Smart Paddling!

 First Published in Ceufad Magazine March 2015 (Click to view original article PDF)

“If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always got”


This statement was first introduced to me in my early 20’s and has stuck with me ever since.  The words are so powerful, the statement is so straightforward and I’ve also found over the years that it is actually very true.  Its pretty simple really, if we repeat the same actions and behaviors over and over again, with no pause for thought or consideration on how to change and improve to get a better outcome, we will end up with the same results.


When you apply this to your paddling it can become very obvious how stuck in a rut many paddlers may be and ultimately how we may not be realizing and meeting our boating potential!  Quite literally every paddler I have ever come across has aspirations for bigger and better things and would all love to be better boaters, but the question is how do they get there?


“Nothing worthwhile doing was ever easy”


Stop and Think!


The first thing to do would be to stop and reflect on what you have been doing previously with your paddling.  Depending on how long you have been involved in the sport will depend on how far you choose to look back.  If you are actively getting out every week and have been for the last couple of years, have a think about how your skills, knowledge and experience and developed over this time period.  Where have you been paddling?  What kind of moves have you been making?  What kind of grade have you been comfortable paddling?  How adventurous have you been?  Were you pushing yourself?  What did you understand about your paddling? 


Now have a think about where you are at now……….what has changed about your boating?

Are you paddling the same rivers, doing the same moves and catching the same eddies?  Are you in the same place you have been for a while now?   If so its time to take action!


For you to make some changes in your paddling you’ll need to look at what you need to improve on, start by identifying your weaknesses and your areas for improvement.  To keep things a bit more focused why not try and analyze your performance by assessing the following areas



What technical skills can you do really well?

What skills do you worry about when you have to do them?

Which skills are automatic and which do you need to think about?

Do you have weaknesses on specific sides or when moving in reverse?


Attitude and Characteristics

When do you feel the most confident on the river?

When you are faced with a challenge on the water how do you respond?

Do you often find yourself as the leader or are you always being led?

What scares you on the water and what excites you?

When do you feel the most motivated to get out paddling?

What makes you smile the most when you are on the water?


Knowledge and Experience

How broad is your paddlesport experience? 

Have you tested your skills in a wide range of environments?

Do you have enough knowledge to keep yourself safe on the river?

Do you have a specialist area of knowledge and is there an area that you know very little about?



Dream Big


Now comes the fun bit…….decide what you where you want to go and who you want to be!


Try and paint a picture in your mind of the boater you would like to be in the future.  If you could meet your future paddling self two years down the line, how skilled would they be and where would they have been paddling?


Would your future self have just come back from a great trip?

Would they be fitter, healthier and faster?

How would their skills and knowledge have developed?

What kind of character would you like them to be out on the water?


Its Time to Set Some Goals

Over the years I have seen numerous goal setting tools that all have the potential to work really well, but the one that I come back to time and time again is “SMART”.


Smart goals are


Specific – I have a clear definition of exactly what I need to do

Measureable – I will know when I have achieved it

Achievable – It is actually possible for me to do this

Realistic – My level of commitment is good and the time required to do it is realistic

Time Bound – I have set myself a realistic deadline to do it by and will work towards that


Setting SMART goals for your paddling


It is really important that your targets are specific so that you know exactly what you are trying to achieve.   Many paddlers fall down at this stage by saying something too vague like, “I just want to be a better paddler.”  This goal is not specific at all and actually wont help you in your quest to improve your paddling!


For example a paddler who was learning to roll might consider something more along the lines of


“I want to roll my kayak, on the river Dee, at the Mile End mill section, in the flow after the middle stopper, in 6 months time on the 9th of August 2015”


This goal fits the SMART way of thinking much better and we are more likely to work towards it because we know exactly what we want to achieve.


Make a Plan


Dreaming and setting SMART goals is one thing, but getting off the couch and doing it is different matter all together!


Now you have identified the areas that you would like to develop and you have set yourself some specific targets, its time to start making a plan as to how you are going to do it.


“How do you eat an elephant?  One bite at a time!”


Break down your SMART goal into lots of smaller bite sized pieces so that it forms a more recognizable plan.  You can easily arrange this plan into a timeline and even set yourself smaller mini deadlines along the way.  Identifying the key stages towards achieving your goal will help it to seem more manageable and will certainly help to achieve your goal.  If your goal is something that you have given yourself 6 months to do, you should aim to have weekly targets that will help you to keep on track towards where you want to be.  Keep your initial steps towards your goal really small and easily achievable, the simpler it is to do the less likely we are to avoid doing it!


“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”


What I am recommending here is nothing new, people have been doing this since time began!  Setting and achieving goals is a common trait across anyone successful in all walks of life, there is no reason that we cant apply it to our paddling.


Have a think about where you want to be and go out there and get it!  Good Luck!


If setting SMART goals is a bit too much to do right now, here are some simple ideas to spice up your boating


Buy a new guidebook

Getting a new guidebook will motivate you to get out to some new places, paddle some new rivers and gain some new experiences


Try something else!

Get out in a different boat to what you normally would, there are plenty of disciplines to choose from.  Why not try stand up paddle boarding, canoeing, slalom, polo, freestyle, sea kayaking, marathon, sprint, open water, overnight camps.  The possibilities are endless!


Train Train Train

My observation over the years is that most paddlers just “go paddling!”  Why not create yourself a paddling based workout that you could do at home or a structured workout in your boat.  Im not talking about going to the gym or starting an Insanity workout, but a few sit ups, planks and some 50meter sprints in your boat will really help to increase your fitness and will give you a little bit extra when the going gets tough out on the water.


Get Some Coaching

It might sound almost too obvious, but professional coaching can really help with you working out what you are doing in your boating and how you can improve.  You will find that most of the best boaters will have had input from a coach at some point.  If you have identified a gap in your knowledge, then a training course could really help too.


“We are what we repeatedly do.  Excellence then, is not an act but a habit.”