By Martin Strunge
A good friend once told me, “When you travel, you get much greater experiences if you know the language of the country you are travelling in. It’s the same with paddling – if you know how to talk with the water, you paddle and your canoe, you see the rare bird in the sky, the fish in the river and you get to feel connected to the water you are travelling on.” Hans Michael Nielsen.
Maybe you have heard about freestyle canoeing before, you might also seen some short films about it on the Internet. If you have, and if you thought that it was something you would never try – then please read this article. I will try to put into perspective what freestyle can be. If you don’t know about freestyle canoeing or are already intrigued, I hope this article will inspire you to take the challenge to improve your paddling skills.
We all know the feeling of getting stressed when trying to do something or move somewhere, when we are paddling, especially when the conditions are challenging, the wind is picking up or the current takes control over your canoe and paddle. For some paddlers it has been a while since the feeling occurred and for others it happens all the time. That might be a question of experience – or is it? With experience we can cope with many difficult situations, we might not use the most effective manoeuvres or strokes, but we get from A to B because we have tried it before and know the boat and the reaction of the water.
If you feel like you have a lot of experience there are two choices. You either keep on doing what you have always done (because it works for you) or you try to become even better, and increase your ability to paddle difficult. When you have no experience you can either learn the strokes the ‘right way’ from the start or paddle for many years and figure them out yourself. I would rather paddle smart than hard and that is one of the reasons why I think freestyle canoeing is so great. It gives you a great base for you future paddling.
I’m not going to talk about the history of freestyle canoeing, which you can find on the Internet or in books. I’d rather talk about the possibilities of the future. If you take up the challenge you will find that freestyle canoeing is all about great paddling skills. It’s about the ability to do something perfect every time, it’s about being efficient whenever you go on the water, and the benefits of these techniques are many. All the manoeuvres and strokes can be transferred to whatever water or boat you paddle.
Take me for instance, my shoulders use to hurt after a few days of paddling. They would hurt so much that I sometimes got a headache. I felt like I was a good paddler and my skills where quite good but since attending a class with an ACA Freestyle Instructor on basic strokes I have not experienced sore shoulders after paddling. I needed to rebuild my paddling technique by changing my body position and lower my shoulders. It all made perfect sense when I tried it. So why did I not figure it out myself? Well that is a good question. This is like everything else, the best way to learn is to get the basics correct from the start, otherwise you code your brain the wrong way.
Maria got interested in canoeing a little later than me. I was trained by some great instructors at my education centre as an Outdoor Leader in Denmark and did a lot of canoeing during that time. Maria’s first formal training was at Kringelfieber, which is a big freestyle event in Germany. Within a few lessons her basic technique was already better than mine – why? The ACA Freestyle Instructors have a certain way of explaining the basic canoeing skills, and an exceptional eye for adjusting the paddler to perform the best.
They are very skilled in modelling the strokes and explaining them to each paddler whatever level he or she is on. As I said earlier I felt like I was a pretty good paddler, but after just a few hours at the Kringelfieber my paddling also improved a lot. My challenge was to get rid off all the ‘bad’ habits that I had taught myself through hours and hours of paddling alone. So if I could choose today, I would have started learning the basic paddling skills from an ACA Freestyle Instructor.
When you have the basics in your system, you can make up your mind on where to go next. No mater what you choose, white water, flat water, freestyle or a little bit of everything, you will have the basics stored correctly in your mind. If you ask me you will have much better possibilities to develop your paddling skills into something extraordinary. If you are an experienced paddler you can also benefit from learning the basics again and you will be able to take your technique to the next level, feeling the difference the next time you paddle demanding waters.
All in all, the most important thing is just to go paddle –whether it’s on a lake or a river, solo or tandem canoes, or even a kayak or SUP. However, never close your eyes for the chance to get better and freestyle canoeing will make you a better, more efficient paddler.