How to Paddle Class IV with Fewer Strokes

I recently posted a video of me running my favorite rapid, Boxcar, on the North Fork of the French Broad here in Western North Carolina. The rapid consists of a short slide leading into a 15 ft drop that you boof into a beautiful little gorge. Here it is for you!

Both my Creek Week students and folks online expressed surprise at how few strokes I took to run the rapid smoothly.

Taking fewer strokes is one big difference between beginner/intermediate skills and intermediate/advanced skills, especially stepping it up to Class IV creeking. As you progress you learn that creating a lot of momentum is less important than boat angle, vision and balance.

Setting up your boat angle, looking where you want to go and maintaining balance in your boat go a long way in creeking. We don’t want to wait until we’re paddling Class IV to practice these skills, so here is my question to you: What are the basic river running move that require angle, edge (balance), vision and momentum? If you answered eddy turns, peel-outs and ferries, you’re correct!

If you’re a whitewater boater I’m sure you’ve heard the saying: “The key is to practice difficult moves in easy water.” Choosing more difficult lines on easy rapids is super fun and builds a lot of skill that prepares you to be more confident in progressing to more difficult rivers.

Here are four drills to practice the next time you’re out on your favorite Class II or III run refining your eddy turns and ferries:

  1. Practice catching eddies shallow (when you end up close to the eddy line) and deep (when you end up deep in the eddy close to shore). Notice the different boat angles this requires and play around with them. Get to know how your boat angle affects the trajectory of your kayak.
  2. Practice taking as few strokes as possible when you’re ferrying. This will help you refine your boat angle as you come out of the eddy. It will also inspire you to use your core when performing stern draws so that the strokes you do take are powerful.
  3. Practice ferrying with your eyes closed. This is my favorite drill. What this exercise does bring awareness to what the water is actually doing to your boat. Instead of reading the water from a purely mental/intellectual point of view, we start to feel how our boat responds to the water and we develop the skills to respond more appropriately and timely.
  4. As your prepping for your eddy turn or peeling out of an eddy, set your vision early. Look at the eddy you’re about to catch, don’t take your eyes off of the exact spot where you want to cross that eddy-line and line the nose of your boat up with it. Peeling out, as soon as you’re crossing the eddy line turn your vision to where you want to go and paddle there. And, ask yourself often: ‘Where was I looking?’ Start to have an awareness of where your vision is taking you.

By the way, you don’t have to have a desire to paddle Class IV to practice any of these drills. It will refine your Class II and Class III skills, boost your confidence and make paddling in general more fun.

Instead of having the goal of ticking off rivers on a list, cultivate the goal of paddling with a lot of skill no matter what river you’re on. Anyone can get down to the bottom of a rapid, but not everyone can do it with style – unless you work on refining that style.

Have fun out there, be mindful and be safe!

If you enjoyed this post and want to learn more, I offer private whitewater kayak instruction near Asheville, NC for intermediate and advanced kayakers. Contact me to learn more! info @

Please leave a comment below! I’d love to hear your thoughts on this article.


Meet Anna Levesque

Anna Levesque is the leading expert on paddling instruction for women and yoga for paddling, including SUP Yoga. Named one of the most inspirational paddlers alive by Canoe and Kayak Magazine, Anna’s twenty-plus years of experience as an accomplished international competitor, instructor, coach and author has landed her in mainstream publications such as TIME, SHAPE and SELF.

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