Friday, November 30, 2012

Is Paddling in our DNA? by Robert Stehlik

I have been thinking about how easily paddling comes to many and how calming and natural it feels to  propel yourself along with a paddle.   If you think about it, humans have been paddling for a long time, a crude paddle is probably one of the first tools used by humans.  So, perhaps paddling is such an engrained human behavior that it has become part of our DNA.   Maybe we know how to paddle in the way that migratory birds instinctively know not just how to fly but when it is time to fly south for the winter, where to go, what altitude to fly at, where to stop to rest, how to fly in formation and work as a group to get to the destination.  Some of it is learned behavior but it is also engrained in their DNA and they know what to do without being taught.
Paddling is certainly engrained in Polynesian culture, the paddle was basically used to populate the vast Pacific.  Humans have used paddles for thousands of years in all cultures and in many forms.
As an instructor who coaches people on stroke technique, I sometimes wonder if paddling is something everyone already knows how to do instinctively, you just have to help them discover something they already know on some level.  Maybe thats why it feel it so natural and soothing to paddle.

Paddle on!

Aloha, Robert Stehlik

Canoe Drummond getting back to his roots
photo credit:

I posted these thoughts on the Standupzone as well, where some others commented on it, click here to read more.


  1. I really like this concept. Apart from running, I can think of few physical activities which would have had as migratory, warfaring, and subsistence purpose as that of paddling. Dugout canoe designs emerged spontaneously in many cultures across the world. According to research, the oldest dugouts came from Europe, more than 8000 years ago.

    If you think about it, especially in the case of the Polynesian peoples as you have pointed out, those primitive tribes and groups who mastered the art of canoe building and navigation would have had a distinct survival advantage over those who didn't in terms of escaping natural disaster, finding new food sources, or raiding other less adept tribes and their lands.

    Across the thousands of years of pre-history which these activities were performed and with the many early cultures who seemed to embrace a paddling lifestyle for survival purposes; it would make sense perhaps that for some cultures (and perhaps many -- but especially in the case of "water-bound" folks like Pacific Islanders) that today's people are the descendants of the successful migratory paddlers and warriors of the past and therefore perhaps many of us carry those same genes which would also make us naturally gifted paddlers.

    1. Well said Michael. Yes, paddling skills were certainly an evolutionary advantage for many tribes, especially Polynesians and Eskimos but also in many other cultures that depended on paddling for food (fishing), transportation and migration.


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