Paddling Both Bow and Stern

Why should you be able to paddle both bow and stern?

This article might also be titled:

“How Bringing a New Paddler Along Can Make You a Much Better Paddler.”

I think that most of us started out paddling in the bow of a boat. Why? Because that’s the “easiest” end for a new paddler. The more experienced paddler can steer the boat, keep the boat balanced and all the new paddler has to do is keep his or her head down and paddle.

Unfortunately, we keep this mentality throughout our paddling career.

  • Bow: strong silent type, keeps head down, paddles, responsible for speed, carries stern runt down the river.
  • Stern: lightweight, responsible for steering the boat, tells dumb jock bow guy what to do.

You know where this will get you in a race? Nowhere fast.

So I started out a stern girl – with my dad that made sense because he weighed so much more than I did and he had more power. When I came up to Rochester and started paddling with Marc and his daughter Danielle several years ago, I played the dumb bow girl role pretty well. I didn’t know what to do and she controlled the boat pretty well from the back, so I kept my head down and paddled. Danielle and I could have been much better had I been a better bow guy!

Now, I have a unique situation, paddling stern with Marc. Do you really think that Marc keeps his head down and paddles? Definitely not. This puts me at an advantage, because I learned that being a bow guy was so much more than what it initially seemed to be, but also put me at a disadvantage because Marc can completely control the boat from the front if you let him.

So the next step for me was to start paddling stern with brand new paddlers. They aren’t going to help you steer the boat at all because they simply don’t know how to, and you will become quickly proficient at steering from the back.

The next step? Throwing your new paddler in the back of the boat! You will be forced to steer from the front, call huts and help them to learn how to steer from the back. You’ll see that they will let the boat drift too far, they don’t support themselves when drawing and they aren’t being forceful enough with their steering. This will do two things for you – help you to understand how to be a good bow guy, and also through explaining things to your new stern runt, you will better understand YOUR role as stern runt.

In truth, the bow guy should be responsible for fine tuning the steering, making it easier for the stern guy to steer the back and also for initiating top end speed. The stern guy should be more responsible for rough turning (you can’t fine tune anything from the back of the boat) and keeping up the back of the boat. Even if you just aren’t bow guy material, it is a very good idea to spend a lot of practice time in that end of the boat because it will make you such a better stern paddler – and vice versa. Here in the Rochester division of Forge Racing, we switch off probably 50/50. Marc, Jason, Kyle, and I can all paddle both ends of the boat and we switch it up all the time. We don’t really care if we can trim out a boat or not – it doesn’t really matter in practice anyway and it’s just to learn how to handle the boat. And throwing C1 into the mix! Perfect.

The new definitions?

  • Bow: responsible for keeping the front end of the boat up, fine tuned steering and steering around corners, tempo, paying attention to surroundings.
  • Stern: responsible for keeping the boat straight, rough steering around corners, seeing the big picture (it’s easier for the stern runt to direct in side waking for instance because they can see the angles at which the boats are etc) and of course holding up their end of the boat.

The best bow guys in the business are also the best stern guys. Think about it. A good bow guy helps out the stern as needed. Of course it’s easier to just stay in your end of the boat and keep plugging along, but if you are interested in going to the next level, I suggest placing yourself in the other end of the boat with an open mind. Practicing what we are already good at it is easy; practicing what we do not excel at may be harder but is far more rewarding.

By Holly Reynolds, January 2009

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