Sam Fowlkes
ACA Safety and Rescue Committee Chair
347 Paddlers Trail
347 Paddlers Trail
Sylva, NC  28779
T. 828 586-6563
F. 828 586-9649
Tom Foster's Teaching Tips
Teaching Efficiency

By Tom Foster

There is no such thing as "beginner instruction." But there are beginner paddlers! When I taught swimming to college athletes, I was urged to teach what was then considered the most efficient way to swim. To gain this knowledge, other coaches and I studied the Olympic swimmers, whom we considered to be the most fluid and efficient swimmers. What we learned is what we taught!

I believe this is the approach that ACA Instructors and Trainers should take as well. Whatever your paddling discipline, study the best boaters in your field and teach what you learn. Don’t "cheat" by introducing easier ways to do things that will have to be unlearned later. Teach the most efficient technique from the very start.

Rome was not built in a day, and our students will not be the fluid and graceful paddlers they wish to be in a day or a week either. But they will be a lot happier in the long run if they learn correct technique from the beginning. I admit this may be a bit frustrating and may even cause some additional swims, but it will spare students the difficulty of having to break inefficient habits later in their paddling career.

So what does this mean, for example, to the entry level whitewater canoe solo paddler? It means we teach him/her to be either a "righty" or a "lefty" and to perform all maneuvers without ever taking the control hand off the grip. To be as comfortable with cross strokes as onside strokes. To carve circles, both onside and offside with equal ease, and to alter the size of these circles easily. To control the course of the boat by paddling in front of the body most of the time, wasting minimal energy "behind." To be as comfortable doing offside maneuvers, such as eddy turns and peelouts, as doing them onside.

This is how I would love to see every instructor teach. Yet, I am discouraged to see some instructors still teaching kayaking and canoeing the same way I was taught back in the 60's. Wake up! The sport is dynamic and changing! Paddling techniques have changed as have boat designs, and teaching techniques should therefore also be changing. I challenge you to take a fresh look at what and how you are teaching, and to find new ways to introduce what we used to call "advanced" technique to YOUR "beginner" paddlers.

Remember: To change is to grow, to change often is to have grown much!

Former Chair of the SEIC from ‘82 -‘91, Tom Foster is an Instructor Trainer Educator in whitewater kayaking and canoeing and a current member of the ACA Councilor’s Roundtable.

I Lean Upstream... A Lot!
I Lean Upstream…. A Lot!

by Tom Foster

For years, I've been teaching students that it is safer and more fun to get through a challenging rapid by seeing it as a puzzle. Rather than look for the straightest route from top to bottom, I encouraged paddlers to eddy-hop their way through — the more "hops" the better! I call this "taking apart the puzzle," and each eddy turn or ferry from one eddy to another is one more piece of the puzzle.

So, would you have more fun doing a puzzle with a few pieces or with a hundred?! Not only is it more fun, but it minimizes the risk of losing control of your course if you execute numerous small maneuvers rather than charge through all the various currents of a complex rapid.

Before I can describe how to approach a rapid in this manner, we need to agree on several things the canoeist or kayaker is doing when "playing the puzzle", performing such maneuvers as C-turns and S-turns:

1. The paddler is paddling forward when trying to go somewhere! That is, no drifting, no ruddering, and no backpaddling. So there is always good, strong forward momentum which can be harnessed for exerting control over the course of the boat.

2. We can assume the boat is always turning, never going perfectly straight. The canoeist is always paddling on the inside of the turning arc, and the kayaker is always stroking on both sides of the boat (no double-strokes on left or right).

3. The forward strokes are where they belong — in the "leading end" of the boat. That is to say, the stroke ends before the blade gets to the paddler's body. This way, strokes add forward momentum without tending to make the boat turn away from a given stroke.

4. The paddler controls the sharpness of the boat's turn with the location and the power applied to the inside forward stroke. Kayakers, this means your stroke on the inside of the arc in which the boat is turning is the one that controls the degree of the boat's turn. Canoeists, all your strokes are on the inside of the arc, so you are doing either a forward stroke or a cross forward stroke depending on which way the boat is turning.

I am surprised at how often I hear instructors warning students not to lean upstream. Let's look at the reasoning behind this advice. In other wards, what are we trying to prevent by leaning our boats?

A capsize, of course. Well, what makes the boat capsize? I would say that it's not anything inherent about what's coming "down" from "upstream." Rather, I would say that it's the forces acting on your boat — from whatever direction — that could make it capsize. When the forces hitting the left and right halves of your bow are unequal the tendency is for the side receiving more force to be pushed downward, flipping the boat upside-down.

To stay upright, we elevate the side of the boat that is receiving more pressure. That is, we lean the boat away from that side. If this were always the upstream side of your boat, you would certainly want to avoid leaning upstream. But I am here to tell you that it's not!

Since you are paddling forward at all times (one of our assumptions, above), the main force acting on your boat is created by your forward movement through the water, not the flow of the river. Note: When paddling forward down a river, you are moving faster than the current! If your boat is turning to the right, there is more force hitting the left side of your bow than the right. If you're turning left, there's more force hitting the right side.

What about the river current? It's generally diddly-squat compared to the forces you're creating with your forward—and turning—momentum! Lean into your turn and you'll stay upright every time.

Now let's look at the diagram of a section of river with several shoreline eddies and a midstream eddy. 1. The bold solid lines represent times the boat is in the main current and leaning upstream as the boat carves an arc toward its next destination, like a shoreline eddy. As always, the paddler leans the boat into the turn. The boat's forward movement through the water creates much stronger forces than the downriver current through which the boat is traveling. 2. The bold dashed lines show where the boat is leaning "upstream" in reference to the direction of the eddy current that the boat is in. The principle here is the same as when in the main river current. Notice that the "upsteam" leans always occur as the paddler anticipates crossing a current differential (an eddy line), whether entering an eddy or leaving an eddy.

In many cases, the river itself will create your arc as you move from faster water to slower water. If this doesn't happen when you want it to, you can use a correction stroke (stern sweep, pry or rudder) to make it happen. These are executed, if needed, wherever there is an "X" in the diagram.

Playing in a rock garden by carving arcs in and out of eddies — "taking apart the puzzle" — is fun, safer than going straight down the river….. and it places you in harmony with the river currents. But that's another article!

If you would like more information on whitewater technique and playboating, refer to the new Instructional DVD on Solo Whitewater Canoeing with Tom Foster Email Tom at tfwhitewater@hotmail.com


Instructional Books Verses Liability Claims
Instructional Books Verses Liability Claims

by Tom Foster

When an author writes an instructional book on a high adventure sport, he should be including all aspects of the sport as practiced by the top athletes. Show me a young person who enters a sport who does not aspire to be an expert, performing all the things the best in the sport are doing, usually with a high degree of grace and fluidity.

Yet, high adventure sports have inherent risks which could result in injury or even death. Sports such as snow boarding, surfing, skiing, whitewater paddling, bungee jumping, and rock climbing are all examples of high adventure sports. If the author of a book on one of these subjects includes all aspects of the sport, should the book be restricted in sales because of the potential of liability claims against the author and/or the bookstore that sold the book in the first place? Could such a claim be considered a "frivolous law suit"?

A case in point. Authors Tom Foster and Kel Kelly, in their book intitled "Catch Every Eddy–Surf Every Wave" have included a page on "Running dams or steep ledges" in which they outline their inherent dangers and the variables that must be considered before one considers running a waterfall.

Now we all know that whitewater paddlers are running dams and ledges quite commonly. Some of these dams are man-made and some occur as natural dams and/or ledges. Bo Bo Falls on the Upper Pacuare in Costa Rica is a good example of a natural dam that paddlers run frequently. Ledges are even more common.

Knowing paddlers WILL run ledges and waterfalls, would the authors be negligent by NOT including the dangers and variables to be considered before attenpting such a course of action, or should they simply have ignored the practice and let the paddlers "wing it" without any information about what they might be getting into? This is the question.

They chose to include the material. Whitewater paddling is a personal choice. Doing Pop-ups is a personal choice! Running a dam is a personal choice. Injury could result in both. Should an organization restrict the sale of a book just because of its content, even if it is educational and includes all aspects of the sport?

Is the insurance industry in effect muzzling organizations into actions they would not otherwise take?

Former Chair of the SEIC from ‘82 -‘91, Tom Foster is an Instructor Trainer Educator in whitewater kayaking and canoeing and a current member of the ACA Councilor’s Roundtable. He is the co-founder of Costa Rica Rios along with the late Ray McLain.

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