So you can’t paddle your creek boat like you do your play boat… maybe it’s not the boat! Check out this boatertalk article on why you may be having trouble with the transition between boats…

It Must Be the Boat
Here you’ve been paddling all summer in your play boat: making the moves, acing the ferries, looking like a rock star. You can paddle just about anything in your play boat.   And then comes a day when you want to get off Class III-IV rivers, maybe run some creeks, catch some gnarr–just like the big guns in the videos.  Of course, if the videos are any clue- the big guns use creek boats. So you decide it is time for a river runner and /or a creek boat. Think you can control it the same way as a play boat?

It must be the boats fault.
You take the new boat out on familiar water (the same Class III/Class III-IV you always paddle in your play boat) and it is a slug. It is everything you can do to muscle it down the river.  When you start in on a ferry the boat wont correct. When you try and change angles on the way into an eddy the boat wont budge. You try and carve a turn into an eddy like you always do and the boat barely recognizes that you are trying to do something. It must be the boats fault because you can easily do these things in your play boat.

Maybe it’s not the boats fault. Maybe its your fault.
A typical play boat is about 6 feet long on average. A creek boat is somewhere around 8 feet long on average.  So a river runner/creek boat has better forward momentum but is not as responsive turning. The shorter the boat, the easier it turns.  So in your play boat you don’t even think about boat angle when you leave an eddy. Have too much angle? Sneeze and it is fixed. Primary stroke out of an eddy? Who bothers worrying about that.  Need to correct angle in the middle of a rapid? A sloppy sweep stroke is all it takes in your play boat. The same sloppy sweep stroke/bad angle does not make it in your new boat.  Must be the boats fault. Or maybe it is your fault.

It’s not what you are doing but what you are not doing!
You add a river runner / creek boat to your gear artillery because you are looking for a more predictable boat for running harder rivers.  But you have to drive the boat different than you do a play boat. You need to be less concerned with momentum and more concerned with controlling your boat angle which happens to be the definitive ingredient for what makes a good boater.  So if you don’t have a clue how to plan boat angle on your exit out of an eddy, the new boat is going to be a challenge. If you don’t have a clue that you need to think about your primary stroke coming out of an eddy, the new boat is going to be a challenge. If all you have is a sweep stroke because you think that a stern draw is old school then you are totally screwed.  It is very inefficient and sometimes next-to impossible to correct a bad ferry angle with a forward sweep in a river runner / creek boat. And a reverse sweep is sure not a good idea in many situations. But if all you have in your bag of tricks is a sweep then good luck!

So what’s the solution?
Paddle your play boat like you would a river runner/creek boat. Just because your play boat allows you to paddle sloppy does not mean you should do it. Regardless of the boat you paddle on any given day, you should always be deliberate about controlling your boat angle and thinking about your primary stroke.  If you exit an eddy and are not aware of what side of the boat you took a stroke (upstream versus downstream) you are sloppy.

Maybe it’s not the boats fault.
All of the above does not mean you need to get out of your play boat.  It is such a fun!!  Just think about paddling your play boat like you would your creek boat: be aware of your boat angles coming out of eddies; be aware of your primary stroke crossing the eddy line; deliberately plan your entry into eddies; practice all your correction strokes- sweeps and stern draws, so that they are familiar in any situation and on and on and on. Have fun in your play boat but paddle it the same way you would your creek boat in order to make the transition from one boat to the other seamless. If you are a good boater, it should not matter what boat you paddle.