Paddle Strokes


The primary objective of this section is to show the relationship of one paddle stroke to another and the net effect in turning the boat. Additional information can be found in several technique manuals. However, proper paddling technique is best acquired under the supervision of a competent instructor.


A stroke that moves the bow toward the left moves the stern to the right, and the boat rotates counterclockwise. With a two-man boat the canoeists should paddle on opposite sides. This arrangement facilitates steering and also provides a paddle on each side for use as an emergency"brace." If one paddler changes sides, the other should do likewise. Occasionally it is desirable for canoeists to paddle on the same side. For example. if the canoe is caught sideways in a backroller both paddlers should brace on the downstream side.


All paddle strokes are intended to move the BOAT and not the paddle. Ideally the paddle is stationary in the water while the boat is either pulled toward or pushed away from this "immovable object." Because the force of the paddle can never be directed completely through the center keel line of the boat, all paddle strokes will turn the canoe, some more than others. When paddling forward or backward, the stroke should be made parallel to the center line of the canoe. If the paddle follows the gunwale line, some of the force of the stroke is wasted in turning the canoe to the side rather than in pulling the canoe forward. In all strokes, the upper hand is held over the top of the grip. This grip is designed to permit positive control over the angle of the blade. The lower hand should grasp the paddle shaft low at the throat to permit greater leverage and thus impart more power to the stroke.


There are different strokes for different folks. Some strokes are done only from the bow, some only from the stern, and some from both positions. Remember, however, that when paddling backwards the bowman performs stern strokes and vice versa.




The J-stroke is a steering stroke used only when paddling in the stern. Insert the powerface of the paddle in the water as far forward as possible and pull to your hip. As you continue to move the paddle towards the stern, rotate the powerface away from you and turn the thumb of your upper hand down while using the lower hand to push the powerface away from the stern. This movement suggests the letter "J." To recover, lift paddle edgewise and rotate the nonpowerface flat to the water while swinging forward in an arc out to the side of the boat until the paddle is as far forward as you can reach. Now you are ready to repeat the stroke.


Novices who are unfamiliar with this stroke will find that unless they frequently change paddle sides, the boat will continue to turn in a direction away from their paddle side.


The boat turns clockwise as the result of the combination of a draw in the bow with a sweep in the stern. Both of these strokes can be used from either the bow or the stern. A sweep is useful in making a gradual turn while paddling forward, whereas the draw is used only for turning.


The Draw stroke is used to move the end of the boat to the paddle side. The upper hand is held above the head and the torso is turned sideways from the waist. This stroke is made by reaching out as far as possible from the canoe with the lower hand. The powerface of the paddle on the surface of the water will keep you from tipping over. As you push out with the upper hand and then pull in with the lower hand, use the lower hand as a fixed pivot point: the canoe will be pulled toward the paddle blade. To recover: just before the canoe hits the paddle, use the lower hand as a pivot point at the gunwale and push the upper hand down and forward toward the bow while swinging the blade up out of the water. If the paddle should get caught against the canoe, immediately release the paddle with the upper hand and pull the paddle free with the lower hand. Resist the temptation to remove the paddle from the water by raising the shaft vertically. This attempted maneuver has caused many tipovers. Another method of recovery, useful when a number of draw strokes are done in rapid succession, is to rotate the paddle shaft 90 degree with the upper hand and slice the blade through the water out to the initial position.


The Forward Sweep provides forward power with moderate turning force. When done from the stern, the stern is pulled to the paddle side, turning the canoe to the nonpaddle side. The paddle is inserted in the water just out from the hip with the shaft at a 45 degree angle. The paddle is swept back in a wide arc until the blade reaches the stern. Recovery is the same as for the J-stroke. The Forward Sweep from the bow (no diagram) will force the bow of the canoe to the nonpaddle side. Reach as far forward as possible and insert the paddle blade near the bow. Sweep out and back until the paddle is even with the hip. Sweeping past this point contributes very little toward turning the canoe.


The cross-bow draw is done only from the bow. Without changing the position of the hands on the shaft, swing the blade of the paddle all the way across the bow to the opposite side of the canoe by rotating the torso at the hips as far as possible. Do not cross arms. The upper hand is kept close to the hip with the elbow at the side. With the lower arm fully extended, insert the blade in the water narrow edge up and at about a 45 degree angle from the bow. By pushing out with the upper hand and using the lower hand as a pivot, you will pull the bow toward the paddle. Note, however, that the shaft is not held vertically as with the draw stroke. To recover, push down with the upper hand and lift the paddle up when it reaches the bow.


The reverse sweep is a stern-only stroke. This stroke is started by reaching as far back as possible and inserting the paddle in the water near the stern. With the blade tilted so the top edge is slightly forward, sweep the paddle out and forward in a wide arc. The upper hand is held low and near the gunwale on the paddle side. The forward tilt permits the canoeist to place his weight on the paddle as the stern is pushed away. The stroke ends with the shaft at 45 degrees to the keel line and with the canoeist crouched down near the gunwale in order to maintain his balance. Do not continue this stroke beyond a point where the paddle is at more than a 45 degree angle to the stern. To do so is essentially backpaddling and therefore contributes little to turning. With open canoes, repeated short strokes are more effective than a single long one. To recover, move the torso over the center of the canoe and kneel erect. The paddle is now in position for a forward paddle stroke.


The Pry is a short, quick, and powerful turning stroke. It is much preferred to the forward sweep or cross-bow draw for turning to the nonpaddle side in turbulent water. The forward sweep is less powerful and with the cross-bow draw there is a period of instability when the paddle side is changed. The pry loses its effectiveness, however, in shallow water. It is essentially the reverse of the draw stroke. Insert the paddle with the blade near and slightly under the canoe with the shaft in an almost vertical position. Use the lower hand to pivot the throat of the paddle against the gunwale while pulling in with the upper hand. The paddle is thus used as a lever to pry the boat away from the paddle. To recover, rotate the paddle shaft 90 degrees and slice back to the starting position; repeat if necessary. The throat is held against the gunwale at all times during the stroke and recovery. Because of the tremendous leverage of this stroke, most paddles have a decided tendency to break (or bend) at the throat when the pry is used with unbridled enthusiasm to turn an open canoe having a sharp gunwale. Paddle damage, however, is not a problem with decked boats which turn more easily.


Basic C-1 Stroke (Inverted C-Stroke): Solo boating differs from the two-man situation. You no longer need to wonder what your partner is doing; you choose the route; there is no need to coordinate strokes with another; and of course there is no one to blame if something goes wrong. The solo boater positions himself in the middle of the boat, near or slightly fore of the pivot point. The strategy is to move the middle (rather than the bow) in the right direction. This approach is desirable for two reasons. The first is that there is no partner to help you move the boat great distances. The second reason is that a solo boat turns more easily than one occupied by two men because the mass (ie, the boater) is positioned in the center.


The Inverted C-Stroke combines a draw stroke with the prystroke. At the start, the paddle is positioned in the water near the bow and about 12-18 inches out from the gunwale (bilge). The paddle is first moved toward the gunwale, then back, and then away from it. The net effect is to move the paddle in an arc that circumscribes the letter "C."




The kayakist has fewer strokes to master than the canoeist. Because he has a paddle blade immediately available on both sides of the boat, there is no need for the J-stroke, the cross-bow, or the pry. On the other hand, the kayakist has to be bracing continuously to stabilize this tippy craft. Each of the turning strokes requires a heavy lean to achieve maximum efficiency because the kayak is designed to turn most easily when on its side. Although disconcerting initially, this technique is quickly learned. The kayakist literally "wears" his boat from the waist down. As discussed under bracing, the kayakist leans on the paddle with his torso while controlling the lean of the boat with his knees, feet, and hips.


The kayak paddle itself presents a problem alien to the canoeist. Because the blades are feathered and there is no grip as with a canoe paddle, basic paddle handling differs. The shaft is held with the hands about shoulder width apart with the thumbs pointing toward each other. One hand firmly grips the shaft at all times and controls the blade angle for all strokes. This is the fixed hand. There are no special problems when paddling on the fixed side. For strokes on the opposite side, rotate the paddle shaft 90 degrees by loosening the grip of the nonfixed hand and dropping the wrist of the fixed hand down so the shaft is above the forearm. At the end of the stroke, loosen the grip with the nonfixed hand and rotate the shaft back to the initial position with the fixed hand.


The forward paddle stroke is done with the shaft at a 45 degree angle to the water. With the upper hand at shoulder height, push out with the upper hand as if throwing a punch while pulling back with the lower hand. To backpaddle, just reverse this action using the opposite face of the blade. Backpaddling is much easier in a kayak than in a canoe. In order to maintain a straight course, the kayakist may have to do an occasional sweep on one side while paddling "straight" on the other. In the sweep stroke, move the paddle in a wide arc from the bow to the stern while leaning the boat to the paddle side. The motion and weight shift is the same as that described for the reverse sweep in the canoe, whether the kayakist is doing a forward or a reverse sweep (also called a lowbrace turn); only the direction is changed.


In the draw stroke, extend the paddle out as far as possible and lean on it. As the boat is drawn toward the paddle, gradually shift the lean of the kayak back to a vertical position. This lean enables the kayakist to obtain a greater extension from the boat resulting in a more powerful stroke. A draw stroke followed by a forward paddle stroke is essentially the same as the solo-canoeist's inverted C-stroke.


Another extension of the draw stroke is the high brace (Duffek) turn. This stroke is used for crossing current differentials such as required for eddy turns. In this maneuver the kayakist inserts his paddle into the eddy current while holding the paddle vertically with the powerface of the blade turned slightly away from the bow. This paddle position is coupled with an extreme lean of the kayak. Although the paddle is positioned nearly vertically, the kayakist is supported by the force of the current differential. The kayakist merely pulls on the paddle while the mainstream carries the kayak downstream, across the current differential, and into the eddy. This sequence is similar to reaching out and grabbing a sign post while running down the street. The centrifugal force swings you