Cant paddle straight....

Help please!

I have paddled kayak for about 15 years but for a change of scene in 2005 I want to learn to paddle solo open canoe.

I have bought a second hand Old Town Pack and took it out today for a first serious go at paddling solo open canoe. On my right hand side (I am right handed) I can get the boat to travel in a straight line with no problem. Just a hint of a J stroke every 2nd or 3rd paddle stroke.

But paddling on my left hand side the boat is veering a lot from side to side and needs constant J strokes to keep it in anything like a straight line. What do I need to do to smooth out my left hand side paddle strokes, please?

Are you leaning more on the left side?
This is just a thought. If you are not accustomed to a single bladed paddle you might be leaning more to the left side. If a canoe is tilted to one side or the other, the resulting effect is a shorter and asymetrical waterline.

What I have just described is actually an advanced canoeing technique. Experienced solo canoeists can sit in the middle of very long canoes and control them easily by putting one knee against the bottom of the gunwhale and holding it close to the waterline. It can turn an 18 footer into a 15 footer, or less, instantly. There is a picture of this at the top of this page.

Left hand stokes
Wha ho, Pilgrim;

Jus’ keep on paddling an’ practicing on the left. It’ll come ta you in no time. Just stick with it.

Fat Elmo

Try emphasizing that
"J" stroke a little more on that side by letting the paddle act as a rudder just before taking it out of the water.

Naturally it will slow you down a bit, but eventually it will become all natural.



Couple more thoughts
First off cut yourself a little slack 'caus the pack is not known as a strait easy tracking canoe due to its flat bottom and short length. I think lots of folks use a double paddle with them.

I’ve noticed a similar situation when paddling on different sides at times and it always seems to be torso rotation difference. When I get mindful of my form things even back out.

Good luck, sounds like you are doing great to me.

Try Practicing a C stroke…
start your stroke by reaching forward and away from the centerline of the boat- as you bring the paddle back past your body reach slightly underneath the boat as if you are sweeping the bottom of the boat- finish by continuing the arc that will bring your paddle away from the centerline of the boat. This technique will keep you from using the inertia robbing J-stroke and once you “get it” you will make slight modifications to the entire stroke to counter wind and waves. If you rotate the paddle 180 degrees and slice it forward to recover underwater, you will be doing an Indian Stroke, my favorite! Even better, get your hands on a copy of the video “Path of the Paddle- Quietwater” by Bill Mason, all will be revealed.



shorten the power phase
Reach as far forward with the paddle as you can, then apply power only back to your thigh or so.

Then recover for the next stroke, or let the paddle drift drift back and do your correction stroke.

A little bit of boat tilt to your paddling side will help too.

another day?
Try again another day. Maybe there was a wind that was affecting your need for correction strokes. The bad news is, if that’s the case, maybe your right isn’t so easy!

I’m only half joking, some days it’s just hard on one side or the other.

For the record, I’m right handed, but I’d say my left side is my stronger side for paddling.


I’m right handed too so I paddle on the left.

That way my right hand is on the T grip controlling my blade angle.

When I switch to the right side and my left hand is on the T grip, I paddle about as well as I write with my left hand.

One of my goals for 2005 is to improve my right side paddling.

right hander who favors left normally. Currently my left elbow tendonitis is pretty bad so I’ve been working on the right side and doing more hit and switch style paddling.

The right side practice paid off big on Saturday when I got myself in a bind. Had to cross a half mile of bad whitecapping chop in a 20 mph gusting to 30 mph north wind to get back to my truck. The best route was quartering SW to NE into the blow which put me paddling on the right side for max control and power.

New Years Resolutions…
1. Go Canoeing

2. Repaint/renovate the Canoe

3. Go Canoeing on a regular basis all summer (even if it is just for 1 hour on the local suburban resivore)

4. Get Jr. (18mo old today!) out on the water

5. Learn propper technique in paddling!

You guys are helping me on #5 already!

Like others here, I am right-handed but paddle on the left side most of the time. I do switch frequently just to work out muscle kinks and offside paddling practice.

“The Complete Wilderness Paddler” had a line I love about paddling a canoe straight: “It’s as easy as walking. Just remember, it took you two years to learn how to walk.”

My advice? Learn to lean the boat in a kneeling position. It’s quite stable & significantly shortens the waterline, which makes the canoe more manuverable. This, in turn, allows your correction strokes to be less severe, resulting in less momentum lost.

Try not to get hung up on doing a proper J- or C-stroke. The strokes all blend into one motion to where you cannot tell where one ends and the other begins.

Do lift your blade from the water as the verticle shaft reaches your hips. You might left the blade drift back and add a little kick to the blade to correct your course, but any power pushing back from your hips hinders the boat.

As a kayaker, you may be familiar with “being one with the boat.” The same is true for a canoe.

Next, we’ll get you started standing up in the canoe & using a pole!