John Carlin’s Outdoors | A lesson in paddling

Long live canoes

BEDFORD COUNTY, Va. – It wasn’t so long ago that if you were paddling on a local river, it was in a canoe. Kayaks were scary, tippy contraptions for whitewater enthusiasts. Canoes were considered safer and easier.

Nowadays, just about anyone can get into or on a recreational kayak and go down the river — leaving canoes as a bit of an afterthought.

So, I thought the time was right to get a lesson in paddling a canoe via an obstacle course, with a professional instructor.

I found that situation at the Peaks Retreat and Adventure Center in Bedford County. It’s a place where the outdoors meets deep connections and shared experiences. There is room for 80 guests and lots of chances to learn from nature and one another. The Peaks is a nonprofit organization made up of people who describe themselves as adventurous educators and outdoor enthusiasts.

For me, it was a refresher on canoeing.

Getting to my paddling lesson

I took a very roundabout way to my lesson and how to properly paddle a canoe.

The team at the Peaks thought the best way to arrive at the pond was via zip line. And the best way to get to the top of the zip line tower was via a rock-climbing wall. I was game, and after a few minutes I whooshed to a spot where Center Director Susan Herndon-Powell coached me through the proper way to lower myself to the ground with a rope.

Now, time to canoe

You’d like to think you just get in and paddle. But there’s more to it than that.

“It can be challenging. You know a person that in the front provides the power typically in canoeing but the person in the back really needs to know how to steer,” Herndon-Powell said as we donned our personal floatation devices – AKA, life jackets.

If you want to get the most out of your paddling. You must do it right. Once in the boat, Susan gave me a lesson on the best way to move the boat, using your core instead of just your arms.

“And so you want to extend up, pull back to your hip, pop it up. We say like a pizza. Bring it back. Really bring the boat up to the paddle because what we’re really trying to do,” she explained.

When there are two people in a canoe, Susan said it’s important to work as a team. If the person in the front provides the power, then the person in the back steers, which requires its own set of techniques.

Susan walked me through several exercises, using a number of different strokes to guide the canoe in the proper direction.

In my case, it’s not like I never paddled before. But I was kind of like a golfer who never had a lesson. There were lots of bad habits to break.

The Peaks one-acre pond is a perfect place to learn. We paddled by a Canada goose nest complete with newly hatched young.

Then we took a shot at paddling between a series of buoys that required teamwork and for the person in the back to have a clue.

And after a few tries, I’d like to think at least a few of my bad habits had been left on shore.

About the Author

John Carlin co-anchors the 5, 5:30, 6 and 11 p.m. newscasts on WSLS 10.

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