Rivers In The Sea: single blade skills in a sea kayak

Three years ago this sea paddler of some 25 years experience started to train in a second discipline. This led to the art of the open boat and single blade.

I consider there are three fundamental improvements in my sea kayaking based on time in an open boat. Improvements in appreciation of what happens inside the boat, what happens in the bit between me and the water and between the interaction of blade and the wet stuff.

Improvements inside of the boat

It was a revelation how dynamic and fluid the relationship between body and the open canoe had to be to achieve power and control. Ray Goodwin when writing about open boating notes that “experienced paddlers kneel or sit with hips and body twisted to one side not because they are experienced but because it is easier” (p 70). Heightened awareness of body posture  enhances the transition from intention to stroke. What Doug Cooper refers to as “muscles in a state of readiness” (p 14).

Informed by the ever changing dynamic of body and boat in the canoe I unlocked in the sea kayak and began to experiment with relationships and degrees of pressure at the points of connectivity, feet, knees, thighs, seat and lower back. What relationships between muscle groups built power and efficiency and which inhibit.

My relationship with the inside of my sea boat became more fluid. When to apply pressure, when not to apply.

If my time in an open boat taught me one thing it is that the bit below the deck is an important space. Fill it in dynamic way, use it and explore it and get a feel for what adopting differing relationships between points of connectivity can achieve.

Improvements in the space between boat and water

The work extending out from the side of the canoe across eddy lines has payed multiple dividends. How extended reach maximizes turning moment. How linking points of connectivity between body and blade power up the manoeuvre taking it from intention to effect.

I have learned that the space between boat and blade is not empty. It the space in where I make choices and where intent becomes paddle action.

Improvements between blade and water interface

Feedback loops between us and our paddle environment are at the heart of our paddling.  The feel of the blade in the water gives a major component of the feedback loop.

Of particular interest to me was the positive gain in developing a lighter more open handed approach to handling my paddle. The constantly changing relationship between paddle shaft and palm grip on the open boat paddle has made me more aware of developing a loose hand connection with my sea blades. This allows for greater feel in relation to what is happening at the wet end and in turn provides feedback and enhanced response to blade angle and effect.

Consider the following from Gordon Brown. “For the the whole sequence to flow the blade must slice …  forward momentum, dynamic first segment sweep on right, cross bow rudder on left hand … drop upper blade on left into water and reverse sweep … (p. 58) My point is that my understanding the complexity of that stroke in the sea kayak was enhanced by cross discipline work. The ability to feel the feedback from my blade  prior to the hours spent in my canoe would not have been acute enough for me to progress the complexity of the stroke as described.

And to conclude … 

I guess it would be remiss not to say something about all that time spent on rivers.

There was a lot to think about and a lot to take in as my appreciation of how complicated rivers grew. It stood me in good stead last year on Scotland’s west coast in the Little Corryvreckan where a river in the sea becomes a reality in the tide race. Here is my memory.

Fast Flows The Sea

“Weird sea state on the crossing over from Lunga to Scarba which delayed the passage from Garvellachs. About half to three quarters of an hour late for slack water at the Grey Dog which had formed a 500 meter rapid. Far too strong to paddle up but managed to eddy hop/ferry glide/high cross to make progress. Just.”

All in all a lot learnt, practice changed and paddle performance enhanced. And the big pay off? More fun in the boat. Whatever design it may be. My canoe is a Prospector 15 by We-no-nah and my Tiderace an Excite. They both make for a body, boat, blade platform par excellence. And last but certainly not least I am indebted to my friend Richard Turner aka ‘Biscuit‘ for his exemplary coaching in in the art of the single blade. As Gordon Brown said, “Roddy how many blades go in the water at any one time anyway?”


Canoe and Kayak Handbook, BCU, Pesda Press, 2002
Coaching Handbook, BCU, Pesda Press, 2006
Sea Kayak, Gordon Brown, Pesda Press, 2006
Sea Kayak Handling, Pesda Press, 2009


2 thoughts on “Rivers In The Sea: single blade skills in a sea kayak

    • Thanks for the positive thought about the blog. I have a couple of people working with me who have recently been spending time in canoes as part of their coach development program and they have got a lot out of the open boats. Go for it!

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