The King of Flatwater

In 1963 and ’64, when I was sixteen and seventeen, I had the very good fortune to spend two summers with Omer Stringer. Omer was the acknowledged expert in Canada on flatwater paddle technique from the late 1930’s until his death in 1988. He was the genius who developed modern paddle technique. Bill Mason, another Canadian paddling icon, referred to Omer as “the King of flatwater”.

Omer was highly intelligent, creative, and extremely discerning. He was born and brought up in Algonquin Park, Ontario’s 7,000 square mile canoe paradise, and his father was a Park ranger. Back in the sixties, Omer honed my paddling skills and helped me make my first paddle.

According to Omer, his high efficiency paddles, his choice of canoes, and his awesome, almost balletic paddling technique were all born of necessity — the need to do more with less. Omer Stringer was small, around 5′-4″, and wiry, not stocky. At 12, he started working as a guide for one of the girls’ camps in Algonquin Park. The way he told it, his fellow guides were all big and burly, and the only way he could survive was to be more efficient. One thing Omer had no patience for was wasted effort.

Omer developed technique for everything. If you wanted to know the easiest and most effective way to do anything that involved canoes or the woods, you’d ask Omer. His unbending commitment to his own techniques was sometimes infuriating, but indeed he was always right. It was well worth forgiving his characteristic bluntness to learn from his treasure trove of basic canoe practice.

Omer Stringer passed on in 1988, and in addition to memories, lessons learned, and one short film, he left his Canoeist’s Manual, a pocket-sized archive of carefully distilled wisdom. One source for this book is Nashwaak Paddles, but wherever you can find it, I can highly recommend it for both beginning and experienced paddlers.

See “Upwind in a Blow, Solo” in Nashwaak’s Free Downloads for good stories and detailed intructions on Omer’s favorite stroke, the inside turn. Amazing! As well in Free Downloads, see “Taking it Easy in Portage Country” for Omer’s method of flipping a canoe up for portaging. Also amazing.

Jeff Solway