Many team paddlesports, require paddlers to mirror image one another with regards to the entry, catch, pull, exit and recovery phases and in this respect it requires a level of discipline and co-operation unequalled by most all other sports.
Within team outrigger canoeing this holds true and while the feat can be honed and accomplished in flat water conditions with some degree of consistency, rough water paddling by degrees, makes this increasingly problematic but no less important to maintain.
Reasons for poor timing within the canoe can be a complex issue but usually resolvable once you nail down where the problem stems from. Essentially timing issues are of course human-error based, which are largely disciplinary and the lack thereof.
Now that may sound harsh, but however you analyse poor timing, it always comes down to someone failing to conform to the syncopated, synchronistic, symphony that defines team work and commitment to this ballet of paddles, this seated dance of human movement. A tug of war is won by such measure and application, where there is no room for mavericks, impatience and loners, for this we have another discipline entirely, called OC1 or V1.
Being part of a canoe team, binds you to the reality, while each seat has it’s unique roll and function within the one third that you find yourself seated, whether front, middle or rear, the ultimate goal is to blend 6 individuals, seated within 3 key areas of the canoe, so as to move 1 canoe via the harmonious blending of each of the crew members. As the saying goes, ‘As One’.
Anomalies for penultimate seat and the steerer
It has to be said, when paddling in flat waters, seat 5 paddlers (or any penultimate seat in any team OC or Va’a) should all be in sync at all times and when the steerer is not ‘poking’ or ‘drawing’ - they too must be in sync when they join in.
When conditions are particularly tricky, seat 5 becomes something of a rogue agent in switching sides, as and when they feel necessary and they may even need to ‘poke’ in extreme circumstances.
Seat 5 is often referred to as the ‘Keeper of the Ama’ so as they protect the canoe from capsize in the event of any sudden indication of adverse movement. Regardless of these ‘moments’ - the fundamental requirement to remain ‘in time’ holds true.
Many paddlers believe timing is merely to do with entering the paddle all at the same time. While this is certainly true, it’s only part of the ‘timing cycle’ and even though all paddles may enter at the same time, this is not to say your crew has ‘good timing’. This may sound counter-intuitive, but not when you recognise many paddlers are out of time at the exit, this implication ensures the phases of the stroke for them, is in fact compromised in relation to the timing and their implementation.
Early or late exit?
Few paddlers ever exit too early. Ideally, most will exit at the optimum point at which the blade has travelled just up to and past the hip, which permits a relaxed and timely recovery through to entry. The distance to travel back to entry will vary on the assumption paddlers are ‘reaching’ in different proportions relative to their potential reach, a factor determined by paddler arm length, torso height, shoulder width, flexibility, degree of twist, degree of lean, style and technique; it’s a long list.
Commonly, some paddlers will exit late, pulling too far past their hip, further than the paddler they are following - this results in requiring they have to rush through the recovery in order to enter in time.
What this sets up, is an immediate and inherent timing problem, which has some paddlers constantly struggling to keep in sync. Worse, it affects the collective power-band delivered to the canoe, not withstanding, pulling too far past the hip, translates into ‘pushing’ and additional drag is always a consequence, when in fact once you’re through the pulling phase, it’s time to let the canoe go, all in sync.
Pulling too far back can also be a factor of over-rotation and indeed women, who are generally more flexible, tend to exhibit this trait more often than men.
A paddler in seat 3, pulling too far back, who is having to rush their recovery to remain in time at the entry, may well complain the stroke rate is ‘too high’, when in fact the problem is that they are keeping the paddle immersed for too long through over-rotation. Reduce swing through distance, by exiting earlier, will quickly resolve this feeling of being rushed.
Paddlers with fast twitch muscles, can often mask such timing issues, compensating by rushing the recovery, having pulled / over-rotated too far back and of course this raises a separate issue of ensuring fast twitch paddlers understand, not everyone can ‘rate’ as high as they may be able to and therefore they need compensate and blend, rather than expect everyone to keep up.
The art in blending a crew, makes it essential there is conformity to good timing at all phases of the stroke, not just at the entry and this can be a tough task and often requires video-analysis to identify with clarity, with the added benefit of making it possible to show the offenders where things are going wrong.
Probably one of the most overlooked possibilities, is that the stroke is out of time with their crew? ‘Not possible’ you say . . . well it is, because strokes who live in their own bubble, disconnected from what is going on behind them are missing the point. It’s their task to get the best out of the crew behind them and to do this, every stroke they take must be taken in consideration of maximising the best stroke rate, length and depth in order to maximise all factors, mostly that of the crew behind them at any given moment.
So, next time you have a timing issue in your crew, consider all phases of the stroke and get to work on micro-managing where the issue lies.