The Art in Calling the 'Huts'
The designated ‘caller’ in the canoe is not a matter of drawing straws, but in fact a critical detail sometimes overlooked. In short, it is indeed an art and skill in calling the time to switch paddling sides, a form of paddling termed ‘sit and switch’. Because of various factors, the roll falls most effectively, to seats 2 or 3. Read on.
Who Benefits Most from the Call?
If there’s one key crew member who needs this call, it is the ‘stroker’ (seat 1) - it’s imperative they maintain whatever optimum stroke rate (measured by ‘strokes per minute’) required to optimise crew performance and therefore hull speed. You do not want to burn your stroker out - whether on flat water or in the rough.
Seat 1 and 2 ‘break water’ - that is to say, they paddle in clean water and this can be the ‘heaviest’ in terms of being minimal blade slippage and maximum loading of the blade where the water is ‘cleanest’. What these 2 seats ‘feel’ is very different to that of other seats.
Ultimately, every crew member benefits from the change, but it’s key to stay focused on the primary intention, beyond other key details - maintaining optimum hull speed and stability of the canoe.
The call of ‘hut’ used as a prompt to switch paddling sides, is a sound that is easy to make as it requires pushing air out of the lungs, which, when under physical strain, takes little effort on the part of the caller.
Though there are some idiosyncratic variations - the call is made on the penultimate stroke before switching i.e. the call is made at entry of the blade, the stroke is taken, then another, then ‘switch sides’ - giving us the term ‘sit and switch’ paddling.
Calling the change, may seem easy, but it’s true to say it’s a ‘Dark Art’ where no one ever tells you how to do it as such - seemingly agreed that anyone can do it and that it is fundamentally devoid of any skill base. On the other hand paddler seats are all specialist when it comes to the details and it may just fall on you to call the ‘huts’ whether you like it or not - being as seats 6,5 and 4 are not well placed to make the call.
In reality, it’s an important detail, which, like all other details go together to make a successful, well oiled crew, having the potential to hinder or help you. In short your ‘Caller’ can make or break a crew.
A ‘hut’ made by the caller on the penultimate stroke, ‘hike’ on the next, then ‘hoe’ on the switch called out by the crew. This seems a verbose approach to a simple command, but an effective technique for learning the pattern and timing of switching sides for novice paddlers. It also creates a feeling of ‘the collective’ in calling in unison. However, in the context of racing and rough water paddling, mostly impractical.
A ‘hut’ on the penultimate stroke, followed by ‘hoe’ on the switch. A more conservative method, which can be used for a moral boaster in bringing the crew ‘together’ in unison.
A singular ‘hut’ on the penultimate stroke, followed by the proceeding stroke, then the switch with no call out from the crew. Used for the most part by experienced crews and certainly in rough waters where concentration is key.
The Novice Caller / Novice Paddler and Other Points
The first question which comes to mind, how many strokes should be taken before the call is made? Novice callers / novice paddlers, often adhere to a rigid stroke number, perhaps between 14 and 16 thereabouts.
In some parts of the world, Tahiti for one, calls on 8 and 10 strokes are common, which reveals much about they way they perceive ‘fresh arm paddling’ - whereas many Pacific Rim countries and elsewhere, seem to want to ‘fatigue’ before they change?
Short calls between switching, tends to suit higher stroke rates (70 + per minute), while a longer duration between calls, tends to better suit a slower stroke rate.
Typically, the novice caller will count in their heads until the magic ‘agreed’ number comes up, fearing they may be 1 or 2 strokes over or under - and commonly loose count. They are often quite anxious, while also dealing with the pain of paddling and other distractions, including ‘Chit Chat’ from crew members.
Being a novice, also tends to mean an earlier on-set of fatigue. Pain thresholds are generally lower in novices, so the need to change, takes on urgency after only a reasonably low number of strokes. However, it’s also common for novice paddlers / callers, to focus so much on their paddling, they forget to call and soon get yelled out. Do this too often and you will not be popular.
The Novice Caller / Experienced Paddler
It is of course possible to be a novice caller but an experienced paddler - this can happen when you move seats - you may do a good job, but you’re still a rookie with lots to learn regarding the diligence required in calling. Flat water calling should present no issue, but there are always key moments, such as a the start of race over the first few minutes and when paddling in rough waters on all points of travel.
The Experienced Caller / Experienced Paddler
Experienced callers and paddlers, rely on a ‘time frame’ as opposed to counting. Once you’ve gained experience, the tedious, religious adherence to counting is and should be disposed of, replaced by an internal and intuitive ‘body and head clock’ so as you instinctively know when the time has come to call.
Your ‘body clock’ will tell you ‘change’ while your ‘head clock’ will balance this out against your assessment of the way in which the canoe is travelling i.e. are you about to drop in on that bump you’ve been chasing; is this such a good time to call it?
The caller needs a good strong voice and be able to call in a consistent manner.
Being able to count, is irrelevant - being able to ‘feel’ is the key.
A weak call, does little to inspire the crew - in fact, it can be demoralising
A weak call, will not be heard front to back of the canoe - causing paddlers to miss switches.
The call must be made to inspire and uplift the crew.
Don’t play with sounds.
Be consistent accept for delivering it ever more forcefully when needed.
A short call has more impact than a long drawn out one.
Keep the Call Short
‘Hut’ as opposed to ‘Huuuuut’ is preferable - if you prolong it, the sound can end at the exit and can throw paddlers out of sync. The call should be sounded on ‘entry’ of the blade and end when the ‘catch’ is set to be most effective and concise.
One of the purposes of the call, is that it helps recalibrate all paddlers in terms of timing, before the switch is made.
Competing with Other Noises
Consistency and a strong, recognisable tone becomes especially important when you are with a crew that likes to chat as they paddle ( . . . annoying) or have a verbose motivator in the middle seats, when needing to be heard over wind and waves, support boats, race starts and so on . . . these ‘talkers’ must be mindful of not talking over the ‘hut’ or paddlers will miss the call.
If the caller keeps varying the sound, how can you listen for it? Besides the caller, there is always the need for a second ‘talker’ in the canoe; one who motivates, calls the rating up, asks for more power etc. It can become confusing if the call for more power, or higher rating sounds like the callers ’ hut’ such as ‘up, up’.
An effective technique I have seen in Tahiti, is a whistling system, normally used by the steerer. When they want to ‘up’ the rating / power, a whistle is given to pass this on, normally two short whistles by the steerer. It’s effective and cannot be confused with any other sound or request. You hear the whistles and react accordingly. This system can be modified to include, a one or three whistle system to indicate a number of different requests.
As a tip, it can often pay when paddling without covers to call down into the hull of the canoe. This hull acts like a sound box. This is particularly helpful in strong winds.
Powering Up and Out of the Hut
When you hear ‘hut’ pour the power on - make it count as you’re about to switch and get a fresh start! Ideally a big effort on the ‘hut’ then on the next - switch and ‘depth charge’ the next 2 strokes - this gives the hull added surge as you make the switch and assists to keep hull speed up for any delay caused when switching. Be warned. This is hard work if done correctly, but well worth it.
When the time comes to switch, do so quickly! This is not the time to relax and loiter, slowly switching sides. There has to be some urgency and precision in the process - practicing is essential, but many crews don’t. Nailing the switch is critical and can loose yards every time if you fail to make the change efficient.
The Biomechanics at the Switch
Some brief tips include;
Relax and breath out on the change.
Relax the elbow, shoulder, wrist.
Swop the hands central to you body line.
Don’t sit bolt up right when you make the switch.
Keep some lean forward.
When you switch, you can be guaranteed greater reach for less movement.
Switch feet quickly in sync with the arms / hands switching the paddle.
Make the first stroke as long as possible and drive downward to set yourself up.
Use the edge of the seat, don’t sit back on it.
Many crews make the first stroke very short and shallow.
Aim for longish and deep and reap the benefits over your opposition.
When To Call in Flat Waters
When conditions are flat, tedious and a grind, it’s easy to fall into a pattern of calling near the same number of strokes per side. In this instance, there are fewer outside influences other than other canoes (passing boats) within your immediate area to determine a change, other than fatigue. You are calling simply to keep fresh arms. Consider ‘waking up your crew’ with some short sharp switches calling even on 5 strokes for 4 ‘huts’ just to smash the lactate out and to make sure everyone is on task.
Develop a system for taking the rating up and down, adjusting the length of the stroke in line with the duration per side with calls made, so as flat water paddling / racing takes on a more interesting, varied art than a simple grind. This will hold you in good ground when in an overtaking situation or when being challenged and preventing ‘boredom’.
Calling the switch has a big impact on the crew as it puts you in the control seat. You should be so in tune with your crew that you feel things such as if the canoe is faster when the crew combo is paddling on the left or right side? Yes, there can be a difference if you’re fully in tune with the nuances of the canoes rate of travel, glide and overall performance; the steerer can have a big influence on this factor.
Calling At The Starts
How you go about your start varies greatly for crews other than the adage of ‘paddling like you stole it’ which tends to involve lots of water being thrown everywhere for not much return on effort - but that’s another article.
You may have a set number thereabouts in your head as to when to make that first, critical change, but it will depend if your crew has a ‘blinder’ or a ‘shocker’ off the start line.
Most crews favour a high number of strokes off the start before changing, what that number is will depend much upon the crews level of fitness and how well they have trained to deal with lactic acid build-up.
Crews should aim to think of going through the gears. You want to stay on the one side for as long as possible to get the canoe up to just short of your potential top speed, making the call just at that point where you know you risk falling off this level of intensity, so as when the call is made, the crew urgently switch, reach longer, power-up with fresh arms to hit their top speed. The harder you work, the faster you will reach that point. Soon thereafter crews will back off to a sub-max race pace - those who back off soonest will fall back, whilst the stronger / fitter crews will keep a higher pace for longer before backing off.
What that first call stroke number might, be is a complex mix of determinants which you must experiment with in testing the tolerances.
Sprint / Regatta Racing
Here’s a thought for you. ‘There’s no such things a sprint racing in outrigger canoeing’ - it’s all endurance racing however you look at it, physiologically and psychologically. Armed with this knowledge, you’re calling always with an endurance mind-set, not a sprint mind-set.
Other than the start and the procedures you have worked out for rounding the markers, faced with a neck and neck finish, with only metres to go, do you call a change or go for broke? The closer you get to the finish, the odds are better not to make a change. You could work out a ‘dummy call’ where a call is made but you don’t switch; this may force the opposing crew to switch and drop back . . . that takes nerve and 100% concentration of your crew to pull it off.
When coming into turns - be very clear on the system you have discussed / practised in having your key forward steerers, seats 1 and 2 on the correct side coming into the turn and in addition, ensuring you make the call for the switch out of the turn as soon as possible.
In ocean conditions, when travelling downwind, the caller must learn to feel when the canoe is ‘stalling’ or ‘accelerating’ accordingly. Calling a change during the stall phase during the chase for ‘bumps’ is totally appropriate. As the hull falls off the swell and decelerates within the trough, it’s time to ‘power up’ with fresh arms, dig deep and prime for the ‘drop in’ and chase.
Depending on the duration, you may call another change during this stall phase, however the canoe only tends to stall briefly, depending on the horse power of the paddlers and the size / steepness and ‘period’ between bumps.
As the hull picks up speed and the nose drops and the tail lifts, the stroke rate will naturally pick up. This is not the time to call a change. At the critical part of the ‘take off’, much like a surfer paddling ahead of the wave, if you momentarily take the power off by changing sides, you’re likely to miss your opportunity.
Stay on the side you are and put the power on. If the canoe drops in and accelerates, remain paddling on the same side until you reach a point of terminal velocity, then call a quick change. When following the bump, power to the blade is reduced, the stroke generally faster, shorter and ‘lighter’.
Calling when chasing a running sea is a skill learned by feeling the canoe as it pitches fore and aft, accelerates and decelerates with the oceanʼs movement. You will need to feel your way around calling the change to blend with the dynamics of the canoes’s interaction with the ocean. You can so easily kill hull speed and miss opportunities if you fail to call correctly.
OC1 and V1 Paddlers Can Make Good Callers
Time spend paddling these solo craft should teach you the timing and mechanics of switching sides. You don’t sit and count out how many strokes to take, you simply learn to switch when you intuitively know it’s right.
Rough Water Side Waters
If side waters are temporarily threatening capsize by coming in sideways towards the ama (back-wash from cliffs) consider having your stroker on the left as this will ensure seats 3 and 5 are also on the left to safe-guard the ama.
Change Over Races
Firstly, consider if you’re exiting paddler is also the caller from seat 2 or 3 depending whom you’ve allocated - have someone take over temporarily, yelling out, ‘I’ve got the calls!’ or similar, until the entering paddler is in and ‘zipped’ - who should then take over, calling out 'I’ve got the calls!’ . . .
On a logistical note, If you set it up so as ‘exiting’ paddlers are paddling on the right when they exit in the case of a 1, 3, 5 or a 2, 4 change, entering paddlers will be less likely to be ‘whacked’ with a paddle as they enter from the left. Entering paddlers will grab the gunnel as they enter from the left to stabilise the canoe.
Where you have sequential paddlers exiting; 1, 2 or 2, 3 or 3, 4, if you keep the first exiting paddler on the right, this minimises the chance of the last entering avoiding the ‘reach’ of the seat behind them.
Practice to see what works for your crew. Either way it’s a balance between having to reach over to avoid whacking an entering paddler as they pass by, or having to avoid hitting them as you reach from the seat behind into which the entering paddler is aiming for.
Who Should Call?
A number of variations exist and each is open to some debate. Commonly seat 2 or 3 call. Seat 5 is too far at the back of the canoe and so too is seat 4 to be heard with any consistency. The same can be said of seat 1 in being too far forward from middle and rear seats.
# 2 Calling: Being as they work closely with the stroke, it provides what is generally considered to be the best place from which to make the call. They can be sympathetic to the strokers progress and performance and in same cases, seat 1 can sometime shout out ‘call it!’ if they need a change made in order to chase a bump or keep the rating up.
# 3 Calling: From here the paddler can have a balanced feel what is going at the front of the canoe and in the middle seats. They can sometimes misinterpret when to call however, if they are only calling for the sake of the middle seats and not staying on task in calling for the forward seats. This is a hard concept to follow, but it has to do with whether the middle paddlers are on a section of a bump for example that is accelerating or decelerating - what particles rotate - the front paddlers may be paddling in water rotating forward with the direction of a travel and the middle seats in water rotating in reverse, so as the water feels, ‘light and fast’ up-front and ‘heavy and slow’ in the middle.