J-stroke thumb friction

So I’m burning my onside thumb on my J-stroke a little. I have some locally made paddles that I love and I suspect part of it is the finish. But do any of you put athletic tape or electrical tape on your onside thumb for longer paddle trips? I was out today in 38 degrees and just tried to keep the shaft a little wet rather than using a glove. What do you all do?

From my days in rowing, the last thing I would have wanted was wet hands with all the rotation involved

Ultimately the best thing was calluses, but that’s no fun.

Have you tried a glove? What kind of finish is on the paddle?

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Once you have used the thumb to rotate the paddle the correct way to do the J there is no need to hold on with the thumb down. On a straight paddle I usually take that grip hand entirely off and do what is termed a palm roll. With the shaft hand holding the paddle I can remove the grip hand and go from thumbs down to thumbs up orientation. The paddle itself does not move its orientation. All of my grips are sanded fine and not varnished which helps too.

If I understand you by onside thumb you mean the thumb of your shaft hand, not your grip hand. I have never taped my thumb or hand that particular problem but I have known kayakers using offset double-bladed paddles that taped one thumb (usually the left for a right hand control paddle or vice verse) or both thumbs to avoid blisters from friction.

If it works I see no problem with it. You might try sanding the portion of the paddle shaft that contacts your thumb down to bare wood and oiling it with something like Tung oil.

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It’s the pivot thumb

I think it’s an epoxy.

So high sheen? Is it slippery or grippy?

What is your definition of a pivot thumb? On the grip or the shaft?

Sanding the grip and the shaft in the area where your shaft hand holds the paddle will help. Also avoiding a death grip.

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I was paddling in fairly cold temps today practicing my J-stroke too. I’m not perfect at it by any means but I realized… 1) my trip would have been shorter if my hand was wet, and probably cold like yours…I feel for you! 2) I noticed the further back I made the J, the easier the correction was (my paddle had more leverage on my boat). Also if you J with your paddle further back your hand rotates with the paddle so there is no rub. I think that is what Kayamedic is saying as well. When I start to push out with the J my top grip hand is even with my sternum and my shaft/ bottom hand is about 12" behind me, with that elbow pointing toward the center on my boat.

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I do J and Canadian. Ended the day with more Canadian.

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It’s hard to quantify that. It’s not as sticky as a high gloss Gibson guitar neck but not satin, either. Let’s just say I have dry hands and after about a half hour of working upstream with a beavertail it starts to get irritated.

I wear gloves year-round to reduce friction (and provide a little padding to delay numbness in my hands on long paddles). I wear fingerless gloves until it’s just too cold, today I used my NRS fingerless guide gloves. I agree with the comments that you need to sand off the varnish finish on the grip and in the center of wood paddles or the finish will hurt your hands.


At the beginning of the training season I might wear fingerless paddler’s gloves, but soon I will take them off. Callouses might develop, they might not as the season progresses. Most of my canoe paddle shafts are oval shaped, not perfectly round, which makes for a more comfortable hold. I do not hold the shaft tight during the power stroke. My fingers are curled to hold the paddle for power but otherwise my fingers are mostly relaxed. The J stroke does not extend beyond my hip, or very little if at all unless I need to insert a very strong direction correction which will slow forward motion at the same time. Rotation of the paddle does not normally rub on my skin, I allow it to it roll on my fingers in my grip on the shaft.

My normal calm cruising stroke is either a pitch stroke, or a quick J at the hip, or a Canadian. No need to rub thumb using any of these. The pitch is essentially an early J with no need to end with a strong J, the Canadian is a late elongated underwater recovery J.

Thank you all for the paddling stroke definitions, but the post is about a friction burn. Apparently my small hands and the epoxy-finished large-diameter paddle hand-built paddle I’m using are not a great match. I’ll get out the fine sandpaper if the problem persists.

You asked what we do in your original post. I included the paddling stroke definitions so that you might perhaps look into changing your stroke methodology as a fix to eliminate your friction burn problem. Changing your stroke may be all you need to do if your paddle shaft is otherwise not excessively rough, though an oiled wood shaft may help as well.

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I don’t know if you are familiar with Quimby paddles but they are among the best custom wood paddles (popular with freestyle experts). It’s a bit hard to see in the pics but hopefully you can see how he has left the varnish off of his grips and also a section about a foot long in the center of the paddle shaft.


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A favorite Adirondack paddle maker friend (Caleb Davis) makes and advises to refinish paddles with grip and shaft coated with 90% oil mixed with 10% varnish, and the inverse ratio on the blade. that makes a nice comfortable to hold shaft and grip, and a hard protective finish on the blade.

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Actually my J is well forward and my shaft hand never goes past my hip in back of me.( This avoids turning the forward stroke into a sweep which is inevitable if you carry that shaft hand too far back) I see a lot of people holding on to their paddles in a too firm grip… A paddle is like a guitar. Hold it gently but don’t drop it.

As a short forward stroke minimizes yaw the J is but a momentary flick outwards.


As kayamedic said, the shaft hand should not pass your hip.

This video does a very good job of explaining the J-stroke.

Everything he says is valuable. His technique will help you avoid the issues you mentioned.

The one thing he does not mention is that the correction should be very minor. If you push to hard on the correction, the boat will correct past your target. So, make a tiny correction each stroke, rather than a big one every few strokes.

Learning the J is much easier in a tandem on flat water on a calm day because the bow helps keep momentum. Solo, the boat tends to stall on every J.

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The best stroke advice I ever received is to insert the shaft vertically into the water. Again, I appreciate all the definitions and clearly conflicting advice on technique, but I reject the notion there’s a technique issue here. I’ve worked hard on my technique through hours and miles. The problem arose after many upstream miles with a large beavertail paddle shaft that is evidently too thick for my small hands and short fingers (cadet small golf glove size). My question was in essence “glove or tape?” The majority answer seems to be sanded and oiled shaft, which I will pursue.