If your local river is getting too boring, or if low water has you bummed out, spice up your run by going backwards. Try to ferry in reverse, catch eddies, and surf while facing downstream. Paddling in reverse will increase your skills and help you prevent injuries. Working on backstrokes and paddling in reverse has two primary benefits: you develop an effective stroke for moves like backferries and backsurfing; and you strengthen and toughen often-injured shoulder muscles.
Try First on Flatwater
On flatwater, gradually work up to being able to paddle for 5 -10 minutes in reverse. Even this short time will be tiring. This is a good indication of your muscular imbalance, which can ultimately cause a shoulder injury. When you first begin to practice reverse paddling, you might lose control of the boat’s direction. Just like learning to go forward, make corrections. Start with balanced pressure on each blade.
Use Bow Rudder & Bow Draw
As you’re going backwards, practice corrections with both a bow rudder and bow draw. The bow draw moves the bow to your blade. The bow rudder moves the bow away.
Keep Your Speed
Try to keep your speed when making these corrections; otherwise the strokes may pull you off a wave once you’re backsurfing. Be sure to learn both the rudder and the bow draw for correction on each side of the boat. Most people don’t think about steering in reverse until backsurfing, and then it’s too late…you’re off the wave!
Try on River Too
Don’t limit your practice time to flatwater. Spend time on the river going backwards, too. This will help you develop reliable backsurfing skills, as well as working on your balance. Paddle easy rapids in reverse, catch eddies in reverse, and make some easy ferries in reverse.
Compound Reverse Stroke
You may fall off spins in a hole when you’re backwards. This is because of weakness in your reverse paddling repertoire. So practice! If you want an extra challenge, and better control, try the compound reverse stroke, a nice exercise for shoulder strength and finesse. The extra control of a compound reverse can come in handy when you need to see where you are going, like catching an eddy in reverse. It also helps keep your body and boat independent so the boat doesn’t wobble with each stroke. The stroke starts with lots of rotation, and a very gentle draw stroke reaching back to the stern. At your hip, flip the blade so you can take a normal reverse stroke. Don’t pressure the blades during the transition points.
Trying to paddle in reverse may be frustrating initially, but over time it will increase your stamina and boat control. And ultimately you’ll become a better, more well-rounded paddler.