Math and science geeks will already understand the concept of vectors, which provide a great way to understand how to approach paddling in moving water. A vector is a way of describing movement and includes both the direction of movement and speed. Whenever you are on a river (in moving water), the path you travel in your boat will be the result of the river speed and direction and your paddling speed and direction. Fail to consider either and you’ll end up somewhere other than where you want to end up.
For most paddlers the idea of considering the river’s speed and direction in one’s own mental calculations which lead to a decision of where to point the boat and how hard to paddle eventually becomes intuitive. But at the beginning, for many, it isn’t. Novice paddlers still often paddle a boat like they drive a car. If you want to end up in a certain parking spot you can simply aim your car there and apply the gas. On a river, however, you’ll either be forced to constantly correct your direction and/or speed as a result of the river current, or miss your spot entirely. Because of this it is important to learn how to paddle in moving water on easy rivers where errors in judgement are non critical, where missing an eddy won’t take you into a big rapid and choosing the wrong angle won’t send you into a dangerous strainer.
An easy and relevant example of the importance of vectors when paddling on moving water can be seen when one considers the act of paddling across a river. If one aims straight across any stream (perpendicular to the flow), it is quite obvious than regardless of how hard one paddles, they will end up having drifted some distance downstream by the time they arrive at the other side. In order to get to the other side without losing distance down the river (which is referred to as ‘ferrying’) some amount of upstream angle is required.
Ferrying is an important concept and as it turns out not all ferry angles are created equal, but this will be addressed in a later section. For now it is just important to remember that the river is moving too, and if you don’t understand and account for where it is trying to take you, you can’t possibly hope to end up where you want to go.