Paddling Terminology

Photo courtesy of Sawyer Harris 

This is a work in progress, so please bear with us!  If you have any terminology to add, please email us at


ACA:  American Canoe Association.

Amateur Boat, Am Boat:  A 4″x32″ racing canoe, that complies with the North American Marathon Racing Canoe Specifications.

ARCM:  AuSable River Canoe Marathon

ARICM:  AuSable River International Canoe Marathon, Inc., which is the name of the non-profit organization that manages and plans the AuSable River Canoe Marathon.

Backpaddle: Paddling backward to slow or reverse the forward motion of a canoe.

Bailer:  A device in the bottom of the canoe which extracts water when the canoe has forward motion.

Bar:  A shallow part of a river, usually with sand or gravel, that is typically found on the inside bend of a curve in the river.

Blade:  The wide, flat portion of a paddle.

Bonk:  To become exhausted during the race, usually because of dehydration, a lack of nutrients, a lull in energy, or psychological fatigue.

Bottom:  The part of the canoe that is under the water.

Bow:  The front end of the canoe.

Bow Paddler, Bowman, Bow Person:  The person who paddles in the bow.  In canoe racing, this person is typically the larger, heavier, and/or stronger of the paddling team.

Brush Dam Run:  A training session in Oscoda in which the paddler(s) paddle upstream from Riverbank Park to Whirlpool landing, and back.

Buzz:  1) To “psych out” a competing team by using some sort of psychological ploy, as made famous by canoe racing legend Irvin “Buzz” Peterson. 2) To pass a competing team quickly and (relatively) cleanly.

C-1, C1:  A one-person (solo) canoe.  While a C-1 looks much like a kayak, it has a larger volume and rides higher, and is typically propelled with a single-bladed paddle.

C-2, C2:  A two-person (tandem) canoe.

Capsize:  What happens when a canoe is flipped by a combination of wind, waves, obstacles, or a lack of stability.

Carbon Fiber:  A thin, strong, and lightweight material used in the manufacturing of racing paddles and canoes.

Chine:  The curved transitional section where the side of the canoe merges with the bottom. Hard chines are angular; soft chines are rounded.

Chine: Where the curving sides of the hull gradually merge into the bottom.

Daytripper:  A person leisurely floating or paddling in a recreational canoe or tube.

Deck:  The covered section in the middle of the canoe.

Deadhead:  A stump or log that is mostly or fully submerged.

DNF:  Did Not Finish.

Draft: The amount of water a canoe draws.

Drop:  1) A withdrawl from the race.  2) To leave a canoe behind, usually by sprinting or taking advantage of a mistake.  3)  A significant change in river level.

DQ:  Disqualified.

Eddy: A current at variance with the main current, and where the main current either stops or reverses its flow upstream; caused by rocks, obstructions, or the bends in a river or stream. Once avoided as dangerous, eddies now are routinely used in maneuvers and for rest stops.


Goo:  A gel consumed by paddlers to give them a temporary boost in energy.

Grip:  The handle formed on the top of a paddle Shaft.

Gunnel, Gunwale: Both outside and inside, top finished edges of a canoe. Also referred to as rails.

Hit the Wall:  Same as Bonk.

Hull: Frame or body of the canoe.

Hup:  A cadence called aloud to indicate the paddlers to switch the side of the canoe they are paddling on.  Typically called by the Stern Paddler.

Hut:  Same as Hup.  Typically used by paddlers from New England and/or Minnesota.

ICF: International Canoe Federation.

Intermediate Water:  Water which is between one-to-four feet in depth and therefore very difficult to paddle in.

Iron Paddler:  A paddler who has finished the Marathon ten times in the Professional Division.

Junk Water:  Same as Intermediate Water.

Masters:  1) Paddlers aged 40 or older. 2) A team of two paddlers aged 40 or older.

MCRA:  Michigan Canoe Racing Association

Mixed:  A team consisting of a male paddler and a female paddler.

Newbie:  A paddler who is racing the Marathon for the first time.

Oar:  Not used in canoe racing.

Paddle: The instrument used to propel a canoe through the water; it is not an “oar.”

Portage: How you get your gear and canoe across a stretch of land between two bodies of water. A solid reason why canoe-campers, like backpackers, attempt to reduce their gear to the lightest load possible.

Pro Boat:  A 3″x27″ racing canoe, that complies with the North American Marathon Racing Canoe Specifications.

Rocker: Indicates curvature of the keel line.

Rookie:  A team of two Newbies.

Seniors:  1) Paddlers aged 50 or older.  2) A team of two paddlers aged 50 or older.

Shaft:  The cylindrical section of a paddle between the Grip and the paddle Blade.  

Shallow Water:  Water that is less than one foot deep.

Spare Paddle:  Any paddle in or on the canoe that is not in the hands of the paddlers.

Splash skirt/cover: A fitted cover designed to keep water out of a canoe. Splash covers are useful in rough rapids and big waves.

Starboard:  The right side of the canoe.

Stern:  The rear end of the canoe.

Stern Paddler, Sternman, Stern Person:  The person who paddles in the stern. In canoe racing, this person is typically the smaller, lighter, and/or more technically skilled of the paddling team.

Stripper:  A wood strip canoe.

Suck Water:  Same as intermediate water.

Swamp:  When a canoe fills with water but does not capsize.


Throw a Rudder:

Thwart: Crossbars toward the bow and stern of the canoe. Structurally maintains the canoe shape.

Trim: The difference in the draft at the bow from that at the stern of a canoe. A properly trimmed canoe will sit dead level in the water.

Up All Night:  To have spectated the Marathon from Start to Finish without sleeping.

USCA:  United States Canoe Association.

Veterans:  Paddlers aged 60 or older.

Wake: The temporary trail in the water behind the canoe; also called the “wash.” Beginning canoeists should peek occasionally at their wake to see if it is a straight line, which indicates good directional control.

Yoke: A strong crossbar in the middle of the canoe designed for carrying the canoe on the shoulders. Often includes two yoke pads for more comfort.

Youth:  1) Paddlers aged 19 or younger.  2) A team of two paddlers aged 19 or younger.

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