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How to paddle like a pro at the cottage

How to paddle your canoe

We often think of the cottage as a place for friends and family to create lasting memories during our fleeting Canadian summers. But for many cottagers, one of the best parts of a long weekend is waking up before the crowd and heading down to the lake to skim along its misty surface. If you’re new to cottaging and eager to become an expert canoeist, here are some tips from our very own Cottage Coach.

And before you engage in this “cottage classic” activity, be sure to thwart mosquitoes from ruining your perfect, calm morning with Off! Active Insect Repellent, because Pretection is the best prevention from itchy mosquito bites.

End to end

There’s no shortage of canoe lingo to learn, but the most important terms you’ll need to know are the “bow,” which is the front of the canoe, and the “stern,” which is the rear. You can easily identify the bow, because it leaves more space between the seat and the front end. At the stern, the seat is much closer to the back.

If you’re paddling tandem, the more experienced partner should always sit at the stern, which gives them more control of steering. Also, since the bow paddler controls the pace, it’s best for the novice paddler to be in that position, as they may get overwhelmed by going too fast.

Launch from land

You might be worried about your canoe tipping while you’re in the middle of the lake, but in most cases, you’ll be more likely to tip when you’re closest to shore, getting in and out of the boat. And even though you may have mastered the art of entering other boats when they’re docked, don’t let that confidence carry over to the canoe. It will usually be easier to launch from the shore than from your dock, because you can ease it into the water while keeping part of the hull on the soft land.

Start by pushing the bow in the water and resting the stern on the shore. The stern paddler can then sit in a sturdy position on the stern plate at the canoe’s rear tip while the bow paddler makes their way into the boat. Be sure to keep low and balanced, with both hands on the gunwales (or side edges) as you walk slowly along the centre line. With most of the canoe already in the water, the stern paddler can “push off” with their oar.

Moving forward

Paddling with a partner can be frustrating if you haven’t mastered the basic strokes. The most common one you’ll use is the forward stroke, in which you place your paddle in the water ahead of you and guide it straight back along your side. If you’re paddling tandem, make sure you and your partner are paddling on opposite sides.

Keep it correct

You’ll likely find that the stern paddler overpowers the partner sitting in the bow, and that’s where the J-stroke comes in handy. To get it right, the stern paddler twists their blade at the end of their stroke so that it runs parallel to the canoe. They can then use it as a rudder for a few seconds to course-correct before lifting it out of the water and repeating the stroke.

It’s a draw

If you want to move the canoe sideways in the water or change direction, you’ll need to use the draw stroke. As its name implies, you extend the paddle out to your side above the surface, and then “draw” it towards you in the water, pulling it directly to your hip. To quickly turn around, the bow paddler can do a “cross draw,” pushing away from the canoe on the same side as the stern paddler, who continues to do the draw stroke.

Land like you launched

Landing the canoe follows the same process as launching, and you should still be wary of using your dock. Instead, paddle towards the shore bow-first. Once the bow portion of the hull makes contact, the bow paddler can hop out and brace the canoe for the stern rider to walk along the centre line, keeping low and balanced.

As with any portion of a canoe trip, communication is key, so always be sure to announce what you’re doing to avoid paddling in circles.

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Photo credit: MAD.vertise/Shutterstock