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Perfecting static turns

Foundation Open Canoe Skills
By Paul Bull – UKCC Level 3 Coach at Paul Bull Coaching

breaking in and out - paul bull coachingIn our paddling history, at one time we will have all been taught the forward and reverse sweep stroke – a big wide stroke, starting at the front of the boat and finishing at the rear – “like you’re painting a rainbow in the water”! However, have you ever questioned whether the sweep stroke is the best way of statically turning an open canoe?

Does your boat travel forwards when attempting a turn? Is there something that’s more efficient and effective? When paddling solo, once my students have grasped the concept of a sweep and reverse sweep stroke I’ll then introduce them to “Pivot Turns” and the affects of heel and trim.

Let’s say we want to turn our canoe towards the side that we’re paddling on. In terms of strokes we could use a reverse sweep, or we could use the “Inside Pivot Turn. Lets explore the two in more detail:

The Reverse Sweep:
Kneeling on our thwart in an offset position, facing a little towards the side we are paddling on, we wind-up our core muscles as we reach to the back of the boat. As we unwind our core, sweeping the paddle in a wide arc from the back of the boat to the front, with the back of the paddle blade active and used throughout the stroke. If we were to use our thumb as a flag or marker, it would be pointing upwards. As a consequence of this action the front of the boat turns towards the paddle. If we need the boat to continue to turn then we take the paddle out of the water and repeat the stroke until the desired amount of turn has been achieved.

Paul Bull coaching

Paul Bull coaching

Paul Bull coaching

Paul Bull coaching

Paul Bull coaching

Paul Bull coaching

The Inside Pivot Turn:
For this stroke the initial wind-up, paddle position and kneeling position is the same as for the reverse sweep stroke. However, after the first half of our reverse sweep has been completed (as the paddle reaches an angle of about 90 degrees to the boat) we roll the top hand towards our body and downwards so that our indicator thumb is now pointing down. This action has switched the active side of the paddle from the back of the blade to the power face. We now continue the arc towards the front of the boat – almost like a long bow draw. In the case of an inside pivot turn, if we want to continue to turn the canoe we can neutrally slice the paddle through the water from bow to stern and repeat the stroke.

So what’s the difference?
The paddle has travelled the same distance – all we’re doing differently is using both sides of the paddle blade with the inside pivot turn versus the back of the blade with our reverse sweep. The differences may be subtle but they are significant: With the reverse sweep stroke, as the stroke nears the bow, our muscles have already unwound to their fullest extent and the stroke loses power. With the inside pivot turn, once we switch the active blade side at 90 degrees, we engage a different set of muscles and wind up our core again, making the start and finish points of the stroke equally as effective and powerful. I often set this as a guided discovery task for my students to go and find the differences. The feedback speaks for itself as they feel the differences for themselves. Go and try it if you haven’t already done so!

Spinning around…
When discussing open canoeing, I often hear that one of the barriers to this discipline is how hard people find canoes to manoeuvre. Well there are a few things we can do to make it all a lot easier for ourselves. If we continue our breakdown of the inside pivot turn then there are a number of options: We can heel (or edge) our boat towards the side we’’re paddling on. This changes the shape of the boat in the water and makes it much easier to turn. The more we heel the boat over, the easier the boat will turn. We can also change our position in the boat, or trim, for the desired outcome. The more stern heavy we are for the inside pivot turn the tighter we will turn, or spin on the spot. The more neutral to bow heavy we are the wider our turns will be and the further the boat will travel backwards with each stroke.

Turning the other way…
We could use the forward sweep to achieve this, but let me introduce the more efficient “Outside Pivot Turn”. This is essentially a cross deck bow draw, followed by a forward sweep stroke. To set up for the cross deck bow draw we reach across the bow towards our “off-side”, and with our indicator thumb pointing up, plant the paddle as wide as we can, and draw the bow of the boat to the paddle. We then lift the paddle out of the water and move over the bow of the boat and start the forward sweep. The initial bow draw maximises our turning potential by initiating the turn, with the sweep completing it. To make the turn more effective you can heel or edge your boat towards your cross deck draw by moving the knee nearest the centre line of the boat into the other bilge, before changing the edge back and completing my forward sweep stroke.

What will different trim positions do to this turning stroke? Well, why don’t you go and explore and let me know your findings…?

Happy paddling!

Paul Bull
Paul is an enthusiastic full time UKCC Level 3 Coach who’s passionate about helping people to develop and enjoy kayaking and canoeing whether thats more advanced skills on the more technical or bigger volume rivers of the UK and Europe or grass root sessions nearer to home. Paul delivers a range of BCU and personal skills courses in both canoe and kayak. More information about Paul and the courses he offers can be found at or via Facebook at

breaking in and out - paul bull coaching

About thepaddlerezine (654 Articles)
Editor of The Paddler magazine and Publisher of Stand Up Paddle Mag UK.

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