by Craig Parks and the ERA Team

Ok folks, we have to talk. There has been some over enthusiastic stroke marketing with the bow draw.  Because it is a cool looking stroke, instructors sometimes like to pull it out as soon as possible, like on day one of instruction.  The problem is that its use is often not explained well.… and this lack of context frequently causes a boater to do things like fly past their intended eddy with a funny look on their face because they pulled out a bow draw to try and turn their boat and drive into the intended eddy. This can be entertaining for those already in the eddy, but is not great if you needed to catch that eddy. Bottom line is that the bow draw should not be used as one of your foundation correction strokes.   

First, some background on the bow draw. We agree – it is a cool stroke.  Slalom boaters wouldn’t be slalom boaters without it.  When a slalom boater paddles toward an upstream gate they move toward the eddy and then drive the bow across the eddy line with a forward or sweep stroke (called pre-turning). Then they rotate upstream, lock in a bow draw and pivot turn. The bow draw becomes a forward stroke, pulling them through the gate. This move was once called the “Duffek,” now we call it a bow draw.

There are some key elements that make that stroke successful:
-The bow is deflecting upstream before the stroke starts, so it is easier to pivot-turn the boat.
-The paddler locks up their arms relative to their torso and draws the paddle to the hull with ab-muscles.  It’s all about using your core – which  is a key concept in kayaking: You should rarely engage musculature in your shoulder on a turning stroke. If the blade will move on a radius out away from the hull, you should be locking your arms in position relative to your torso and rotating at the waist to power the stroke with your  abdominal muscles.  

Number one reason why using the core is essential is because the shoulder’s anatomy just isn’t evolved enough for the loading you get when a paddle blade is offsetting lateral tension on the bow. This is probably the number one mistake made in stroke technique,. All humans are likely to swing their arm some (or a lot) on a sweep, reverse sweep, or bow draw. It’s not good for the shoulder, but it’s just what we do. The main idea here is not to sweep the paddle behind your torso with just an arm. Huge strain on the rotator cuff and bicep tendon. You should rotate at the waist to get the paddle there, and convert to stern draw if necessary.  

There is a time and a place for using the bow draw. Or not using it.
When is the bow draw your stroke of choice:
Pivot Turns
The bow draw is great for pivot turns when done correctly. It integrates well with the element of bow deflection and ab-tensioning and creates minimal pressures on the shoulder. And it feels super cool.  
*Side note: You may see racers Duffek with their upper arm above or behind their head. This offers all the freedom to dislocate that you associate with external rotation. The upper arm should be in front of face, lower than the scalp. In this positioning the anatomy acts as a lock mechanism for the upper arm during the move. It is one of the rare things slalom racers do that makes the rest of us mortals cringe.

Angle Adjustment (not angle correction)
You are moving downstream and want to adjust your angle a few degrees to one side or other. You reach out relatively close to the hull, bow draw to the angle you want, then roll the wrist as it becomes a forward stroke. This small adjustment is very common, and acceptable. But, just know that you are doing something a little awkward anytime you roll your wrist out like that. Especially considering that a sweep to other-side forward stroke works as well or better, with none of the possible strain in the shoulder or wrist.  

Closing the Turn Radius

If you have set a penetrating angle into an eddy and the boat is already turning, you can close the turn radius some with a bow draw. The main thing to understand here is that it is an accessory stroke. If you drove forward into the eddy at a penetrating angle, then there you are. The bow is deflecting upstream, no assistance needed. Or downstream when you leave.    

When Using the bow draw can be a problem
Using a Bow Draw to Correct an Angle
When a paddler gets deflected off an eddy line, or did not present an entry angle into the eddy and is running down a band of current, and then reaches into the eddy with a bow draw without pre-turning the boat and driving across the eddy line.  As they fly by the eddy, they usually make a funny face, roll their wrists forward and drop into a drag stroke to turn the boat  This  move is attempted too often, yet it rarely works.  And it puts heavy strain on your shoulders.  

When using it creates external rotation
Hold your arm out to side with forearm up, palm facing forward, like you are pledging an oath. This is called external rotation, and it is the most common way to dislocate a shoulder. Now drop your elbow about three inches. This is about how you hold the paddle on an incorrect bow draw. Feel much difference? When someone flies by an eddy and reaches in there with a bow draw, imagine springs and ball bearings flying out of their shoulder as it explodes.  Ouch.  

If you just can’t live without that bow draw, you first need to turn the bow in the direction you want to go with a sweep or forward stroke, then rotate, plant the paddle, and use abs to get your feet around, without moving your arm relative to your torso. You need to lock in that position between arm and shoulder and gut tug the boat around. Just remember: unless you are looking to do a pivot turn, the draw wasn’t really important.  

Bottom line here: the bow draw should be taught sparingly and with a huge dose of context. Or better yet, not at all until someone has nailed their correction strokes and learned how to control their boat angle.  Focus on your foundation correction strokes: forward sweep, reverse sweep and stern draw, and leave the bow draw for something fun to learn down the road.