Editor’s Note: Mike Clark – better known as Muddy Mike – is the founder of Big Muddy Adventures and its senior guide. He is one of the most accomplished canoeists and guides in America, having logged more than 20,000 miles of big-river paddling experience. He’s also happy to share his paddling knowledge and experience with others. So we decided to pick his brain and ask him a few questions. Enjoy!

Hey Mike, what’s the right way to paddle when you’re in a canoe?
If you’ve canoed before, it’s probably been with another person in a standard canoe – 16 or 17 feet long. Which means there are 8 or 10 feet between you. But with Big Muddy Adventures, we’re often in a 29-foot-long voyageur canoe. We sit two by two by two – we’re close at hand. So it means that this paddle needs to be somewhat efficient.

What do you mean by efficient?
We have to paddle together. James Brown-style, like a rhythm-and-blues band. You got to be on the one. You got to be on the beat. But don’t worry. It comes so naturally, like muscle memory. Your musical sense – all of it comes together, and then all of a sudden we go in unison.

How should someone grip the paddle?
The canoe paddle has three parts: handle, shaft, and blade. The blade goes in the water and moves the water. You want to grab the top of the paddle with one hand, making a fist on the top of the handle. Stick this out in front of your nose. Then the opposite hand, the free hand, makes a handshake with the middle of the paddle – about 10 inches [25 centimeters] above the blade. Not too low or too high. Ten inches above blade: That’s the sweet spot.

Okay. What’s next?
We need this paddle shaft to be perpendicular with the water, straight up and down, to move water efficiently. If the paddle is at a 45-degree angle with the water, it feels better and seems easier, but it’s rowing. We’re not rowing. We’re paddling. Your top hand drives the blade down toward the water, and your bottom hand just guides it and pulls it along.

Now, after you pull your paddle back, it pops out of the water, right? So now you got to get it back to the beginning to do it over and over again. So here’s a pro tip: At that point, lower your top hand to your belly button. This will ensure your blade stays low and parallel to the water as you bring it back to the start position. Then, paddle again.

Anything else to keep in mind?
You will hear the sound of two paddles hitting each other. In other words, you will hit your paddle against someone else’s paddle. That’s going to happen. Don’t get annoyed. Don’t hit the other person with your paddle. Don’t splash him. Don’t yell at him. It just happens. Take your blade out of the water and see if you can reacquire the beat. Ultimately, we just got to move the boats and keep them balanced.

Got a question for Muddy Mike? Send it to shawn@terrain-mag.com. Put “Muddy Mike” in the subject line.

Top image: Muddy Mike on dry land. (Reiss Wegman)