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The original version of this article was written by Emmanuel Brugvin, World Champion in 1999.

What you are reading is a translation by Jamie McEwan, and is used by permission. THANK YOU Jamie for kicking off a new section of CBoats.net!

The C-1 Slalom Forward Stroke

This technical essay is the product of observations and analyses of the elite international C-1 paddlers of the early 2000's. It offers a distillation of the styles actually being used, and so does not pretend to be the unique truth, but rather a model of proven and widely recognized techniques.

Introduction

If there's one slalom discipline that demands the most precise and practiced stroke for maneuvering through the currents and crosscurrents of whitewater, it's C-1 slalom. In contrast with all other classes, in C-1 the propulsion is asymmetrical. Not only should the stroke be powerful, it should also be carefully calculated to make the boat go straight. "Force is useless without direction." This aphorism sums up the first priority of the C-1 paddler. Too many ignore this "detail," in effect putting the cart before the horse. How can you hope to paddle quickly and precisely, performing complex and technical maneuvers, if you can't even go straight? Improve your forward stroke and you'll see a vast improvement in all aspects of your paddling. Every maneuver will become easier, giving you an extra dividend of speed from any given level of fitness (especially at the end of the course).

But before beginning to perfect your stroke, it's essential to be well fitted into your boat. It is the outfitting that connects paddler and boat, ennabling you to be one with your craft.

Here's an exhaustive list of the different phases of, and technical specifications for, the C-1 slalom stroke. Their length and detail may be intimidating, but you should find that the photographs, clearly labeled with positive examples (in green) and negative examples (in red), will help clarify the text.

Step One: Planting the Paddle (The Attack!)

  1. Maximum back arch (pelvis tipped forward) - A minimum of weight on the knees. Instead the weight should be between the knees and the buttocks (boat stays flat throughout the stroke).
  2. Chest is canted strongly forward (careful not to lean more on one knee than the other).
  3. Reaching out with the lower shoulder (shoulder remains dropped). Careful! Avoid rotating the shoulders, which has the nasty tendency to cause the pelvis to twist, and therefore to weight the knee on that side as a support. Instead keep both the hips and the shoulders in the same axis, without twisting either one out of alignment with the boat. The lower shoulder can be extended forward without twisting the shoulders (and without pulling the upper shoulder back).
  4. Lower arm slightly bent. (Yes! No longer is the lower arm held entirely straight, as was customary in the 90's.)
  1. Lower elbow moves down. The slight bend in the lower arm allows good power and a strong catch. Be careful, however, not to exaggerate this flex in the arm; maintain considerable extension. For young paddlers, it is best, at first, to learn with a straight bottom arm, because good extension is the first priority.
  2. Top elbow is raised while the shoulder remains as low as possible.
  3. Top arm is 1/3 flexed. (Unlike the style of the 80's, when both arms were straight when the paddle was planted.)
  4. The paddle is as vertical as possible to keep the boat from turning with the stroke. The top hand is directly over the bottom hand.
  5. The gaze remains lifted and forward (do not drop the chin).

Step Two: Propulsion (Power!)


  1. Applying the Pressure
    1. Immerse the blade.
    2. Wait until the blade is completely immersed before pulling on it. Still the least possible weight on the knees (rather between the knees and the buttocks.
  2. Power Phase
  1. Pull with the lower arm (bending the arm).
  2. Upper arm: keep pressing downward while avoiding as much as possible pushing forward with the upper hand (as seen from the side). Keep the upper arm bent and keep the hand in one place, in order to keep the paddle angled forward as long as possible and improve the transmission of power.
  3. Chest: Still open, maintaining the same back arch as at the beginning of the stroke. Pelvis is still tilted forward.
  4. Paddle (seen from the front): Maintain the shaft completely vertical, close to the side of the boat, and moving in a straight line. Upper hand remains over the lower.
  5. Paddle (seen from the side): Try to keep the paddle vertical as long as possible. Try to delay the backward tilt of the blade by keeping the chest open.

Once the Chest has Reached Vertical

  1. Push from the hips. Pelvis tilts backward.
  2. Pressure on the buttocks.
  3. Push forward from the iliac bones ("sit bones").
  4. Push the knees forward.
  5. The push finishes with a straight upper arm. Keep the top hand over the bottom to keep the boat running as straight as possible.
  6. Paddle: try to keep the paddle as vertical as possible (as seen from the front).
  7. Pluck the paddle from the water when it reaches the hips. [If taken behind the hips, the blade becomes so angled that it pushes the boat down in the water more than forward.
  8. The gaze remains forward (do not drop the chin).


Subtleties That Make All The Difference

Forward Position

(weight transfer): During the paddle plant (The attack phase) the weighting of the boat is only slightly toward the bow because there is no weight on the knees. The transfer of weight at the moment of the extension of the chest is from the buttocks to the paddle, passing as little as possible into the knees (not at all is best!).

The Movement of the Torso

During the Power Phase, two movements take place in the torso:
  1. The upper torso (chest and upper back), remains open to the sky, as it was at the plant, rather than having its weight thrown onto the paddle and the bow.
  2. The lower torso (stomach and hips) is very active, contrary to what is often seen, pushing from back to front. The more arch there is in the back and chest, the more powerful this push will be (due to the greater arc of movement).

Backward Position

End of the Power Phase (the paddle is about to be removed from the water).
Contrary to popular belief, the act of tipping the pelvis backward does not cause the stern of the boat to sink. In fact, since the chest finishes in a vertical position, there is no reason for the weight to shift to any significant degree toward the stern.

Vaulting Past the Plant

This is purely a mental image, but it is all-important! The image is of taking hold, with the paddle, of a fixed point in the water, and pushing the hips to that point, thereby driving the boat forward. You should imagine moving the hips past the point seized by the blade.


Details for Experts

In certain cases, when extra speed is necessary, for sudden accelerations or for starting up from a dead stop, it is best to somewhat change the forward stroke. Two solutions are possible:
  • The first is to increase your leverage by pushing with the upper arm and/or moving the grip of the lower hand toward the blade (doing both being most advantageous).
  • The second is to keep the chest arched and leaning forward without engaging the hips, because this requires less body movement.
Obviously, these two solutions can be performed simultaneously. In this case, you have a kind of "four wheel drive, low gear"! As you remove these modifications, one after another, you will pass from low gear, to second, on through to fifth gear, which is the forward stroke as described.

Conclusion

It can be seen, from the many aspects and subtleties just covered, that the C-1 stroke is a complex and subtle motion that may take years to perfect. But it's worth the effort! Keeping in mind all of this complexity, and adding to it the effect of the unique build and physiology of each paddler, it is easy to see why there is an incalculable number of possible styles, each with its own richness and idiosyncrasy.

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