Canoe paddling query

Having just joined the ranks of canoe owner, I’m looking for a little help with a couple of items…actually many items, but I’m going to start here.

I’ll be paddling a Wenonah Solo plus, solo, mostly with my dog (The Boo). I am 6’2", 260. Strong paddler (kayak). He is nine, requires some supervision, and will be wearing doggie PFD.

  1. At 65-70 pounds, is it better to have The Boo in front or rear, or will the weight not be an issue?
  2. Having had some practice with the J stroke at Raystown, is there any exercise or anything I can do in the winter (don’t have a drysuit) to practice or work on the technique.
  3. The only single blade paddle I have is a made in Mississippi, straight, name escapes me at the moment, wooden paddle. For purchase, how do I size a paddle, what are the advantages of straight versus bent shaft, and what should I expect to pay for a quality paddle that will serve me well until technique is mastered? Should I jump into composite right away?

    I’ve been paddling kayaks for three years, and plan to canoe mostly on lakes, moving water, and day tripping or camping excursions.



Paddle Choices and Doggy Ballast

– Last Updated: Dec-04-09 3:03 PM EST –

If your seat were adjustable front to back, you could put the dog in front of you after moving the seat back, perhaps a couple of feet. Since you probably can't move the seat that far (or at all), ANY means you can come up with to make the boat sit level in the water is just fine. The easiest method would be to put the dog behind you, because that will put him closer to the center of the boat than if he's in front of you. Then add a bit of ballast (like a daypack) in front of you to counterbalance the fact that the dog will be too heavy for "perfect" trim. The lighter the pack, the farther forward you will place it to counteract the weight of the dog. If your dog "insists" on being up front, put your gear behind you.

Remember the "teeter-totter" rule. Put the heaviest load as near center as you can (that's normally right behind you). Then remember that a light load placed near one end will balance-out a very heavy load that's just a little bit on the other side of the centerpoint. Adjust the position of the light load as necessary to make the "teeter-totter" become level.

For paddle info, start here:

Practice can be done
in winter as long as the water is soft. Just stay very close to shore and paddle back and forth. Stay close enough to walk out if you capsize.

Bent shaft paddle is generally for sitting, straight shaft for kneeling. With practice and good technique either will work in either position, but for learning stick to that rule.

Sizing a paddle should be done in the boat if possible but if you want an oversimplified way, sit on a bench, place the paddle grip in the bench between your legs. The throat (place where shaft turns into blade) should fall somewhere between your nose and forhead. Bent shaft should be a bit shorter than straight shaft.

If lucky enough to size one while paddling, at the middle of your stroke the blade should be fully submerged and your grip hand should be about chin to eye level…too short you’ll have to bend over, too long your upper arm will get tired more easily.

If you went to Raystown you probably know the advantage of some good instruction. That’s often the best investment new canoeists can make. Have fun!!

Hope this helps…
You’d probably want The Boo in front where you can see him and what he’s doing. Preferably as close to center as possible, or seated between your knees when kneeling. It would help to talk to other dog owners who canoe, though, to get their input. A dry bag with your spare clothes and emergency kit (your “bail-out bag”) could be your counter weight (you can easily move it around) if needed.

I had someone at work teach me the j-stroke when I was just learning. We sat on chairs without arms and j-stroked in the air using long snowbrushes as paddles, until I got the hang of it, lol. But nothing is a substitute for on-water practice.

This video on the j-stroke is a pretty good one:

And here is an article from Red Rock:

(There are lots of on-line articles out there.)

When Hopsing started canoeing, I bought him 2 Bending branch paddles, which he still uses today. Straight, not bent shaft — save that for later.

Here’s info on the BB paddles:

I bought the “Beavertail” and the “Traveller” on advice of a more experienced canoeist. They are well made paddles and reasonably priced. We both use them.

I’ve made some mistakes in buying paddles, too, but you can always use them and resell them if you don’t like really them, too. And sometimes you may be able to borrow a paddle and try it out, from a friend. Raystown will be a good place for you to borrow and try out some paddles next year.

Ralph, you are entering into a fantastic journey of learning now that you’ve started canoeing. I wish you all the best, and hope to see you showing off at Raystown in your Solo Plus next year.

The Boo
I paddled 10 years with a lab the same weight as Boo.

Boo needs solid footing…like a rubber-backed bathroom mat.

He might need a short leash at first too…to help him understand the rules…Jessie the Wonder Dog learned the command “settle down”.

Boo goes in front of you.

For most brands and types a 58 inch straight should work great for you. Needs to be longer for a beavertail but I’d recommend a more normal/versatile paddle than a beavertail for you. Bending Branches are good value. I think they make one called something like Sun Shadow…a fine all around paddle.

If you’re kneeling, I suggest a 58"
straight shaft with a relatively short blade, 22" or less, and not over 8" wide. If you’re sitting, you could get into bent shaft hit-and-switch. Much shorter paddle, maybe 52"

I’d have the dog in front and see that you’re positioned so the boat is a teensy bit bow light. I suggest putting something in the front (durable float bag?) so that your dog is not running back and forth. Side-to-side won’t bother you much.

So far so good…
Due to knee issues, I imagine I will be paddling from a seated position. I’m not sure if I can handle long (or short) term kneeling, although the setup with memory foam I saw (I think it was Dave’s solo plus)at Raystown might be worth a try.

The seat in the solo plus is not adjustable. Boo in the front will probably work better. I always have a dry bag with supplies, and hey, it’s a canoe, so I can now use some more beer as ballast! I have the rubber backed mat from renting tandem kayaks a couple of times. He’s never been in a boat with me for more than a couple of hours. I like the idea of a float bag up front to keep him closer to the center.

Thanks all for the advice so far…


I would start practicing…without
the dog…practice how it feels to heel the boat and how do do low and high braces…

Dont assume your dog will be obedient even if they are on land. Some dogs do not like the rocking of the boat. Some people do not like side to side rocking of the boat from the dog. Its a really bad idea to assume that is no big deal. Its particularly bad when the dog is in back of you because your awareness is diminished. You can feel but seeing and feeling is far better.

I have a lovely dog on land. She responds to commands without a leash.

On canoe trips different dog she insists on resting her head on a gunwale…This makes the whole canoe tilted…Unless she has dampness on the bottom of the canoe or there is fast water.Then she stands and switches ends. This is quite unsettling. Heaven forbid there be a bird in the area…She is a retreiver and will launch herself out of the boat.

So ask you dog how he/she feels about this boat thing.

Now as to that seventy lbs of ballast you need. You wont steer well with the dog up front without it. And you wont steer at all with the wind from your back. If the dog is in the bow…and you have not enough weight aft…always go upwind.

58" too long
I am the same height as the OP and I use a 48.25" paddle.

Nobody can say what paddle length is going to be right.

Measuring will give you a good idea where to start. I use the method listed in the Zaveral Racing Equipment catalog. Sit in a chair, measure to the tip of your nose, add blade length and thats your paddle length.

Thats where I came up with the 48.25" length. It fits perfectly. Your top hand should not go over your head when you bring the paddle out of the water.

Clarifify one statement perhaps?
You said:

“Your top hand should not go over your head when you bring the paddle out of the water.”

I couldn’t figure out what you were talking about with that statement, and here’s why. When you bring the paddle out of the water at the end of your stroke, the blade should be feathered, close to the water, and somewhat horizontal in orientation (the recovery stroke normally goes a lot wider than the power stroke), which means your upper grip hand can be quite low at that time. There should be no need to lift your upper hand high when bringing the blade out of the water for your recovery stroke, even with a very long paddle.

Thanks Ness, videos were excellent…
I watched a few different videos from the same guy, and will save those in my youtube library.

I will practice strokes before I bring the Boo along. It only makes sense. Thanks.


There’s confusion here because cap

– Last Updated: Dec-07-09 11:14 AM EST –

is talking about bent shaft plus sitting. My 58" suggestion was only relevant to kneeling. With straight shaft and kneeling, you will of course feather well below your head position, but when you set up for the catch, your upper hand on the grip will be around, even above, eye level.

I can't speak on the bent shaft, sitting, hit-and-switch issue. Everything about it is very different. But a Solo Plus will work pretty well either kneeling/straight shaft or sitting/bent shaft.

Keep at it and
after awhile the j-stroke will feel natural to you.

Ralph, if you want to
get together, send an e-mail. I’ve got paddles in about 4 or 6 different lengths (54-60 inch I think), all AB edges and a Werner, oh yeah a caviness and another cheapie too, and one woodie left as well. Maybe meet up the Bantam River when you’re ready if you want.Small lake in my backyard as well.

As far as all that talk about form, can’t duffek without a hand over your head, and that low retrieval would be trouble in WW fer sher.

A minor quibble about stroke recovery

– Last Updated: Dec-07-09 10:19 PM EST –

Sure one raises the paddle a little higher for the recovery stroke in whitewater, but to address my point to which you seem to be referring, ask yourself whether you raise the paddle with the shaft vertical so your hand goes up over your head, or do you swing the paddle out to the side when wanting to miss rocks or waves during the recovery stroke. I bet you swing it out to the side, both because it's much easier and because you can raise the blade even higher that way. While we're at it, I sure don't paddle the more difficult whitewater that you do, but in the mild whitewater I paddle, I'll sometimes accidentally slice the blade right through waves during recovery and scarcely notice it, because the feather phase of my stroke has become so automatic. Same goes for choppy lakes, where hitting waves with the paddle blade really makes no difference at all if your feather is right. On flatwater, I even get lazy sometimes and start the recovery without fully extracting the blade from the water, and I don't feel a thing unless I'm really trying to make time.

Hi Ralph
I think we may have met briefly in the food line at Raystown, as I recall meeting someone else from CT there.

I’ve never paddled the Solo Plus, but it appears to be a flat water touring canoe, which would be consistent with your stated OP objective of lakes and moving water. Hence, I’m sort of assuming you don’t intend this to be a WW boat, as it is not.

That canoe has web seats, so it should be amenable to both kneeling and seated paddling. You really should decide fairly early which one is going to be your preferred position, because that will drive the paddling technique you use, what kind of paddle and its length. I recommend kneeling, as it lends itself to more sophisticated flat water maneuvering strokes, which translate well into WW strokes. Of course, with experience, you can end up being both a kneeler and sitter, as I am.

Kneel paddling is best done using a straight shaft. At your height, I think a 36" SHAFT length would be about right for flatwater. For WW, you might want to go 2 or so inches longer.

Seated sit-n-switch paddling is best done with a bent, IMO. Maybe about a 32" SHAFT length at your size.

I’d get one straight and one bent and experiment with them, as well as the different seating positions and paddling techniques. I wouldn’t invest in expensive paddles at the outset because you will probably change your mind about them anyway.

What I wouldn’t do is use your kayak paddle. If you are going to learn canoeing, you should make the effort to learn canoe stroke technique. After doing so, you may want to return to the double blade, but at least you will then be doing so from a position of informed choice rather than uninformed expediency.

I have no comments on the dog in general or in that boat in particular.

all over the place gbg

– Last Updated: Dec-08-09 6:11 AM EST –

sometimes high and inboard recovery, usually in fact, mainly because I'm pulling with the blade, and my carve has been progressing (especially in C1) which requires a high upper hand. Any switching requires a high upper hand, just to get the blade across the boat, if you're doing cross strokes. Yeah, flat rivers I will keep things lower, and Ralph will probably be fine with that. Nearly flipped coming into the slalom course at the Esopus doing a recovery stroke last spring, hooking a crab, and my Encore felt like it was tripping. Would have been an embarrassing swim, photographers and racers all over the place.

We're basically talking apples and oranges here, imho whatever works for you is the right thing. C1 has my butt about 2" over the water. I often drop my head to help with certain strokes, but there's so many strokes out there and they're all good.

30"+, foam for floor, nice bed for her
Don’t rule out something over 30" in length(straight-shaft)…and match your shoulder/arm makeup(lean musclebound) to the paddle’s density! Not only is length a paddling factor but by the 2nd/3rd hour out on the water…a paddle’s wood burliness(stiffness) in its flex will be noticeable during the catch-pull phase…soft(ultra-flexible) to dense. So when choosing…think about its flex as well as length.


Without somekind of thin foam on the hull floor…you dog’s nails can do some scratching on the kevlar. Get her a nice, inviting bed where she can lie after her initial nervousness. Second day out she’ll be all the more calm.


Thanks for the tips guys…
Matt, I will take you up on your offer. Bantam River would be a nice place to start. I’ve kayaked there many times. I’ll be in touch via e-mail.

Glenn, we did meet at Raystown. I was camping up above your spot and offerred you my ladder when you couldn’t find your step ladder. Did it ever turn up?

When I was paddling boats at Raystown I took my double blade with me but ended up ditching it for the single blades. If, I’m going to paddle a canoe, I’m going to do it with a single blade, certainly this one. The solo plus I have is fiberglass “tufweave”.

Canoeing stuff
Welcome to the club! I’m a mostly converted kayaker at this point and I can tell you that there are a whole lot of new adventures waiting for you.

In answer to your questions, in not particular order.

First dog goes in front of you right between your legs, and hopefull he learns to at least sit if not lie down. Greydog is always happy to just be with me. She is 50 lbs and in the position shown here she doesn’t affect the trim at all

Second paddles are going to vary wildly. First advice do not think in terms of paddle length. A 54-in beaver tail (long and thin) is going to be significantly different from a cruiser type blade (short and wide). Concentrate on finding the right shaft length. For comparison sake I am 5-10 with a 32-in inseam. For sitting in the Magic I use either a 53-in Zav bent shaft or a 58-inch (I believe) straight shaft beaver tail…and they have the exact same shaft length. Now to confuse you even more, kneeling in my Mad River Outrage I use a 58-in Werner - same overall length as the ottertail but the blade is at least 4-inches shorter, meaning the shaft is 4-inches longer. Message being try a variety of paddle styles and lengths to see what fits you best. As recommended a good place to start is sit in a firm chair, put the paddle grip between your legs and the transition of shart to blade should be at the bridge of your nose. Add or subtract as feels right

A pad for Boo is a nice treat for them. First it provides footing which makes them less skittish (though it gives purchase to make that gunwale leap) but second and most important (to me) it insulates from the cold water in spring and fall.

Otherwise I would say get comfortable yourself first. Once you are not afraid to put the boat on edge and be able to bring it upright, then add Boo to the mix, stay near shore, and have a hell of a lot of fun.