General Paddling Skills


Paddler Development – General Paddling Skills

Beginners – Confused as to which way your paddling career should go? Confused as to which way up your boat should go?…….Please read on …….If you’ve recently joined the Club as a new paddler then this article is for you. You may have recently attended one of our introduction sessions at the pool or river over the autumn, or you may have joined in the spring/summer and taken part in our summer training courses. Either way, if you’re feeling a little lost and wondering how to take part in the club activities then hopefully this will help. If not then please speak with one of our Instructors or a committee member who will be only too happy to help.

Complete Beginners

You may have participated in one of our introduction pool sessions or a come-and-try-it on the river over the last few months and be wondering how to proceed beyond this.

Having joined the Club you will have received a Programme of events. Within this the most appropriate events for you are the pool sessions on a Monday evening where we provide a boat and paddle and all you need is your swim-wear and a towel. Sometimes we have formal training evenings such as canoe polo, rescues, open canoes, etc., and sometimes we have general sessions which are informal sessions for you to have a practice at whatever you like. There will always be a Coach in overall charge of the session and other coaches/helpers in attendance so if, on the general sessions, you would like some help or guidance then have a word with them and they can get someone to work with you. If you’re not sure whether a specific session is appropriate to your skill level then there is always a contact against each event in the programme so please phone them and ask.

We’d recommend you come down to the pool sessions over the winter which will improve your paddling confidence and some of your skills. We then recommend you sign up for our formal training courses which start in May out on the river and will provide structured coaching to progress your skills acquisition. Just spending time in a boat in the pool over the winter will help immeasurably with the summer courses giving you a significant head-start.


You may have joined the club last spring/summer and participated in our summer training programme and feel that now the formally structured training sessions have finished the club doesn’t offer you any more training.

Again, have a look at the Programme and come down to the pool sessions which will provide on-going training, albeit more informal. You might also like to sign up for a Rescues Training session or a rolling course. We run one or two of these each year depending on demand.

We also recommend you have a look in the Programme for the local flat-water river trips which normally take place on a Sunday. This is what you are really aiming to do as a paddler – paddle rivers! We run trips on different parts of the Stour and other rivers such as the Thet and Gipping which can be a tranquil and relaxing way to spend a Sunday.

Again, having done all this over the winter, make sure you sign up for our formal training sessions again next May and you’ll progress so much faster. Following this pathway you may even be ready for something a little more exciting next summer such as an easy white water river trip or going on the sea if that’s what you want!!

If you feel you’d still like a little more information and guidance on how to progress your paddling within the Club then please speak to one of us and we will aim to steer you in the right direction for you.

Improvers – 2 Star Award

The ‘new’ BCU 2 star award is a multi-discipline award. i.e. you’ll need to be competent in kayak and open canoe to get the certificate. This makes it a longer term award than it was previously, but there’s good reason behind this, as it’s now the pre-requisite award for attending Level 1 Coach training. To simplify this, the club offers 2 star training (which we also call Improver Training) in either type of craft, and recommends that anyone wanting to do their assessment does both courses on offer over the space of a couple of seasons. Anyone wanting to complete this in a shorter space of time should talk to one of our senior coaches to see what can be done.

Intermediates – 3-Star Award

“The Club trains me up to 2-Star but then doesn’t offer me much”

Up to a point that’s true, but it’s now up to you as the paddler to make choices as to which way you want to take your sport and to progress your own development.

“But what choices are open to me and how do I know what development I need?”

We’d always advise you to try and develop your flat water paddling skills up to the level of the current 3-Star, be that in open canoe or kayak. As always, 2-Star is a good point to start from, and you can certainly move on to have a go at some of the other disciplines, such as whitewater, sea kayaking, surf kayaking, racing etc.

You may have got your 1-Star within a few weeks of starting canoeing. You may then have followed it up with a 2-Star shortly after, so you might have an expectation that the 3-Star award follows on swiftly after that. This article is not to disillusion you, but to reset those expectations a little and provide you with a realistic approach.

The BCU Star awards are not a ‘linear’ scale. They do get harder and require more work the higher you go, and to achieve 3-Star you need to be technically very proficient and quite precise with your strokes. You should expect this to take a fair amount of coaching, a lot of personal practice, and some time spent gaining general paddling experience.

A typical development might be:

When you gain your 3-Star award you can consider yourself a good intermediate paddler. 3-Star expects your paddling strokes to be both effective and efficient. As an example, forwards paddling for 2-Star should be effective but the precise techniques are of less importance whereas 3-Star requires very good technique with a thorough understanding of what to do with your arms, body, legs, and head in order to ‘elegantly’ drive your boat forwards, so you need coaching and practice.

1. Once you’re ready to move on to 3-Star, I suggest you have some formal coaching to establish your strengths and areas of development, and to coach you in the 3-Star techniques.

2. You are likely then to need some time to just go away and practice the techniques your coach has taught you. This should be ‘guided’; there should be someone you can ask whether you’ve got it right or whether you’re slipping back into bad habits. You should expect to do a fair amount of personal practice to try out what you’ve been taught.

3. In parallel with the formal training and specific personal practice, it is highly beneficial to just spend time in your boat! This experience will develop you as a far more fluent and accomplished paddler which is another important part of 3-Star. It will also develop your paddle fitness.

4. More formal coaching and personal practice, and a last polishing of techniques with your coach and you should achieve your 3-Star; congratulations!

The club runs 3-Star training courses where the instructors will coach your technique to a high level. The length of time from gaining 2-Star to gaining 3-Star is almost impossible to answer. It depends so much on the paddler’s ability and the time one can allocate to the sport in our busy lives.

If you want to proceed with 3-Star coaching this year then please speak with one of the club’s coaches.

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Ref: [edited from ICC magazine article by Jim Ellis (July 2009), Paddler Development]