By Bruce Kemp; first published in March of 2016
I suspect – indeed I know – that I speak for many folks who at one point or another became aware of FreeStyle Canoeing, and who have taken at least a few lessons at a Symposium. I/we were usually first attracted to FS through seeing some Interpretive FreeStyle performance/routine paddling somewhere – on Youtube, or perhaps live at a FreeStyle exhibition at a paddling event of some kind. As a single-blade paddler, there’s a big WOW factor when you first see it. The boat control the paddlers display is abundantly evident, and is quite eye-catching. For my part I saw a live exhibition, was instantly smitten (not to mention amazed), and wanted to learn how to paddle my boat like that. I wanted to do that stuff. At my first symposium (Midwest FreeStyle Symposium, 2007) I learned a whole bunch of course, but what I most remember, still so clearly, is being aware, the very next time I was out on a river back home afterwards, that to my surprise my plain old everyday paddling had changed noticeably, just a bit, and for the better. I was putting into practice some of the things I had been taught at the Symposium and Boy, did they work… I “got it” then, and realized that while yes, in your Symposium classes you learn how to do Axels and Posts and such, all those “tricks” and moves of FreeStyle – and they’re certainly great fun to mess with and cool as all get-out, no question – but that what’s really being taught is simply how to control your boat and learn to work with it to do what and go where you want it to. To learn to be a better paddler, a better partner with your boat, plain and simple.
For many of us who paddle solo canoes in particular (but certainly this applies with tandems just as well) there is a subtle but very persistent awareness which underscores nearly every paddling experience – that is the simple, quiet Joy in just feeling the boat move through the water under you in the ways in which it naturally wants to move. That Joy is only increased as you learn more about how you can facilitate, enhance, and make use of that movement: in learning how to speak to the boat with your blade, your weight shifts, your heeling; but also – and this is so important – in learning how to listen when the canoe speaks to you, which of course is what it’s doing when it responds not only to your actions, but also to other forces – current, wind, waves – which are acting upon it. Among many other things, every paddling experience is an on-going conversation between you and your canoe about moving through the water right here, right now.
FreeStyle paddling may be thought of, and described, in many ways, and this is only One of those ways – FreeStyle instruction is all about learning how to be an effective and efficient Communicator, with your boat certainly, but also a Good Listener as well. It’s about learning how to hold up your end of that on-going conversation…
Look at the wake of the canoe… That’s a quick turn!