J-stroke question

A queston for you canoeists: I’ve been getting back into canoeing after years of kayaking and I’m working on my j-stroke. Nothing much to complain about – except that I’m getting a nice wear mark in my paddle where it contacts the gunwale during the pry part of the stroke.

Normal wear and tear? Break out the varnish? Or am I doing something wrong?

Nothing wrong with prying off the
gunwale, but if your seat is located properly and you get most of the work done before the paddle blade reaches your hip, you may find that you don’t j-stroke or rudder very often. When you get the system down right, you may see the bow actually coming back toward your paddling side during your recovery. This is the push-back from a little mound of water you created when you were taking your stroke.

I j-stroke and rudder when necessary, but I usually don’t pry off the side. Just a matter of taste.

Thumb up or thumb down?
Which way does your top hand thumb point during the curve of the J? The thumb up, back-face pry off the gunwale is sometimes called the “goon” stroke. The other way to do a J stroke is to roll your thumb down towards the water for the curve of the J, turn the power face out, and not pry off the gunwale at all. It’s a bit harder on your wrists at first, but I think it’s smoother.

If it was okay with Bill Mason, …

– Last Updated: Jun-10-07 2:10 PM EST –

... it should be okay with anyone else too if they so choose. I did it a lot when I was learning, and with a "proper" J-stroke, it seems a lot easier that way. Since I usually use a cedar paddle, I avoid gunwale contact as much as practical nowadays. I don't care about wear marks, but cedar is easy to dent, and dents lead to sore hands when the paddle shaft spins. I do tend to brace the inside of my hand against the gunwale at the end of the 'J', but I'm not pushing very hard at all. As I've gotten better, the 'J' is often nothing more than a little flip as the paddle comes out. Of course, a LOT depends on the boat, and also the wind.

j stroke
My J is better on my left than my right, so I occasionally pry to the right. More of an old injury issue than anything else.

pry away
and don’t worry about it. if you do a j stroke with no rubbing, it is often called the pitch stroke. harder on your shoulders. my paddles are mostly red cherry, or ash, and they have plenty of scraping marks and light wear but no grooves. i seem to move the paddle around and alter the stroke enough that it doesn’t wear in one spot. if it gets bad enough, i guess you would just replace the paddle.

happy canoeing.

hard corrections
I agree with g2d and angstrom. I use a forward with a thumb up correction (pry) a lot in ww and a forward with a thumb down correction (J) in milder water. If you’re doing the forward technically well, either correction should be minimal. If not, and your pry needs to be so strong that you’re wearing a spot on your paddle, that indicates too much yaw at the end of the forward phase resulting in a hard correction (pry) in this case. Overcorrections really slow a canoe down and are like putting the brakes on in a car. Examine your forward phase and see how it can be improved. Once this is done the correction should be greatly reduced and prying hard off the outwale will be reduced.


You shouldn’t be hitting the gunnel
Your using it too much as a pry.

Do it more subtle.

Keep in mind that the J stroke will never let you get any speed. If you don’t mind going slow it is OK, but if you want to pick up the pace use sit and switch.



JackL, remember, hit and switch makes
no sense on 3/4 of the canoes on the water.

First of all
It is “Sit and switch”

Second why?

The only place where it wouldn’t be used is in a wide canoe.

When I want to go fast (and I am talking solo)

I use sit and switch.

When I am meandering I use the “J” stroke.

All of the above is in the sitting position.

Haven’t ben able to kneel for about the past fifteen years.


Jack, it was “hit and switch” in
the 70s when I was hanging around marathon paddlers. But I have heard “sit and switch” also. My point is that most canoes, including ALL WW canoes, and most of the flatwater tandems I have owned, do not have a strong enough inclination to go in a particular direction that uncorrected paddling on alternating sides will work. Your mileage may vary.

sit/hit and switch, when
Jack L, you write that the only time you wouldn’t use the alternating style (AKA as sit and switch or hit and switch) is in a wide canoe. I paddle all styles and find the forward with correction invaluable in dicey situations such as big waves and heavy wind and many ww situations. I’ve felt on several occassions it kept me much safer. also I find the J stroke much more relaxing than the alternating style, not to mention all the water the alternating style drops into the canoe.

Just my opinion.


I also wrote: “When I am meandering
I use the “J” stroke”

I agree completely with you that it comes in handy in dicey conditions and I’ll add in strong quartering winds.

On the “getting water in the canoe”

After an all day paddle I’ll have less than a sponge full.



I was not talking about WW
I should have qualified that.



Pry against the gunnel
I pry against the gunnel all the time. Last year I epoxied a piece of kevlar fabric on the paddle shaft where it was wearing. Not pretty, but it works.

I think it depends on the boat
I’d say that on some boats you would probably be exercising pretty poor form to be rubbing the gunnels, other boats, not so much.

Some of the variables that make some boats more prone to gunnel rubbing while J stroking are: width, height, and tumblehome. The wider and or higher the more likely you may be to rub the gunnels. The more tumblehome, the less likely.

If you really want some solid feedback, I’d post how big you are and what kind of boat you are paddling.

I’m 170 lbs and my bow paddler is 70 (he’s 9 years old). We paddle a Clipper Tripper on salt water, so wind is almost always a factor.

Love hearing about your bow partner.

FWIW (and it ain’t much) sounds to me like you’re doing pretty well. You’ve got a deep boat, no appreciable tumblehome, you’re probably paddling forward of the stern seat to compensate for the weight of your bow partner where the canoe is pretty wide, and you’re dealing with wind. And, the fact that you are using the gunnel a little from the stern suggests that you are not paddling past your hip.

To me, it would be surprising if you didn’t use the gunnel.

good question Clarion
Clarion asked a very good question. The answer filled in a lot of balnks. For some reason I thought you were paddling solo.

First your forward is probably overpowering your son’s causing the need for stronger correction and more prying. Second your trim is probably down in the stern. Third, Wind can certainly add to the need for more forceful correction. Fouth, if I remember correctly the Clipper Tripper has alum gunwales which work hard on a wooden paddle. I can also see why you use a pry correction instead of a J stroke.

In a perfect world, given these facts you will have some wear on your paddle. No problem, have fun, refurbish your paddle this winter.


Glad to hear you have that forward w/ correction in your arsenal. Yea, S & W doesn’t put all that much water in the canoe but it’s still more than I like. Of course I favor the Northwoods kneeling style and stow gear in front of me so tend to disfavor even a sponge full splashing on gear then rolling around under-knee. All the best.