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How To Paddle a Canoe: The 5 Essential Strokes Every Canoeist Must Know

Chattahoochee River Kayak

Chattahoochee River Kayak

Updated on 7/10/2024
Abigail ScottBy Abigail Scott
Hi, I'm Abigail ­čĹő Since embarking on my kayaking and boarding adventures in 2010, I've navigated rivers and lakes across North America and beyond. With over a decade of experience and countless waterways explored, I'm here to help enthusiasts like you embark on unforgettable water adventures!
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The J stroke has a satisfying feel. I love how just a small twist of your wrist can correct the boat's direction gently and keep it on track. In addition to being efficient, it can also make your boating days long and enjoyable. You can master the J, along with four other strokes outlined below, by practicing them a few times.

Stroke in the forward direction

Canoes propel themselves forward with this maneuver, the fundamental stroke. It's a simple stroke, but it's often done incorrectly because it's repeated so many times. During an outing, Chris Viani, a paddling trip leader for the New York-North Jersey Chapter of AMC, shouts "vertical paddle" dozens of times. Vertical or near-vertical is the best position for the paddle. According to Viani, you should have your grip hand out over the water.

Also, your grip hand, which is at the top of your paddle shaft, should be at eye level. It is not your arms that generate power, but your torso. Using Viani's method, you should rotate your shoulder on your paddle side forward, plant the paddle, and then rotate your shoulder back. During the recovery and forward movement of the paddle, your arms should engage only briefly.

Stroke Drawing

It is a stroke the front paddler, or solo paddler, uses to turn the boat sideways or change directions. According to Viani, it is one of your most powerful turning strokes. By doing it "onside," you don't have to switch sides repeatedly, since you're already paddling.

Turn your back to the stroke to execute it. The paddle is planted over the water, and you pull the boat toward the paddle. To recover, you can slice away from the boat with the blade or lift the blade out of the water.

 Stroke of cross drawing

A cross draw stroke is similar to a draw stroke, but done on the opposite side from where you are paddling. When paddling on the left, you turn the boat right by retracting the paddle, rotating your torso fully, and executing the draw on the opposite side.

Stroke with the stern

A stern pry is the opposite of the draw stroke, coming after a forward stroke and bringing the boat towards the paddle side. Despite its power, this stroke can slow down the boat, so it's important to execute it quickly.

Your torso should be turned toward the water as you end the forward stroke. The grip hand should be at waist level, slightly behind you, and parallel to the boat, while the shaft hand should be at waist level and slightly behind you. Boats should have their blades against their backs. Pull your grip hand inward quickly to pry the blade out.

Stroke J

In tandem paddling, Viani says, the boat is always prone to turning to the stern paddler's off side. The J stroke, he says, is for small corrections to maintain a straight path.

As a forward stroke ends, the J stroke is added by the stern paddler. Rotate your grip hand forward as your arms come backward, pointing your thumb downward as you slowly bring the boat back toward you by doing a quick "J" in the water.