Photo by Colin Moneypenny
Dooley Tombras is on the leading edge of a canoe renaissance in the Southeast, though the 28-year-old didn't plan it that way. Canoeing is just a way of life for this Knoxville, Tenn., resident who made the first descent of Labrador's Flowers River with his dad when he was 18. As a former U.S. freestyle team member and North American open-boat slalom champion, Tombras knows a little something about eddy turns. Here, he explains the finer points of the peel-out. – JC
ANGLE YOUR BOAT. You need to have the correct boat angle leaving the eddy to hit a peel-out and not flip. The more water there is in the river, the more powerful the eddyline is going to be. The angle you choose also depends on what's downstream. If you want to pivot the boat to take a line that's on the same side of the river as the eddy you're exiting, you need more angle. For something halfway across the river, use half as much. If you want to get clear to the other side to avoid say, a river-wide hole, you want very little angle. Your boat should almost be pointed upstream to maintain your ferry line. The more you practice it, the more you'll feel it.
MIND YOUR LEAN. Coming out of an eddy you want to lean downstream, not too much, but enough to put you in an aggressive position on edge and over your paddle. Leaning when entering and exiting an eddy is almost like riding one of those airport conveyer belts. You only take a step when you're getting on or off. It's the same with lean: Only accentuate it when you're exiting or entering an eddy.
WORK YOUR PADDLE. I usually take at least two strokes to build momentum before peeling out, so that I can punch through more powerful eddylines. For an onside peel-out, once I'm crossing the eddyline, I do a bow draw on the downstream side followed by a forward stroke and a stern pry to guide the hull of the boat as it carves across the current. I set up for another stroke quickly—it's important to stay aggressive and be ready for whatever the river throws at you next. For an offside peel-out, I approach the eddyline the same way, and do a really powerful cross-bow draw when I enter the current, and follow that with a cross-bow forward stroke. At that point you can take another cross-bow forward stroke or switch back to your strong side.
PUT THE TIME IN ON YOUR OFFSIDE. An important tip for the offside is just to practice on a familiar river on an easier eddy. The best open boaters I know—folks like Eli Helbert and Mark Scriver—when they're paddling a Class III run, they're going to hit every single eddy on the way down, even if it's unnecessary, to develop boat control and the skills to commit to the offside. Entering and exiting an eddy is pretty much the same technique. You don't get any better unless you're constantly working every eddy to get the best workout possible, feeling all the different nuances and learning to read water better.