Canoe forward stroke, help !!

Don’t laugh! I think a lot of people who canoe and I could be wrong don’t give much thought to the forward stroke. It seems, simple enough, insert paddle into water and use your torso rotation to draw your power from ( in a nutshell)not your arms!! I have been practicing dilligently trying to work out the kinks in my forward stroke.I have improved my posture made sure my paddle when entering the water is as vertical as possible and have tried to use my torso as the source of power for my stroke. Maybe I am doing this all wrong I have found when applying these techiques to my stroke that my canoe is slowing to a crawl and find it phsyically exhausting.

I am perfectly willing to accept I might get flamed here ( maybe there is something so blatantly obvious that I am not doing) and that’s o.k i’m hoping that someone could offer their insight and advice who has maybe struggled with the same problem. So flame away or help me figure out what it is i’m not doing.



you are not alone
recently my forward stroke just clicked. before I would do a variety of strokes with "J"s, prys "C"s and sweeps to go straight ahead. now i have it pretty much down (like you just diligently focusing on every aspect. Perfect practice makes perfect)

What I have noticed is that i think my form is great, but the strength isn’t there. Maybe the endurence is the problem. Possibly it is that we are so used to bad form, that the good form muscles are not prepared.

Also look at your recovery time. while you are focusing on your stroke, is it taking you longer to do each part?

I hope that alot of people chip in to this thread with more helpful thoughts than mine. We are in the same canoe.


Are you using your legs during your rotation? Just from your description this might be the problem. You need to push with the opposite leg. Also, straighten your arm and pull the paddle out to the side at your hip.

Canoe strokes

– Last Updated: May-17-06 2:36 PM EST –

Wha Ho, Pilgrim;

Hard to tell without seeing your technique. You want it to feel like you're pulling the canoe forward and not the water backward. Just practice, practice and more practice. You will get the feel of it and how your canoe response to it. Just like driving a clutch, you'll need to get the "feel"... It will come - don't fret.

On a more helpful note... One of the great sources on paddling technique is the late Bill Mason's 'Path Of The Paddle' book and video and his daughter Becky's 'Classic Solo Canoeing' video. Excellent instruction. I've been paddling canoes for 43 years now and still learning everytime I get in a canoe. Thats what makes it fun!

Fat Elmo

It seems like there is the correct way
and the modified correct way that you can keep up for hours of paddling. I experiment while paddling trying to find a good compromise. I never use a straight paddle unless I’m in moving water that needs frequent corrective stokes; otherwise, I just switch sides to make corrections. I really got to like a bent shaft since it allows for a more relaxed stroke. However, I find that I have trouble using the straight shaft after several days of using a bent shaft. It seems like paddling is more of an art than a science. I guess we can go out and buy a power boat and not have these problems, but I like to think that I can do something that takes some skill.

Make sure you’re sitting up with good posture, (as playing a piano on a stool). I find it helps to lock my gaze on a far object and to keep my head in the same spot, as if there was a line from my butt to my skull. When I slump, I can’t paddle well. GF always asks why my arms seem not to tire. Well, I’m really using more back and shoulder muscles. Also, you may not have to have your off hand as low on the paddle. When using my back, I’d guess my weak hand is choked up pretty high. I’m not sure if that’s “correct”, but it seems to work.

Like butta!
Like the stick theory, I’ve found it helpful to imagine you are paddling through butta!

Stick the paddle in and pull the paddle to you with your back and shoulder muscles. In the sense that you are pulling you and the canoe through the butta! Good luck.

Reduced Torso Rotation
I have damaged discs in my back and damage in my hips that prevents much torso rotation. I have found a way that works for me. I use a bent shaft paddle and bend slightly forward at the waist with my arms extended to start the stroke. My shoulders almost stay square with the canoe due to my inability to rotate. I have found it important to wait a fraction of a second to set the paddle before begining the stroke. I then use my legs and bring my torso to a straight up position during the stroke. I bend my onside arm a little and my offside arm almost none.

I bring the paddle out of the water just past my knees. My stroke is much like what you would do with oars, except I don’t lean back past perpendicular at all. With the bent shaft I pull close to the canoe and the paddle is very upright.

I don’t know if I have described my stroke very well however it is one that works real well for me. I can get good speed and with no pain at all.


bend shaft paddle stroke
Thank you Jim,

for posting your response.

I too have herniated discs (low back, two) and I

use basicly the same stroke you do.

If I bend TOO much or rotate TOO much then I get the clicking of the discs and the back pain.

The stroke you describe certainly does help me.

And we love our bend shaft paddles - they are new to us as of January - they make a BIG difference to me, from what I feel and see, in my endurance level!


Where are you taking the paddle…
out of the water ??

That could be your problem; bring it out beside you, not behind you.

Another thing; how is your canoe trimmed? That has a big influence on your speed.

There is a great training film out.

I think it is called marathon canoe race training or something like that, by Mike and Tania Fries.

It gives step by step instructions, and every time I watch it I learn more.

There are basically two forward strokes, and one such as the “D” stroke might get you better results

I am an over the hill in age paddler, yet I seem to improve my times each year, and I credit it with repetative hard training.

Stay with it and if possible have some one with a lot of experience critique you.



Thanks everyone!!!
For their advice. This is why I love this forum

there is a knowledge base out there that is quite large and I appreciate everyone’s contribution. I have made some tweaks such as using your legs and not to worry too much about getting the paddle vertical. I got out on lake lanier Sunday afternoon to work on such things and was noticing a difference already but I got side tracked by the massive wake’s the boats were creating and couldn’t reisist my urge to go play in them.

Again a heartfelt thank’s to everyone who has contributed.

Happy paddling.


What?!? I’m paddling high rocker opens
and c-1s without correction, and there is no leg involved whatsoever.

Skip the legs. You are in Georgia where
we kneel and do not use the legs. If you place your blade well forward (without leaning forward or exaggerating) and get good power on early, your blade will be out before your lower hand passes your hip, and the boat will want to track. If you have to use a lot of J on every stroke, you are not doing what you need to do early in the stroke.

Heres one for you all while we are on the subject of paddling, I have a shoulder injury its a torn and totally retracted rotor cup no muscle on the upper side of shoulder also having it replaced shortly. ( don’t say don’t paddle ) I have compensated with the prior surgery by not listening to doctor which worked in my favor the deltoids kicked in and attached to give me some control of moving ar from side to above my shoulder the doctor and therapists were amazed. With this what method of paddleing could anyone devise for me so I can enjoy canoeing. Any ideas?

No correction? Or…
you no longer notice that you’re correcting? Are you doing sit & switch?

Whitewater boats do not need
correction on most strokes once you learn the “sweet spot” of the hull and get the hang of doing most of the work early in the stroke. Check the Kent Ford et al “Drill Time” video. I “J” or rudder my MR Synergy only occasionally when wind or current cause the boat to veer.

Strangely, hard-tracking canoes may need much more correction when paddled on one side. Still, a relatively loose-tracking boat like my MR Guide can be paddled with very little correction.

Sorry G2D can’t kneel!
years of running have ruined my knees making it uncomfortable to kneel also my seat is a little low in my merlin II it reqiures contorting myself in an uncomfortable manner so I don’t bother. I use very little j in my stroke I’ll switch sides before I try and J stroke I just haven’t found a comfortable way to incorporate the j into my stroke yet that feels natural or has a “flow” to it but practice makes perfect. I do try to end my stroke at the knees and have the paddle out of the water close to the hip.

in regards to my canoe being in trim I believe it is any water that collects in the hull stays

near or at where I sit. Thanks for tip on the video where would you suggest I find it ? seems to skimp when it comes to offering canoe instruction videos.