Sweep Style Debate

A dramatic technique debate is working its way through paddling schools and circles of paddling instructors. At question is the torso motion in the forward sweep.

Torso Rotation... The great debate

A dramatic technique debate is working its way through paddling schools and circles of paddling instructors. At question is the torso motion in the forward sweep.

sweep stroke

Traditionally, recreational paddlers have been taught to keep their paddle shaft parallel to their shoulders throughout the sweep. This helps a beginning paddler watch to ensure the blade path remains correct rather than scooping water or abbreviating the last few inches of the sweep. Additionally, the paddlers arms stay in front of the torso, in the strongest position.

However, slalom racers use a different torso action in sweep strokes than recreational paddlers have traditionally used. Here's the deal:

sweep stroke

Racers point their head and chest in the direction of their turn from start to finish. This continual wind-up helps force their legs and boat towards their destination, even though this forces the trailing shoulder into a weaker position. The ending position differs distinctly from the recreational paddlers' sweep, and requires excellent shoulder strength and blade dexterity.

kayak sweep stroke

Anticipation is a factor in determining technique. Racers, with their carefully calculated paths usually use the first part of the sweep to initiate turns or make subtle corrections. Beginning recreational paddlers, on the other hand, are more often reactive, and often need the last part of a sweep to make a course correction.

So which sweep should you use? Evaluate the condition of your shoulder joints, your flexibility, blade dexterity, general strength, and boat design. If your flexibility is good, your shoulders strong, and your boat light (race boats are 18 pounds), then you have the potential to incorporate this technique into your paddling repertoire.

A few paddling schools use the chest leading system and claim excellent results. An equal number of instructors, on the other hand, use the traditional system, as a teaching trick to maximize strength and maintain the proper blade angle at the end of the sweep. For youngsters with a future in slalom racing, or for agressive playboaters looking to improve I teach the more aggressive sweep system.

Top level rodeo competitors are already using chest/head pre-turns. Gymnasts and platform divers lead with their head and shoulder line to accomplish spectacular moves. What will, or should, be taught to fitter playboaters in light swing weight boats is a great topic for debate.