Virtual Coach: Busting the MITH

How to Carve River-Ready Turns

This story originally ran in the May 2012 issue of Canoe & Kayak, available on newsstands now. Click HERE to find out more about Mason’s instruction courses.


By Conor Mihell Photo: Ken Buck

The eddy turn is a gateway maneuver for aspiring river paddlers. It’s the move that allows you to quickly exit the current when you don’t like what you see downstream and re-enter the flow after taking a breather. The trouble is, for years it was one of the hardest skills for novice paddlers to grasp because it involves a complex series of paddle strokes. “It was just too much to think about,” says C&K canoe technique guru Paul Mason.

Enter Mason’s paddling buddy Andrew Westwood, a veteran canoeing instructor, creekboater and expert whitewater slalom paddler. Westwood’s a technician, the kind of guy who wakes his wife up at 4 in the morning to explain minutia of canoeing, says Mason. One such revelation was a fast-track approach to mastering the eddy turn, a four-step process with an easy acronym: MITH, for Momentum, Initiation, Tilt and Hold.

Momentum: Use forward strokes to bring the canoe up to speed. Simply put, the canoe will not carve a turn unless it’s moving forward.

Initiation: The stern paddler initiates the turn by performing a stern pry at the end of a forward stroke (to turn toward their paddle side) or a forward sweep (to turn away from their paddle side). Meanwhile, the bow paddler keeps supplying forward momentum. It’s important that the bow paddler keeps their stroke as vertical as possible so as not to counteract the stern paddler’s turning stroke.

Tilt: As the stern paddler initiates the turn, both paddlers tilt the canoe into the turn by shifting the weight on their knees. “It takes a lot of force to tilt a tandem canoe,” says Mason, so don’t be timid. You may need to hook your feet under the seat and drive your knee into the canoe. This engages the chine, or edge of the canoe, to carve through the water in the same way that an edged ski carves an arcing turn. In dynamic moving water, tilting into the turn is imperative to keep the canoe stable and upright.

Hold: Both paddlers keep paddling forward and hold the boat’s tilt until the canoe has completely finished the turn. This is critical in maintaining the canoe’s arc-shaped path. If the canoe wobbles and loses its tilt, it will spin out.

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