How to Master the Art of Canoeing


I remember the first time I decided to go canoeing, it turned out to be an absolute disaster. I had no idea how to position myself inside the tiny boat, I had no control over the rows and worse still, I was struggling to balance my weight and prevent the boat from flipping over. The end result was me spinning in aimless circles around the same area of water.

I’m pretty sure that many others have had a similar experience in the past and would agree with me when I say that paddling a canoe is definitely no piece of cake for the beginners. There is no one definitive method of canoeing, in fact, there are many different kinds of strokes that you can use to attain control of this pesky little boat. One of the best ways to steer the canoe is by learning and implementing the J-stroke.


Why is it called the J-stroke?

Before we analyze the J-stroke I’d like to inform you that this steering technique has nothing to do with the letter J nor is it even a stroke. A lot of people try to form a J shape with their rows when paddling a canoe. This method is not only absurdly inefficient but pulling it off successfully is physically impossible as well. However, regardless of the fact that it’s unrelated with the letter J, the J-stroke has not been given any alternative names thus far.

Making use of the J-stroke

Before we can analyze the mechanics of the J-stroke we need to take a look at the various parts of a paddle. To start off we have the top grip, followed by the shaft. Beneath the shaft we have the shoulders and right at the bottom we have the flat part called the blade. The blade has two, the power face where we apply the force, and the back face.

The J-stroke is a correcting move and like any other correcting move it prevents the canoe from turning and drifting towards the bank. If you want to minimise correction then perform a correct forward stroke in the first place.

Good forward strokes are all about having a vertical paddle shaft and placing the blade as close to the centreline of the paddle as possible. Also, the paddle shaft should be positioned near or at your hips. Once this has been done, you can now start rotating the paddle with your top hand, with the back of your hand facing away from you. Make sure to apply pressure to the power face by pulling your top hand toward the centre of the boat.

It is very important to remember that the back of your hand should point away from you and the boat, not the opposite. This way, the force you will be exerting will be consistent and smooth without the power face of the paddle changing.

A lot of paddlers, with good forward strokes, make the mistake of flipping the power face and the back face. As a result, their strokes aren’t as smooth as they are supposed to be and the paddlers are required to labour harder to reach their destination.


Strength or technique?

How many times have we seen paddlers crank on the paddle shaft and create a lot of noises and unnecessary splashing? They fail to realize that any energy spent in splashing or making noise could have been used to move you forward. The quieter your paddle blades are the most efficient your movement will be. Rely on the effectiveness of your technique and not the strength of your arms.

Think of it in this way. According to the laws of physics, work equals force times distance. This proves that you can either use a lot of force for a short distance or a minimal force to cover the maximum distance. In other words, you can go hard on the paddle for a short period of time or let it gently glide through the water. Why use brute force when a delicate touch can get you through the miles.

To be a master canoeist, you need to have the patience and the perseverance to perfect the art of paddling.