contact with the boat doesn’t mean that it is in use. By this I mean is it switched on and actively being pressed against to give the control. Too tight in the boat is as bad as too loose. Either of these extremes makes it difficult to regulate or adjust the pressure that is being applied. This will ultimately lead to loss of control and you becoming tired.

We need to use these with a degree of tension as we plant the paddle we are aiming to pull ourselves up to and past the paddle.

This brings us onto our next fundamental: power transfer.
The strength of the stroke (stroke efficiency) is determined by remaining stable. This means that the water is left in the water and we remain upright and in control.

Next time you are out on the water experiment with the following:

Task 1
Draw stroke only using arm power and try and move the water.

Task 2
Draw stroke using your core muscles and think about leaving the water stable and calm.

What differences do you note?

By having a strong connection to the boat we can then use muscles from the feet (or knees if kneeling a canoe) and up and through to the core and ultimately into the arms. When we fix the effort onto the water this gives us the ability to drive the boat and having stability while we power.

Once we are this stage it is time that we start developing our feel. We need to learn to work with the water and not against it. To do this we need to develop a feel for how the boat/paddle interact with the water. The paddler who can do this looks like they are working together with the water and not fighting it. Combining the other three fundamentals and having the ability to adapt to the surrounding environmental demands achieve this.

Exercises that can help us improve our feel are:
Practicing draw strokes with your eyes closed. Do your reference points (points where you position your hands/arms/pressure on contact points) change?

dave rossetter coaching

Practice your draw strokes on the move to challenge your skill.

Play time

Take your draw on the move and link it into a turning stroke such as the bow rudder.
How does your posture/connections/power transfer and feel change?
Having looked at the fundamentals within moving sideways and being able to adapt them from static through to dynamic draws and / or other strokes we can now apply them to other skills within our paddling.
By being able to recognise and feel when something is not working means that we can change one of the other areas.
This means that we are adaptable paddlers which will help us have a variety ways of achieving tasks to allow us to enjoy different types of paddling experiences in different environments.

Happy paddling and hope to see you on the water.

dave rossetter coaching

Dave is the full time paddlesport instructor at Glenmore Lodge – Scotland’s National Outdoor Training Centre. He has been involved in the development of the new awards and provides expert advice throughout the industry on all things to do with coaching, safety, leadership and personal paddling. He is passionate about all things paddling and specialises in white water kayak and open canoe where he will most often be found. He is supported in his paddling adventures and coaching by Pyranha Kayaks, Mad River Canoes and Palm Equipment.

About thepaddlerezine (699 Articles)
Editor of The Paddler magazine and Publisher of Stand Up Paddle Mag UK and Windsurfing UK magazines

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