Just as boats evolve, strokes evolve as well. As strokes change, so do the methods for teaching each of them. Let’s talk about the sweep. This stroke is one that has evolved with the changes in boat size.
For instructors what change means is constantly refining our techniques to help beginner, intermediate, and advanced boaters learn to paddle efficiently and safely. As instructors, one of the most important concepts we focus on is good technique to reduce the possibility of shoulder injury. When teaching the forward sweep stroke it is important to be aware of shoulder protection issues. This will never change!
But as boats have gotten shorter, they have also become easier to turn. This change has impacted how these boats can be paddled. This has led to splitting the forward sweep into two separate strokes. The first half, known as the “forward sweep” extends from the bow to the hip of the paddler. The second half of the “traditional forward sweep” is known as a “stern draw”, which starts at the paddler’s hip, and extends to the stern of the boat. Traditionally, many instructors have taught this as one long stroke, and some still do. However, when paddling a Dancer it was often necessary to extend the forward sweep stroke beyond your hip effectively using that stern draw to free the bow of the boat from the bow-wake holding in the direction of travel. On the other hand, when paddling an EZ or G-Force, it is usually not necessary to use more than a forward sweep (from the bow of the boat to the hip) to get the boat to change its direction of travel. Even when executing a ferry where the bow is being pushed downstream by the current, the second half of a forward sweep, the Stern Draw, is all that is needed to maintain an efficient ferry angle in a short boat. Splitting the forward sweep into two strokes is a very effective concept for several reasons.
The first reason to split the sweep into two strokes is that since modern boats are so easy to turn, using a forward sweep in conjunction with a stern draw will tend to turn the boat more than necessary. By breaking down the forward sweep and stern draw, the paddler can choose which stroke will be sufficient.
Breaking down these turning strokes into separate concepts also works well to help beginner and intermediate paddlers understand the mechanics of each stroke. This is very important when it comes to shoulder protection issues. In order to safely execute a stern draw, torso rotation is imperative. Good torso rotation forces the shoulders to be parallel with the boat, thus keeping the paddler’s hands in “the box” or shoulder friendly area. This torso rotation can be accomplished with the aid of looking at your paddle. While some instructors preach that one must ALWAYS look where he or she is going, this is not always the best way teach a beginner. Many advanced boaters are capable of rotating their torso to keep their hands in “the box” when their paddle extends beyond their hips. However, in my experience, most beginning paddlers have more success with proper torso rotation if they look at their paddle blade. It only takes a second to complete the stroke and then they can return their focus to their direction of travel. While looking where you want to go is an important concept, if you can not safely turn your boat in the direction you need to go, looking where you want to go will get you nowhere.
These concepts are a lot of fun to play around with. Next time you get a chance, jump in a long boat and compare how it turns compared to your little boat, or vice versa if you prefer a long boat. The bottom line here is to get out on the water and gain an understanding of the concepts of good turning strokes, and good torso rotation. As a paddler this will keep you out of the surgeon’s office. For the instructor, it will help you provide your students with information appropriate to their skill level.