-- Last Updated: Nov-21-12 5:16 PM EST --
Maybe the best tip is to find a weekend Level 1 flatwater canoe skills clinic - you can learn a lot in a few days on the water with good instruction. Things as basic as entering the canoe, the dynamics of stability, paddle sizing and grip, basic stroke techniques - when it's all new, having someone show you what's what in an organized and progressive fashion and then have you practice it saves a lot of trial and error...
My wife and I paddled tandem for many years with her in the bow. One summer, I had a nasty go-round with tennis elbow and found sweeps and j-strokes really painful. So we switched, and quickly found it worked far better that way. The power balanced out better, and she held a truer course than I did, just like when we'd sailed. That's the way it stayed as long as we paddled canoes.
Flatwater bow power stroke technique is pretty straightforward. Stretch just a litte forward for the catch, apply power, out at the hip - past that, you're just lifting water - bring the blade about a foot above the surface, rotate the top hand outward to bring the blade parallel to the water's surface, slice it forward, rotate the paddle blade back square to the water, stretch just a little forward for the catch...and repeat.
An instructor friend showed me that a short, sharp stroke with a slightly higher cadence is the most efficient. And it's good to learn to stroke on both sides - being able to switch reduces fatigue and lets me use a draw stroke rather than a pry...
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