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Testing Your Team: How to Determine Who Makes the Competitive Race Boat Roster

Posted by Kristin Stickels on
Testing Your Team: How to Determine Who Makes the Competitive Race Boat Roster

Now that your team has made the decision to become more competitive, it is important to begin some type of testing in order to track the progress of paddlers and to determine the stronger paddlers who are able to compete at this new level. The former method of allowing all paddlers to participate on the race boat regardless of experience or ability will no longer work. You cannot place inexperienced or lower-level paddlers on a competitive race boat and expect to compete with the big dogs. So, how do you determine who is ready? Who makes the roster for the race boat?

A variety of testing methods exist that enable coaches to rank their paddlers based on paddling ability and fitness. Various coaches employ various methods of testing. There is no single right way to test paddlers; the goal is to determine paddlers’ abilities in relation totheir fellow paddlers. If you have the time, I suggest a combination of testing that assesses 1) endurance, 2) strength, and 3) paddling ability.

1) Possible endurance tests:

  • Erg machine (Concept 2 rowing machine either as a rower or with a paddle attachment. Row for a set time to determine the distance covered, or row for a set distance to determine the time it takes)
  • a shuttle run or beep test
  • 3000m run test
  • 400m run test
Paddlechica ERG Test

2015 Team USA Premier paddler Christine competing in an erg challenge. Photo: Steph Sherwood

2) Possible strength tests:

  • Overhand pull ups, push ups, bench press, squats, sit ups, etc. Determine how many repetitions of the given activity can be completed in one minute. Pros: does not require specific equipment, does not need to be completed all on the same day. Cons: often difficult to discern proper form in each activity (what constitutes a proper push up and who moderates the testing?)
  • Max reps with weights. Determine the one-rep max for each exercise that a paddler completes based on a max rep calculator.
  • Other ideas of strength tests can be found here.
Paddlechica Fitness Testing Nikki Pruksakasemsuk

Team USA paddler Nikki testing her max rep weight. Photo supplied by Nikki Pruksakasemsuk

3) Possible paddling tests (time trials):

  • OC1. Paddlers paddle a one-person outrigger canoe over a set distance (typically between 350-400m) for time. It is best to use the same canoe or canoe type for each paddler to ensure consistency.
    – Pros: each paddler is responsible for their own steering and therefore cannot place blame on another person for not steering a straight course.
    – Cons: the paddler must steer themselves and corrections in steering slow the boat down resulting in a slower time trial, which reflects a paddler’s ability to steer rather than their strength on the water.
  • OC2. Paddlers paddle a two-person outrigger canoe for a set distance or set time while another teammate (hopefully a light one!) steers the OC. Steersperson can be a lighter person for women’s test and heavier for men’s test.  This can also be broken down to a lighter steersperson for women under 125 lbs vs those over 125 lbs and for men the same for under/over 180 lbs.  Heavier paddlers, which can also mean stronger paddlers with muscle, have an advantage with a light steersperson so its good to divide the paddlers into weight categories for this test.
    – Pros: the paddler being tested does not have to focus on steering while paddling (similar to the situation while racing in a dragonboat).
    – Cons: the paddler has to pull his/her own weight plus the weight of the steersperson. Lighter paddlers are at a disadvantage. Paddlers who are much heavier than the steersperson might be at a disadvantage as well as the canoe will be unbalanced front-to-back.
  • Data Acquisition Paddle. The Merlin Excalibur paddle records information about a paddler’s stroke in the water.
  • Dragonboat test. Some teams actually test their paddlers on the dragonboat using a steersperson and a “counter-balance” person to sit on the opposite side of the boat while a paddler paddles a set distance for time measured by a GPS. In my opinion, this would be a last-resort method due to the possibility of causing injury, especially for newer paddlers. But, it is another way to gather information about your paddlers.
Paddlechica OC2 Time Trials

2013 Team USA U24 paddler Ryan completing an OC2 time trial. Photo: Amanda Dugan

Obviously the lists above are not comprehensive lists, but instead include a handful of suggestions. Whatever tests your team decides on, if you want your team to become more competitive, it is important to have some type of testing in place in order to:
1) give paddlers a benchmark to help show improvement over the season and year(s);
2) give paddlers an idea of where they stand in relation to their teammates; and
3) justify race boat roster selections.

You cannot place inexperienced or lower-level paddlers on a race boat and expect to compete with the big dogs. Tweet it!

Keep in mind that testing should not be the sole determinant for race boat roster selection. I have seen paddlers do quite well on an OC1 or OC2 test and yet be completely unable to blend in a boat, struggle with timing or have no technique at all. This type of paddler might not yet be ready for a race boat – he or she is clearly strong, but may be harming the boat more than helping it. Therefore the coach’s observations and/or video review should be used as additional tools to make the race boat roster selection.

While testing can be stressful for some paddlers, encourage your paddlers to see it as a positive experience. Of course, most of us don’t enjoy time trials, but it is a great way to demonstrate our hard work and growth. If your team is unaccustomed to fitness testing or time trialing, you might want to make a “fun” day of it by having a BBQ or some type of celebration party afterwards. Reluctant testers will be more likely to come out and will see that testing isn’t as bad as it seems.

And don’t forget to make your testing procedures and results transparent to the team. Your team will appreciate it. It will result in inner team competitiveness which is what you want in order to raise the bar for all paddlers to earn their seat in the boat!

Paddlechica Welland Start Cups Robert Saltsman

Welland start line. Photo: Robert Saltsman


Contributing author Paul Verscheure, Canadian National Team paddler.

Paddlechica Paul Verscheure Ed Nguyen

Paul Verscheure competing in Welland, 2015. Photo: Ed Nguyen




Kristin Stickels is a three-time Team USA member of the US National Dragon Boat Racing Team. She is the coach of the Miami team Puff, the Florida Tarpons women's team and the local Breast Cancer Survivors' Team (SOS).

She is also an avid outrigger canoe paddler and raced through the Panama Canal on a native cayuco boat from the Atlantic to the Pacific.


Found out more about Hornet paddles at 

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1 comment

  • Danuta Gallagher on

    Question regarding a time trial in a 10 man boat with a counterbalance.
    Is there a formula which should be applied to the time when people of varied weights complete a time trail in a 10 man boat. Essentially one which would adjust for weight etc.


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