Sport Canoeing Skill Classifications
As you may know, sport canoeing skills are organized into Bronze, Silver and Gold level skills. There are two reasons for classifying skills as we have. One is that many skills are hierarchical, which means that learning the higher skills is often dependent on your already possessing the more fundamental skills. Overlooking this point and trying to learn advanced skills before fundamental ones can cause much frustration and waste time.
The other reason is that the classifications keep your range of skills balanced. Overlook this point and you may eventually master some very complex skills while remaining a novice at some comparatively simple but more important ones. The classic example of this is the canoeist who can cut a powerful and precise course across the water but who has no clue of how to save himself with a brace should he need one.
Learning sport canoeing skills in the general sequence that we present them will help you rapidly develop and master all the skills while maintaining a well-rounded balance in your abilities to perform on the water.
The Bronze skills include the easiest to learn techniques for making your canoe move in five basic waysto travel straight ahead, turn sharply right and sharply left, turn gently right and gently left, plus several variations of the brace. These are the skills demonstrated in the Patrick Moore, Basic Solo Technique video.
A command of the Bronze level skills allows you to move efficiently and predictably across the water, to make subtle course alterations and to perform dramatic turns with precision and grace. The braces provide stability and security in even the most demanding circumstances.
Achieving the skills takes time and effort. To achieve a solid grounding in the Bronze level skills usually requires a beginner about three months, with regular practice. Students who enroll in successive Bronze courses do not merely repeat the same material, rather, the instruction is based on each student's progressive improvement in respective skills. You need not master the Bronze skills before advancing to the Silver syllabus but you should have a good command of them.
The Silver syllabus consists of six element groups. If you will recall the Bronze syllabus, you learned to move your canoe ahead and to turn to either side. The Silver syllabus complements these skills by helping you move your canoe in every direction, including backward and sidewayswith seamless transitions in your movement. Also included are more efficient and effective (although more difficult to master) methods to turn your canoe and to run it straight ahead.
Some Silver skills will not be difficult even for a canoeist with modest Bronze skills. Others of the skills will require more time, concentration and patience. Before making a serious foray into the Silver syllabus, confidence in the Bronze skills is important. Not only will your practice of Bronze skills prepare you for the more intricate coordination necessary to the Silver syllabus, but practicing many Silver skills depends on your ability to keep your boat under control as you practice; when the Silver skills don't work too well, as at first they won't, you will have the Bronze skills to help you keep in control. Starting with little experience, a diligent student may have a good command of the Silver syllabus in about a year.
Gold level skills begin with a return to the Bronze syllabus but with fresh perspectives and goals. By the standards of a Gold level canoeist, some of these skills may require many delightful years to master. The following is an example of an early exercise, simply to offer a sense of what is meant.
At the Bronze Level, a triangular watercourse is used to practice nearly all skills. The triangle is 50' on a side and defined only by a buoy at each corner. Perhaps the most essential, most used and most practiced Bronze Level skill is the C-Stroke. An important exercise for practicing and proving it is to maintain a perfect inside circle that circumscribes the triangular watercourse. An accomplished Bronze Level student is able to circumnavigate the course in 9-12 consistently-performed strokes while passing outside each buoy but within easy touching range, ideally, lightly grazing each buoy with the boat. Such a degree of skill is more than adequate for the Bronze objectives of practical straight-ahead travelling, controlling inside turns with considerable precision, and preparing to learn the more efficient and effective, Silver level travelling strokes.
A first exercise for the aspiring Gold Level canoeist is to return to the same routine for practicing the Bronze Level C-Stroke but with much higher standards. Circle after circle, complete each one in six strokes--this requiring over thirty feet of glide between each stroke. Make each stroke identical to the previous and next, this demonstrating the ability to anticipate the exact stroke required for your chosen course and to predict its outcome. Prove the ability by closing your eyes. Blindfolded, regress to 9-stroke circles if need be...then 6 again...then 3! Three strokes to travel a perfect circle, each stroke carrying you 60+ feet and arcing your course exactly 120 degrees, the bump of a buoy on your bilge at each stroke the only affirmation of success. Yes, it really can be done, and that's the start of Gold Level skills. Practical? It depends on what you wish to practice. There is no doubt, however, that such skills demonstrate utter control of a canoe, deep understanding of it and its environment, water and sky, and that their practice is as deeply meditative.
Gold level skills then similarly progress through the remainder of the Bronze syllabus followed by variations on the Silver syllabus. Additional skills and perspectives are also introduced.
Page updated 8/22/2011: Much expanded Gold explanation.