Videos, tips and links by your coaching team

Image by César Couto

Seat Roles in the Canoe

Every seat in the canoe is important!


It is crucial to understand your role in any given seat and that every seat in the canoe is important. There are no seats of less or more value. Being a stroker does not mean you have advanced and won the top position.


Laulima – many hands working together

These six seats must work together in harmony on timing, changes, and power to achieve the ultimate goal, “the glide or sweet spot”. This makes the canoe easy to paddle in all water conditions


“When we are in the canoe, we are one paddler, one heart and one spirit. It is rare to achieve this, but when it occurs, effort becomes effortless, and one transcends the limitations of the ego. All becomes one and the true essence of paddling is experienced.”



Roles of each seat in the canoe

Seat 1: The Stroke: This is the pace setter position in the canoe. The stroke must be a strong paddler with a good sense of rhythm, timing, and be able to feel the canoe in the water. The stroke must know when to blend with the crew by increasing the stroke rate, increase or decrease the length of the stroke as conditions change, or when to add power within the stroke. All paddlers must follow seat 1, so it is very important that the stroke blends with the entire crew. The stroke is an endurance athlete that should not allow themselves to become so physically exhausted that their stroke begins to suffer. This can be a very challenging and lonely seat and requires self-motivation and the ability to remain focused. This seat is also partly responsible for informing the steers of possible obstacles. Other than that, seat 1 is quiet.


Seat 2: This person is extremely important for whole crew timing. They must mirror the timing, power, and technique of the person in seat 1 perfectly. They are the main support and encouragement for seat 1. The 1-2 combination is the foundation on which the canoes performance is built. Since seat 1 and 2 work as a pair, words of encouragement between 1 and 2 are good.  Seat 2 may have to relay commands from the steers and seat 3 if seat 1 cannot hear them.  Other than that, seat 2 is quiet.


Seat 3: This position usually calls the changes in the canoe. The call should be done in a strong voice and be timed perfectly with the stroke. The change is called on 12-15 strokes but can vary with different conditions. Our club call is “Hut” at the top of the stroke, when the paddle hits the water, with the change following 2 more strokes. Calls must be consistent and more importantly motivating; seat 3 must have a clear, strong voice and be able to call an aggressive, motivating hut. When you are 3 hours in, worn out and racing for the line, the motivation of a strong aggressive call is paramount. If the call sounds weak or tired, then that will translate to the whole crew. This seat mirrors the paddle timing and power with seat 1. Seat 3 also typically calls for tempo and intensity changes to catch waves, or to speed up the boat.  Seat 3 ultimately thinks strategically in race conditions and has a good sense of the waves in downwind paddling. 

Seat 3 is a power seat and part of the engine room of the canoe. In most cases this is a seat for a stronger/heavier paddler. From here they have maximum access to the water and can consistently deliver pulling power with their weight acting as a stabilizer. They have the most solid and consistent access to the water, as a result they are relied upon to deliver consistent, high volumes of power with every stroke.


Seats 3, 4 and 5: Engine Room: These three seats are the power seats or engine room. These seats must be strong, have power and must keep the same rate as 1 and 2. These paddlers are the key to powering up out of the turn to get the canoe up and running again. They must drive the canoe forward to allow seats 1 and 2 to set a consistent rhythm. 1 and 2 cannot do an effective job unless they get the required drive from power seats.

All three seats protect the ama from popping with bracing on the non ama side and leaning on the ama on the left when stopped or in rough water.


Seat 4:

Seats 3 and 4 are the “fire-breather” seats. These are your bigger, stronger paddlers who can reach down into the depths of their strength reserves and give everything they have when needed, they are the paddlers that will take you past another canoe, get you out of trouble and get you off the line and around turning buoys in the sprints. If seat 1 and 2 are responsible for setting the foundation of the canoe, then seats 3 and 4 are responsible for using that foundation to provide the power and the go-forward. Seat 4 works with seat 3 as a team within a team, seat 4 is the prime motivator for seat 3 and is there to ensure that seat 3 and 4 work together to deliver maximum effort when needed. One thing often overlooked in seat 3 and 4 is balance, these athletes must have supreme balance and be able to deliver maximum power on both sides of the canoe any lean to the left by the power seats will translate into weight directly on the ama and this in turn will slow the canoe and pull it offline. Seat 4 is located in the best position for bailing and keeping the canoe dry (as much possible).

Seat 4 can also be the voice in the canoe but is quiet if this is not directed.


Seat 5: requires all around skills, including power and awareness. They have a good view of the canoe and can clearly see the Ama, quickly reacting to prevent a huli. Seat 5 needs to deliver power to the canoe and support the efforts of seat 3 and 4, they need to be able to do this from a higher, less stable position and while encountering the “dirty water” created by seats 1-4. This is a tricky and underrated skill, more than anyone in the canoe they must have a strong, solid catch on the water and in this respect their technique must be perfect. Their stroke needs to be strait, smooth, and consistent. Any deviation from a strait stroke in seat five will pull the canoe offline and make life hard for the steer and seat 1 as the canoe will weave. Seat 5 can be an integral part of steering as directed by the steers one of the most important seats in the canoe. Running with waves, seat five works with the steer to become the “outboard motor” that drives the canoe onto waves. They are in the best position to feel the rise of the tail of the canoe and work intuitively with the steer to push the canoe onto runners.

Seat 5 is a quiet seat.


Seat: 6: The Steers: This seat is usually your most experienced paddler.  The steersman is the captain and leader of the canoe. This position controls the entire crew, and only this person should be heard talking while paddling unless the steer asks seat 3 to make the calls. The FIRST responsibility of Seat 6 is crew safety, the second is canoe safety and third is steering and navigation. Seat 6 also keeps the crew in time, focused and motivated. After that, Seat 6 is a paddler. The steersman will call out rate change or timing to keep everyone in sync with each other. Steers motivate the crew, providing positivity, direction, and feedback. Their ability to read the water and identify the best line to navigate can be the difference between a good team and a great team. Steering requires an intuitive feel for the canoe and a high level of skill (it is not easy) especially in ocean conditions. The steer still needs to contribute to the power of the canoe and needs to be able to balance the requirements of steering and paddling. steers carry a larger paddle and can deliver short, powerful bursts of power when required, however if this power is not delivered in a smooth fashion and in time with the rest of the canoe then it will destroy the run, rhythm, and timing of the entire boat. Poorly delivered power from the steer will cause the canoe to surge, weave, and jump. It cannot be stated strongly enough that the steer must ensure they are in time and rhythm before trying to provide power to the canoe. A steer needs good intuition and must be able to predict what the canoe will do and proactively use small, light corrections to guide the canoe rather than reactively correcting the canoe with heavy steering inputs. The moment a steer feels heavy pressure from a steering input then he/she knows they have destroyed the run of their canoe. steers must be confident, good communicators and understand that their prime role is to respect and not waste all the effort and work of the 5 paddlers that form the team in front of them.