If you wish to become an advanced whitewater paddler then you will benefit from consciously working on mastering a range of specific strokes. Technical paddling strokes provide maximum efficiency and power whilst keeping you balanced in the boat. Learn strokes like hanging draws, the bow rudder, bow draw, the stern draw and stern rudder and the C-stroke. Then learn to apply them as a combination rather than as a single stroke.
Likewise practice braces such as low supports and don’t forget to focus on your forward paddling technique – an often overlooked area for improvement. In fact many packrafters struggle because they fail to generate sufficient power from their forward strokes. Learning to forward paddle only on one side (the inside of your turn) whilst simultaneously edging the boat is a skill worth mastering. As with all technical strokes master them on flat water before working on them in moving water.
Also learn when certain strokes are inappropriate. For example be very wary of using large reverse sweeps as these often negatively impact upon your position. They are great if you simply want to turn on the spot and have no downstream momentum however they can also set you up for failure. When moving downstream with speed and fully applying this stroke, although your bow ends up facing towards where you want to go, you have just created momentum towards the side of the river where you did not want to go. Often this then requires some powerful forward strokes to counteract the negative momentum you just created. Applying forward speed can then be a problem if you need to turn again quickly in another direction. I regularly see less experienced paddlers using the reverse sweep technique in boulder gardens with the result that they end up slightly out of control and pin-balling their way down.
A lot of packrafters want to learn to roll their packrafts and understandably so. Having a bombproof roll is a great asset but it should only become a goal once a paddler has mastered all of the above strokes and combinations as well as the boof. If you learn to paddle properly you will find that you rarely capsize.
For all technical paddling follow these four basic principles: