Old Dog, New Tricks

Pine Barrens: “Creekin” Freestyle, by Jamie Smith

Like many others, I was introduced to paddling when I was quite young, on canoe trips at Summer Camp, and as I got older, on memorable trips with my Father to Algonquin Park. In my 20’s and for the next 25 yrs,  I enjoyed paddling a C-boat that placed me on rivers large and small.  It was a much more serious type of canoeing that provided both a great sense of adventure and an adrenaline rush that kept me chasing big water.  Paddling in those days was serious and required a dedication and commitment that changed course when I got married, bought an old house and had children; my priorities had changed.

Fast forward 15 years, and the longing to paddle never subsided. Having the opportunity to paddle an open solo canoe just fueled the fire again. The harsh reality of an aging body and fitness level negated safely getting back into a decked canoe, but there was a great satisfaction to just paddling again.

Jamie Smith                                              Photo: Marc Ornstein

I reconnected with an old river running buddy and we were off exploring the Adirondacks, Pond Hopping and venturing onto headwater streams. That instilled the desire for a more nimble boat, and to that end a Colden Wildfire became my boat of choice, and the meeting and friendship of Paul Meyer. He was kind enough to extend an invitation to paddle the Pine Barrens before the Functional Freestyle Workshop last year, and I was blown away by the finesse of the Instructors and the way they effortlessly negotiated the various obstacles in the streams. The classes opened my eyes to “non-hammer” paddling and other habits based on years of life in a C-boat. As frustrating as implementing the new techniques was at first, the Instructors were more than willing to take the time to help me with the concepts and techniques. I didn’t feel a competent grasp on the first day on Lake Stockwell, but during the following river trip, with some guidance, and being able to follow the Instructors, things started to fall into place. Before I realized, sideslips were sneaking into the strokes, and with encouragement Tim and Robyn had me slowing my stroke rate and smoothing things out.

The real proof was the next weekend in the Adirondacks, where the new strokes found their way into the routine without even thinking about it.

This prompted trying the Adirondack Canoe Symposium (http://freestylecanoeing.com/adirondack-canoe-symposium/). There it was: Forward Stroke Class with Charlie Wilson, and the Forward Quadrant with Marc. Any faltering in my technique was quickly identified so it can be worked on, and more new strokes were taught in greater depth. This really helped me to understand the subtleties of boat heel and paddle placement.  Again it was another huge leap in subtle boat control. The greatest benefit was the efficiency and being less tired at the end of the day!

When the announcement came for the Functional Freestyle Workshop again, I couldn’t wait! Having a better concept of the principals and understanding of what is supposed to happen made a huge difference this time around. Spending the paddling season getting the timing and placement down, then lots of Adirondack stream practice, made this years class just that much better. The camaraderie on and off the streams and the positive learning environment makes for a wonderful weekend, with the benefit of greater boat control and paddling skill.

Paddling the Pine Barrens Streams with this group has really brought back the joy in paddling again. It’s not the pure adrenaline rush of downhill paddling, but it is most satisfying to be able to easily thread the many needles of the Pine Barrens with ease and love every minute of it. There isn’t a better place or group to learn these practical paddling skills.


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