my understanding is that the correction phase of the
J-stroke is performed at the hip, as soon as the power phase
would become inefficient by lifting water (at least with a
straight paddle). However, doing it further back seems
easier on the body, although it must be less efficient by
wasting time on slicing the blade back from the hip, doing
the correction, and then again slicing it forward. On the
stern seat it’s easier since you’re already sitting close to
the stern, but when soloing, do you really want to do the
correction right at the hip?
Is the answer “yes” if you want to be maximally efficient
and “no” if you want to be easier on your body?
my understanding is that the correction phase of the
The J stroke is the best alternative to
hit-and-switch for the stern paddler, although for solo paddling, I could show you how to do without the J stroke most of the time.
It is most efficient when done at the hip, and Bob Foote, a purist if there ever was one, says that you should no longer be applying forward power when you twist the grip to do the J.
Let’s talk truth. You’re right, it’s easier to do the J later, but if you do, then it becomes a sort of inverted rudder stroke. And that’s what most paddlers do when they J-stroke. An inverted rudder.
The farther back you keep the power on in the stern, the more the tendency to turn the boat away from your paddling side. I was paddling stern behind my wife, after a long interval of paddling solo, and I tried what I had learned in the solo position. Good forward reach, firm catch, power off by the hip, with the J-twist applied while the paddle is still fairly vertical. Surprise! It worked. The good reach and early, firm catch reduce the turning effect on the hull, and less J is needed. But it’ll take practice.
The way the great unwashed masses do the J stroke, it is functioning as a rudder stroke. I think the way the J is supposed to work is that a quick twist throws a dollup of water outward from the hull.
CE Wilson and other smart persons may have useful comments to make.
Have you tried a bent shaft paddle? They seem to be good trainers for an at-the-hip J “pop”. The shorter length and bent geometry make it easier and more natural to J at the hip. And you’ll find it’s less of a stroke and more of a slight pop. Once you get it down with the bent if feels more natural to do the same thing with a straight shaft.
At the hip, or sooner
Andrew Westwood actually advises angling the grip hand down as the paddle blade reaches the knee (when kneeling). As you said, carrying the stroke further back is inefficient because it slows your stroke cadence too much. If you are paddling tandem, it also throws you out of synch with your bow partner’s shorter forward stroke.
The J stroke is really not intended to provide really forceful correction or initiate a turn to your on-side. I try not to use a correction stroke as much as possible, but even when paddling solo I find that I must do so at least occasionally, unless I can utilize the ability of the hull to carve, or switch sides. But it doesn’t require much outward hook on the paddle blade at all.
I usually see if I can keep the boat running true by using a pitch stroke, starting to angle the grip thumb forward right after the downward loading action at the catch, as the blade starts to “move back”. (We think of the paddle describing a J-shaped path through the water, but in actuality if paddling effectively the blade moves very little and largely stays in the “patch” of water it was planted in).
If something more is needed I add a pretty subtle outward flip just before the recovery, as described by ezwater and clarion. You can also add some upward and outward force on the power face as you exit the blade from the water to make sort of a hybrid Canadian stroke.
Of course, there are times when you need to make a more forceful correction or initiate a turn to your onside (if paddling solo) or the boat’s offside (if paddling tandem), like when a sudden burst of wind hits your quarter or an unexpected obstacle suddenly looms up on your bow quarter, or when starting from a dead stop. In that event, I would do the forward stroke normally, feather the blade at the hip, continue to slide it well back to the stern, and execute a stern pry (or thumbs-up J stroke, if you prefer).
I think of it as feathering
the paddle while its still in the water, lifting up with the paddle blade so it catches just before the feathering motion is completed and the paddle leaves the water. I call that a “modified J” You’re only turning your control hand half way down. Stick out your thumb when learning or teaching the J so folks can see what the control hand/wrist is doing. It is real awkward rolling the wrist/thumb totally down and then pushing out to make a true j in the water.
Error most folks make is
Putting too much effort into the correction phase. The most effort should be applied to the first12-18 inches after the catch and lessened during the correction phase. Yes, correction should begin before paddle passes the hip. It is such a blended “touchy- feely” thing it’s difficult to describe.
After teaching for years I really believe that efficient, controlled forward travel in solo is one of the hardest things to learn. Even FreeStyle stuff-which is perceived as difficult- is easier to learn for most.
The other error people make
It’s not an on-off stroke…where you do power to a certain point and then pump your thumb down and switch to correction. It is much more subtle. Sometimes I cant the blade slightly all through the “power” part, and that’s enough, sometimes not. The idea is to use the paddle as much as possible for power while keeping the canoe on a straight course. I tell most people to “feel it” instead of “thinking it”.
I’ve watched some “experts”, …
... including several regular posters here, including one who frequently preaches strict adherence to proper technique. Not one of these paddlers has ever done the correction phase with the blade "at the hip". I WOULD say that these good paddlers do the correction when their lower hand is in the general region of their hip, but the blade is behind them.
I don't think that's some sort of grievous error. Any kind of correction stroke (any stroke that pushes either in or out rather than forward or backward) becomes progressively more efficient and effective the farther it is from the center of the boat. In fact, if you are moving slowly, a "J" correction applied at the hip will move the boat straight sideways much more so than it pushes the stern sideways, and that's a very poor use of the applied force. As speed increases, the location where a sideways push simply moves the whole boat sideways changes location, becoming farther and farther forward of center, so when moving at a good clip, a "J" at the hip would push the stern sideways fairly well, but would still be less efficient at doing so than the same effort applied farther back (such as, with the hand at the hip but the blade behind, as I've seen the best paddlers I know do). Of course, the force applied during the correction of a good J-stroke is small, so this stuff about what the stroke does at various locations relative to the boat and at various speeds illustrates the principle (and it can be observed with more powerful corrections strokes), not what we actually see happen.
Other than that quibble, I agree with all the things that have been said so far, especially how when performed most smoothly and efficiently it's not simply a two-phase stroke, and also the idea that the correction portion is very subtle, a little "dollop" I think someone said. I also agree with the person who said it's really difficult to do well. The vast majority of experienced (not necessarily "good") paddlers simply drag the blade like a rudder for about one to 1.5 seconds during the correction phase of the J-stroke. Very few do the recovery portion of their J-stroke with virtually the same timing as they would do if no corrections were applied. To my way of thinking, those who's cadence is not noticeably delayed by the correction phase are the ones who've got it figured out. On the other hand, the "dragging rudder" method is not inefficient in terms of energy use. In fact, nothing is more efficient than a rudder if used well toward the rear of the boat (Kruger used the principle to the extreme by actually installing and relying on a rudder, and eliminating correction strokes entirely). It's only inefficient in terms of the way it reduces cadence, so if you aren't in a hurry I see no harm in that method. But if you want a little more speed, the best way to get it is with increased cadence rather than increased force, so the no-delay correction method (that little "dollop") is the best way to do it.
When I’m J-stroking, there’s almost no difference in stroke mechanics for underwater versus above-water recovery. The feathering action is the same and the stroke cadence is the same. It’s a pretty magical feeling to blend in various degrees of above-water and underwater recovery as if they strokes are the same.
I’m definately a hand-at-the-hipper. Good catch, (no pun intended)
Making it easier on the body
When I was first learning to do the J-stroke, I couldn't imagine figuring out a way to ease the strain I was feeling. I even asked a question about it here, but the answers I got seemed to miss the point and didn't help me much. Here are some tricks that helped me.
Spend some time comparing your stern pry stroke to your J-stroke. Don't do either stroke by the "dragging rudder" method. Make sure you apply a bit of outward push with the blade. When I was learning, I could do the stern pry with no strain at all but the J-stroke felt awkward. When I compared the position of my forearm and wrist between the two strokes, I found that it wasn't the same. You won't be able to make the position of your lower grip be exactly the same for both strokes, but you probably can learn to minimize the degree to which you are applying force by extending your wrist (that's the motion by which, if you put your forearm and fist on your desk with the knuckles facing down, you lift just your knuckles off the surface), and increase the degree to which you use your forearm in more of a straight-line pushing action. I think if you compare the stern pry and the J-stroke, you may find the same thing that I did.
Bill Mason was a big proponent of prying the paddle shaft against the gunwale to eliminate stress in the lower hand. He did this pretty quietly too. Becky Mason uses this method, but I've seen a couple of her videos and though she's a better paddler than I'll ever be, I really don't care for the loud "clunk" that goes with every stroke she makes. Anyway, I did that for a while, but with square-edged vinyl gunwales, your paddle shafts will get dented, and if your boat has much tumblehome you can't do it at all. If you don't have too much tumblehome, you can put the heel of your hand on the top of the gunwale to transfer a small amount of fulcrum action to the gunwale (without the paddle shaft contacting the gunwale), greatly relieving the stress on the lower arm. It takes some practice. That's my method, but I find the that tiny bit of sliding action of my hand on a vinyl or aluminum gunwale can stick and "burn" sometimes, so I always wear light gloves. Gloves let my hand slide freely on the gunwale (that also lets me do other kinds of correction strokes where my hand slides on the gunwale to relieve stress on my lower arm, such as a "reverse wedge" that simultaneously slows or stops the boat while making it go sideways toward the off side. Without a gloved hand on the gunwale, that's a stressful motion for me).
I’ve found that it often…fwiw…
depends on the amount of rocker, the hull's length, and paddler's physique....thus it's never a static measurement. Ditto mrmannerz..."feel it" instead of "read it"....cuz everyone's physical makeup is different and the hull you're working with is static, however the gusts of wind always changes. Using a bit of longitudinal surface area adds a lot of density to correction in flatwater, TOTALLY DIFFERENT in moving water....NOTHING behaves like static statistics. Ditto mrmannerz = one "feels it" instead of "reads it". Varying the corrective-J's speed can add or subtract from hullspeed. Yeah, one doesn't want to extend back from the hip very much, but when soloing in a longer hull it's ok as long as there's no discomfort or decelleration, if speed is what you're after.
Many good points
yes, good catch with the hand vs blade at the hip.
Also, excellent point talking about the influence of speed. You’re absolutely
right in that I think I have the greatest urge to slice the paddle further back
when starting from a standstill. As speed increases and the need for correction
and sideways pressure decrease, it’s much easier to do closer to the center (at the hip).
I also found the following comment quite helpful: “those who’s cadence is not
noticeably delayed by the correction phase are the ones who’ve got it figured
out”. Correction closer to the ends is efficient in terms of energy but not in
terms of time. So doing the stroke right is good for a faster cadence, but may
put more pressure on your wrists, gunwales or paddle shafts.
haven’t tried it yet(at least not consciously) and just looked it up. The website
did describe it as potentially more difficult and tiring. I will try it next time.
Honestly, I can’t say I don’t already do some kind of pitching during the power phase as I’m turning
my grip hand. I wish I could see myself in slow motion.
All of this makes sense, but if solo
paddling, you need to J stroke all or most of the time, you haven’t got it. Move your position forward, reach forward, firm catch, slice out sideways. I seldom use a J correction or any correction, and the boats I paddle are highly inclined to veer, while having little inclination to run straight.
If you’re paddling solo and J stroking most of the time, you may be wasting your effort.
Steps in a progression
I doubt anyone goes immediately to uncorrected forward strokes
try different things out
and see what works best. Paddling conditions vary so much. Solo, tandem, wind, current, and the style/type of boat. Where my paddle leaves the water is a function of all of these factors. Now a days I'm mostly jstroking rafts through pools while my friends or family "take a break". I'm sure that's not what the original poster had in mind but the basic principle is the same. Modify the stroke to fit the boat! You might need a bigger or smaller dollop, and a longer or shorter stroke depending on your need. When the wind is blowing a little bit it might be smarter to switch the paddling side your on, and use the wind to help correct the stroke rather than struggle with a jstroke.Current and boat angle can save on correction strokes when used appropriately. Ideally, it would be great if we didn't have to correct at all. When I shot videos on the New and Gauley out of a c1 my strokes were much shorter and closer to the boat,right at the hip and I had to jstroke a lot in a high cadence to beat rafts to the next rapid. My strokes were longer in a tandem canoe, especially on a lake or slow moving river where fatigue is the central issue and my stroke rate is slower. Honestly in a solo canoe I used boat lean/tilt/weighting alot more to limit the amount of jstroke I had to do because the stroke seemed more awkward toward the center of the boat and was less necessarily.
A really subtle difference is where and how your paddle enters the water. You can get a slight draw effect by modifying your blade angle as it enters the water and finish it off with a j "dollop". I'm not a freestyler but I can see how underwater returns/ feathers can become corrective measures as well.
I'm definately an old school pryer. My wood paddles would get ate up on the shaft from aluminum canoes. My madriver flashback had dents in the gunwales from prying. For big ww c1 paddling I'd drop a pry down deep below the boat and crank hard just as a large wave blasted me. Oddly enough, this worked best on offside blasts of water where I flung my weight away from the paddle blade. That was the brace I was most proud of when I could pull it off!
We can always see how it goes. The alternative is, maybe, taking a paddling lesson and getting efficient from the start to promote more fun.
Pry’s off the rail do not happen with exquisite paddles. They open the rail to weather and ruin $400 paddles.
The J is a smooth correction to a poor forward stroke. Top hand over the rail, vertical paddleshaft, stroke catching ~at abeam front thwart and ending ~at knee and parallel to the keel line, not the rail eliminated the need for the historical J. Aggressive paddlers will set up a crab or bow pin and drive the boat on a line without correction. Lazing along, we’ll loose the pressure needed for the locked in crab and exert a little pushaway just aft the body. [It has to be aft the body a little. At the hip is the initiation to a prying or cross drawing, offside, sideslip.]
But those "long, powerful, strokes along the rail are ~50% sweeps. They turn the boat offside and require a heroic, momentum and cadence stopping J or pry to correct the misdirection they just caused. I’m getting to old to waste that much energy. Younger bucks are well advised to do the same, there are better used for the strength.
When I first started canoeing I tried the pitch stroke (just like in the book). It felt really awkward so I gave up and stuck with the J. After years of using the J I realized that my J had gradually morphed into a pretty decent pitch without my even realizing it. I guess that shows I wasn’t paying attention to my mechanics but for me it seems smoother and more relaxing than a pure J.
Depends where you’re sitting (CLR)
The best position for the blade during correction depends on where the boat’s center of lateral resistance is located. In turn, that will largely depend on where you are sitting in the hull. For simplicity and visualization, the CLR can be thought of as the center of rotation.
The CLR is the point on the hull where a lateral push will move the boat perfectly sideways with no yaw. A correction stroke is essentially a sideways push. If your correction push is directly abeam of the CLR, your boat will move sideways with no yaw (correction) in either direction.
If your correction is forward of the CLR, your correction will be have the opposite of the intended result: the hull will move to the off-side.
Thus the correction force must be applied astern of the CLR to yaw the hull to the on-side.
Where is the CLR? Hard to say. But it will be significantly affected by where you sit. If you are sitting significantly behind the geometric center of he hull, such as backwards on the bow seat of a tandem canoe, you can be sure the CLR is astern of the geometric center. In this case, you should easily be able to correct to the on-side with a correction force at the hip – or even forward of the hip.
However, if you are seated very close to the geometric center of the hull, you may have to get the paddle further behind your hip so that your sideways correction stroke is effectively astern of the CLR.