Dip, Dip and Swing: How to Paddle Like a Pro

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Fancy reaching your campsite by canoe? One of Ontario’s top trip leaders shares her best tips.

Michelle Savoie grew up on the Métis homeland in Manitoba and was, essentially, raised in a canoe. She runs Voyageur Wilderness on Nym Lake near Quetico Provincial Park, Ontario.

August 4, 2021

enRoute What is your absolute favourite thing about canoeing?

Michelle Savoie I love being out on the water. There’s a connection to my ancestors there, to the animals and the trees, and I feel that I belong. The rhythm of dipping the paddle in the water grounds me in the moment.

ER Where is the best place to paddle?

MS I’ve paddled in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and in the United States, but my heart is in Quetico, with its protected wilderness and heritage rivers and lakes where you can see pictographs on the rocks. It was designated an International Dark Sky Park in February.

Related: How to Paddle Board Your Way to Better Mental Health

Michelle Savoie on her canoe with her dog
Michelle Savoie

ER How about your favourite hull for tripping?

MS For families and newbies, I love a lightweight aluminum canoe that’s flat‑bottomed and stable – you can load it up with the kids and the dog. For more experienced paddlers, I recommend the Quetico 17 (made here in Atikokan by Souris River Canoes). It’s a versatile Kevlar tripping canoe that’s great for lakes, rivers and streams

ER What’s the best way to size a paddle?

MS Place the blade of a straight‑shaft paddle on the arch of your foot – the butt should reach the bottom of your chin.

ER How do you prevent tipping?

MS My dad always told me, “There will be a first time you tip, and it won’t be your last.” Most tipping occurs when entering or exiting at campsites or portages. The key is to keep your weight low – and strap everything in, just in case.

Michelle Savoie carrying her canoe
Michelle Savoie

ER Biggest rookie mistake?

MS Pulling so hard when paddling that the canoe bobs. It’s more efficient to reach out in front and only pull back to your hip – everything after your hip is lost energy

ER If you have a “lily dipper” in the bow, is it ever okay to “accidentally” splash them?

MS Have I ever splashed someone who’s being lazy? You bet! But respectfully – it’s all in good fun, especially on a hot day.

ER How do you get through a really tough portage?

MS By singing, and occasionally swearing. But also by stopping to appreciate everything around me. A portage is a thread between one lake and another, between a past experience and a new experience.

Related: Action‑Packed Indigenous Tourism Experiences in Ontario

Editors’ Hack

Tow your wine flask behind your canoe so it’s chilled and ready for cocktail hour once you’ve set up camp.