Thursday, June 28, 2007 - INDi2010 Racing Team
INDi2010 Update: The Lesser Known Form of Paddling

- By: Skeets Morel

Paddling has been a part of my life as long, if not longer then skiing; I actually started racing canoes before I started ski racing. You could call it my first love, but I think my stuffed animals or my favorite blanket qualify for that one.

My parents put me in a boat as soon as the ice was gone my first spring and I haven't looked back. They bought my sister and I our first boats when we were 3 and 2 respectively (it was a sweet orange blow up canoe), and our first kayaks when we were 7 and 6. Somehow, Santa got 2, 12 ft long kayaks down our chimney without a scratch. You could say I had a biased upbringing as my mother never got an engagement ring; instead she got a cedar strip canoe from my father. I was bound to fall in love with paddling no matter what I did. It also didn't help that I grew up living on a lake my entry life.

When I finally decided that I wanted to go to the Olympics for skiing, I never would have thought I'd have to give up paddling. When I decided to follow the traditional skiers training program 3 years ago, paddling took a back seat. I was only able to paddle a handful of times a year, and never "for training". I still snuck out once in a while, but not like before.

Fortunately I have learned from my mistake and I am back at it. First, I should clarify some things: when I say I'm paddling from now on I don't mean going out in a 16' 8" royal X canoe and J stroking it down the lake. When I say paddling I mean going out in a Kevlar or carbon fiber 18' 6" canoe, with carbon fiber bent shaft paddles and clipping alone the lake or river. This type of paddling is called marathon canoeing, and not many people know about it. The predominate style of marathon boats are C2 or C1, meaning 2 person or single person canoes. Not to be confused with sprint canoeing, where paddlers are the high kneelers, marathoners have nice comfy seats with our legs stretched out to foot braces. This is because of the length of our races, lasting anywhere from 1 hour to 7 days long. Comfort is essential. The other huge difference between us and sprinters is we paddle on both sides of the canoe, typically switching every 8-15 strokes.

Mark Flemming in bow, Skeets in the stern of a C2, taking a corner at 2006 Ontario Summer Games.

The stroke for marathon is much more compact compared to your typical canoe stroke. To get a better understanding of what I'm talking about, I'll briefly explain the stroke. It begins by putting your paddle in at or slightly ahead of your toes, such that your belly button is facing the opposite side of the boat. You should think of reaching forward, but not bending forward. In this position your lower arm should be straight, and your back as upright as possible. From here you are in a great position to have an efficient and powerful stroke. You then start the pulling phase by rotating your upper body around your spine, thinking about getting your belly button back to center, while trying to minimize the amount of elbow bend in your lower arm. This makes the stroke use your big back muscles, and barely any arm muscles. This is what allows the marathon stroke to be so efficient but powerful at the same time. From here your paddle should be around your hip and this ends the pulling phase. The recovery phase is next and is very similar to the typical canoe stroke, only slightly quicker because the higher stroke rate (marathoners usually have a stroke rate of 70-90 strokes per minute while racing). I usually try to keep the paddle as low to the water as possible with a slight wrist turn to minimize the wind resistance. Once the paddle is back at your toes, turn your wrist back and begin the stroke again.

The whole time I was paddling I never realized the benefits it gave me. It has only been in the past year that I fully realized what an advantage paddling had given me. Last year I tried to compensate in my training to fill the void of paddling but it just didn't work. I was doing a lot of double poling only workouts on rollerskis, and going to the gym an extra day each week. I found that I didn't have the snap or power in my double pole that I used to, and I was getting tired in long double poling sections instead of grabbing back handfuls of seconds. So this year I was determined to get back in the boat and hammer away.

Skeets in a C1, taking a corner at the 2002 Ontario Summer Games.

So far so good - I have been able to get in a boat at least once or twice a week. Everything has come storming back, and I think I might even try to find a race soon. The last race I did was hell in a boat, so it might take a little persuasion from some people. That last race was 64 kilometers with 10 portages and a 300lb canoe. Luckily we had 8 paddlers, but after 4 hours of paddling no one is eager to flip a boat that heavy over their heads and then walk or run for 400-800 meters through a narrow rocky trail. We did get the record for the course but it destroyed us. If anyone wants a character builder, do the North Bay to Mattawa Canoe race in a voyageur canoe.

All in all, I think more skiers should be trying to paddle. It's great to be out paddling when it's +30 outside, and paddling builds muscle that no other activity does. Paddling will also increase upper body efficiency and strength. No matter the form of paddling, whether it be kayaking or canoeing, it all helps. If you can get out in racing boat great, but if not recreational boats give you the same benefits with the only difference being speed. The smoother the lines on a boat the less noise it makes, which means less drag and a more enjoyable ride. It may not seem like a huge difference until you've tried it. Keep in mind though, the smoother the lines the tippier the boat! When I started marathon I was swimming at least once a workout. This also makes for a great core workout, as all those stabilizers you never knew you had will hurt the first time out. If you have any questions just shoot away and I'll respond as best I can. We marathoners are always looking for others to paddle with (there are only a handful of us out there - and maybe only 10 in Calgary).

If you want to see some marathoners in action follow this link to watch videos, and look at the pictures:

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Cindy Sandau

"Auntie Cindy", as she's known to Rhonda, has always been a ski fan. Christmas dinner is usually filled with her enthusiastic questions about training and racing. As part of the INDi2010 support team Cindy will have an up close perspective of the ski world. Her support will help us ensure that we have top level ski technician support at every race.

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