"Surfing is the first thing you learn that's truly playing," says Gordon Black, director of education and instruction for the American Canoe Association and a resident of Whittier, North Carolina. "It means the difference between getting down the river and destination paddling—finding a great spot and just staying there to play in it all day." The move also has more practical applications. It's a skill you'll need to ferry across a swift current or to negotiate an unexpected stretch of whitewater on, say, an ill-conceived family trip down Tibet's deadly Tsangpo Gorge.
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Starting from any eddy, turn your canoe upstream, drive it forward to gain a little momentum, scoot close to and parallel with the current, and angle into the wave. "If your nose is positioned just right, you'll have two forces in perfect equilibrium," says Black. "Current and gravity." To keep your boat in alignment (any aberration and you could quickly get flushed downstream) use your paddle to make adjustments. Keep it on one side, using either a stern draw or a stern pry to make any changes, and keep your adjustments incremental. Your chief challenges are going to be controlling your vessel and staying dry in front, both of which may be easier than you'd guess. "With the right instruction," says Black, "the entire skill could be learned in a few minutes. And once you do, you'll know what it feels like. You get on, the river's got the boat just skittering—it's going whapwhapwhapwhap—and it's absolutely joyous."