By Mary DeRiemer
The C-stroke is one of the most efficient and anticipatory ways of turning the bow. You can use it to adjust your angle most anytime on the river. The C-stroke allows for maximum precision and speed while turning. All in all, this is one of the most elegant strokes in a paddler’s repertoire.
First, let’s look at the technique of the stroke in flatwater. Your goal here is to gain dexterity and coordination in slicing the blade in an arc from your hip to the bow. While you’re practicing this, the boat should not move, just the paddle. Many of our strokes require anchoring the blade prior to moving the boat. With the purest form of the C-stroke, it is the current that will anchor the blade.
And since there is no current when you are sitting still on flatwater, boat movement would indicate that the power face or back face is being pushed against the water instead of the blade edge. In current, that would slow the speed of the boat.
Place the blade out from your hip at a neutral angle. To get the shaft as vertical as possible, the top hand must be over the water. The lower hand controls the blade angle and size of the arc. In order to slice the blade in the biggest arc possible, the wrist of the lower hand should curl back to initiate the blade’s travel.
Now that you can easily arc the blade from the hip to the bow, it’s time to apply some speed to simulate how this stroke works in current. Before a C-stroke is planted, the boat must be committed one degree to the new turn. On the river, simply crossing an eddyline might commit the bow to the turn. At other times a forward sweep might be needed to counteract some current and commit the boat to the turn. Each situation will require its own adjustment. On flatwater, we will use a strong stroke to start the boat turning. If this initiating stroke is so strong that it turns the boat by itself, a C-stroke won’t be necessary. With practice, you’ll learn exactly how much effort to put into that stroke.
Paddle forward to simulate current. Take a strong initiating stroke, then on the opposite side, place your C-stroke at the hip. Slowly arc the blade toward the bow until, at the end of the C-stroke, it is in perfect position for a forward stroke. (If the blade is closer to your knee than your foot, then you have shortchanged yourself. The faster you use up the arc and the smaller the arc of your C-stroke, the less room and time the boat has to turn. Conversely, the boat has more room to turn if you slowly slice your blade in the widest arc to the bow. It helps to know the maximum of your potential, so pay particular attention to how widely and slowly you can create your arc. Repeat the above activity, and pay attention to how the boat responds to these differences.
Arc your blade so that it ends up near your toes. Your boat will glide into the turn. Follow through with the forward stroke. If you are tripping on your C-stroke, get the front hand higher. It must also be over the water for the blade to travel uninhibited toward the bow.
To hone your technique, repeat the sequence of building up speed, using an initiating stroke, and following up with a C-stroke/forward stroke on the other side. As you begin the initiating stroke, look over the opposite shoulder toward a destination.
Use your C-stroke/forward stroke only as needed to point at that spot. Build up speed and repeat the sequence on the other side. Your boat will weave across the flatwater as you practice using the C-stroke to point to alternating destinations.
Here’s a final drill. Paddle forward and start the above drill. Follow up your first C-stroke with one strong initiating stroke. Immediately execute a C-stroke/initiating stroke on the other side and alternate back and forth. If it is done correctly, you will maintain your speed and move forward in a tight zigzag.
You now have two drills to practice C-strokes with good form. The next article will focus on how to use your C-stroke on the river!
Mary DeRiemer is an ACA-certified ITE. Her Web site features useful information about trips and lessons. Log on to adventurekayaking.com.