proper J-stroke question

Question for the ACA instructors and/or technique gurus out there:

Prying the paddle shaft off the gunwhale during the correcton phase of the j-stroke - acceptible technique or Busch League?

It all depends
Routinely on a long stretch of flatwater, yes bush league. Getting up to speed in a solo boat in a short eddy, no.

It’s OK
Pry off the gunwale if you need a stronger stern correction stroke, but if you need to you are better off using the non-power face of the paddle in a so-called “thumbs up J stroke” or “goon stroke”.

The thumbs down position of the grip hand during the correction phase of a J stroke places the wrist in a weak position for a forceful outward pry. The stern pry with the grip thumb up and the non-power face facing out is about the strongest stern correction stroke there is.

You can often get the boat up to speed using one or two “thumbs up” J strokes and then switch to a conventional J stroke.

Lots of WW types
use a J off the rail. It is not morally wrong, but kinda contra-indicated when using a $500 Quimby or Moore paddle, or a Dog Paddle or Cricket Designs stick at half the price.

A better way to accelerate is with a forward followed by two Cross Forwards, then come back onside for successive forwards; all uncorrected to maximize pace gain.

Reference the Foster “Inside Circle” forward stroke.

And, yeah, prying off the rail, or shoulder in tumblehomed hulls, raises the donut flag.

As others have said
The thumbs down J stroke uses the powerface and its counter productive to pry off the rail as the J is then lifting water more than steering and the boat will slow .Traditional J best for flatwater.

However the stern pry aka river J with the thumbs up often is used for river work as its a very powerful correction stroke. if you have to move fast diagonally on a river…who cares about the braking action of the stern pry (which uses the powerface for power and the backface for steering). The stern pry on flatwater gives a lurchy movement to the canoe.

I use both…depends where I am… for sure I wont use a J when setting a ferry angle… And if I am in a fast developing pickle I might pry off the gunwales with my Norse whitewater paddle (not with my Quimby!)

heck yes, a fulcrum is more effiecient that using your wrist in a god aweful twist…do that for a month straight and you might turning into a sea kayaker. plus the j-sroke is way overrated

Individual body mechanics
Your post illustrates that different people “feel” the strain in different ways. I have no trouble whatsoever with bending my wrist into a “God-awful twist”. I could do that all day for days and weeks, and can do strong prys that way if there’s a sudden unexpected need (though a thumb-up pry is more comfortable and can more-easily be micro-adjusted to rapidly accomodate goofy swirlys knocking the boat around). For me, it’s the forarm and elbow of my lower hand that needs some reinforcement during the correction phase of a J-stroke. I’ll reply to the original poster about that issue in just a moment.

As far as the J-stroke being over-rated, I think that depends on the person and the boat as well. Personally, I love the J-stroke. Some boats just don’t work well with sit-and-switch, and of course, having a rudder on your Sea Wind is the cat’s meow for long-distance cruising and providing the most efficient stroke correction of all, but that’s not something that most people can practically make use of. The correction phase of my J-stroke only takes a very small fraction of a second. I don’t drag the paddle blade like most folks do, so the “power-robbing” effect of correction (which, when closely analyzed, mostly boils down to decreased cadence) is minimized to a tolerable level (for me, in my boats - not necessarily for someone else). There’s plenty of room for variation in deciding what’s “best” for different people in different boats in different waters.

Bush-League Paddler Here!
I’m very analytical about how things work, and have thought and thought about J-stroke mechanics while paddling. For me, the toughest thing about a non-prying J-stroke is that my forarm is pushing outward in a direction that was simply not made for pushing. Pushing out with that arm postion uses the weakest of all muscles, and makes the poorest use of available strength of the elbow joint. With a stern pry, it’s natural to cock the lower arm into a position more amenable to pushing outward, but that process would be too slow and awkward when simply J-stroking along at a good clip, as it would eliminate the ability to simply lightly “flip” the blade momentarily as the stroke ends.

On the other hand, I don’t like to “clunk” the paddle on the gunwale. Becky Mason, of all people, does that, and she’s a darned good paddler, but that constant bumping sound is something I don’t want. Plus, it roughens and dents the paddle shaft, right in the area where my hand sometimes will slide, and I don’t want that either.

The solution I’ve adopted is to wear light gloves so that the heel of my hand can slide on the gunwale without binding, suddenly slipping in an unexpected way, or getting “rug burns” (a vinyl-gunwale problem with a rapid slide). Now my lower arm gets a complete reprive from the work load of correction, I can apply various degrees of correction with a prying action even while stroking, and there is no “clunk” of paddle shaft on gunwale. The amount of prying is actually very slight most of the time, which is why lightly resting the heel of my hand on the gunwale is all it takes, but taking that stress off my lower arm is necessary for me. When you see me wearing gloves, that’s why.

Sure, as a quaternary correction stroke

– Last Updated: Jul-20-11 4:28 PM EST –

I wouldn't use a gunwale pry as my primary, secondary or tertiary forward correction stroke for canoe touring.

Preliminarily, the J stroke should be assassinated by the Navy SEALS. It's a horribly uncomfortable stroke.

The primary forward correction stroke should be Mike Galt's C stroke. This presumes, of course, that you are stationed near the center to apply the bow draw component.

My favorite secondary stroke is what Bill Mason calls the Canadian stroke, which does the correction via a loaded forward slice return.

My tertiary stroke is something I call the "auto roll".

However, for a change of pace, I often use gunwale pries, almost always in the thumbs down (a la J stroke) position. I use a very quick, sharp and short outward levered jab. In fact, it's like a sharp J stroke; we might call it the L stroke. The outward jab correction push is done as a lever pulling motion with your grip hand arm, rather than an uncomfortable pushaway motion with your shaft hand arm.

Other times, I will keep the paddle shaft fixed against the gunwale as if it were in an oar lock. I will then "row" the paddle in a circular motion using palm rolls.

To me, no stroke is "wrong" if you are moving ahead with efficient corrections and having fun.

I think your "best" paddle is the one you should paddle with the most. After all, that's what supposedly makes it the best and justifies the cost. I wouldn't worry about dents at all on a paddle shaft, any more than I worry about wearing rubber off expensive Michelin tires.

Better yet, the shaft wood doesn't wear off like tire rubber. After about 10,000 dents the wimpy lightweight woods in high end paddles actually become so densified and indistinguishable that the shaft becomes smooth and hardened, as if it had been deliberately boned like a baseball bat or long bow.

2 types of J
There are 2 types of J stroke. The Flatwater J which has the top hand turning thumb down and the River J which as the top hand turning thumb up.

The River J is the quicker, more powerful correction stroke and there is every reason to be prying off the gunwale. The hard part of this one is tucking the paddle blade in tight to the hull to maximize the effect of your pry.

The Flatwater J is a lazier or more relaxed correction stroke that doesn’t try to generate as much power. It’s benefit over the River J is that it can flow smoothly into your recovery. The drawback is that twisting that top hand thumb down is a very stressed position for the wrist. That means not only can your wrist get sore from the repeated stretching but it also can’t generate the same power as the River J.

Now as to whether or not to pry off the gunwale, the question has more to do with how pretty your gunwales and or paddle are than anything. If you have aluminum gunwales then you aren’t going to hurt them with a pry. If you have wood gunwales and you’re tired of refinishing them, then not prying off them will help the finish last longer.

The choice of correction after the…
forward is a function of the strength of current. Often the thumb down correction (J Stroke) is just not strong enough to turn the canoe back on course. Under that circumstance I go to the inelegant thumb-up correction pried off the gunnel (Pry Stroke). Once under momentum one might choose the thumb-down, if the current allows. In other words the current dictates what can be accomplished. When possible, I prefer the J Stroke.

If conditions allow, I agree with CEW, a forward followed by however many cross-forwards necessary to correct course, is most efficient.

Ya takes what the river gives ya!


Do ah’ use de J stroke?

– Last Updated: Jul-20-11 5:42 PM EST –

Yep! At times ah' do, but fer de vast majority o' me flat ta moderate movin' water (even in de Pine Barrens) paddlin' ah' rely on de "Indian" stroke wit de palm roll. It's gotten so ingrained in me muscles ah' gots ta actually think ta use a J stroke anymore. Now gittin' back ta de pernt - do ah' use de stern pry (goon stroke)off de gunnels? Ye bet'ya ah' do in movin' water. Like dem Pilgrims already proclaimed it be a'mighty powerful stroke. In fast water ah' likes dat stroke an' along wit draws an' prys - Canadian style ah' sometime combine several strokes inta some kind'a "hybrid" stroke wit great entooseeassoome.


No need to stress your arm with the

– Last Updated: Jul-20-11 6:03 PM EST –

J stroke...after turning thumb down and noting it makes your arm stretch along the top, do a palm roll. Without moving the paddle take your grip hand and move it from thumb down to thumb up.

The other common error is that people hold the paddle like a club..tightly. The shaft hand has a very loose grip and the paddle can rotate freely. Dont do the J with a firmly held shaft hand and a rotation downward with that hand. That is unnecessarily hard on your shaft wrist.

The above applies to the flatwater J..not the stern pry.

Terminology and correction blending
(Preliminarily, I read the OP’s topic as asking about a repetitive touring stroke, not about a means of quick acceleration such as a cross forward stroke.)

Rob, people can call things whatever they want – and in canoeing they historically have done so – but what you’re calling the (thumb up) River J is called the goon stroke by Mason and a rudder-plus-pry or ruddering pry by others.

I think “J stroke” should be reserved for the (thumb down) stern pushaway correction. Most top WW racers in fact use this (thumb down) J stroke; most recreational WW paddlers probably use the (thumb up) stern rudder and pry. For a repetitive touring stroke in FW using a pry off the gunwales – which I read as the topic question – I like a thumb down pry correction.

Not counting the Foster-Wilson “inside circle forward stroke”, there 7 ways in Masonic terminology to correct a forward stroke. The discomfort and weakness of the thumbs down J correction can be assisted or supplanted by using one or more of the other corrections, especially in blends:

  1. Bow draw correction at beginning of the stroke (C stroke)
  2. Pitched blade angle during the pull phase (pitch stroke)
  3. Thumbs up ruddering pry at end of stroke (goon stroke)
  4. Thumbs down pushaway at end of stroke (J stroke)
  5. Thumbs down gunwale pry at end of stroke (my stroke)
  6. Loaded in-water return slice during recovery phase (Canadian stroke)
  7. Loaded in-water return slice with palm roll during recovery phase (Indian stroke)

    Perhaps like FE, my primary forward correction stroke is a blend of these different stroke phase corrections – usually 1+6 on lakes or 1+7 on twisty streams, but also several of the other combinations just for changes of pace or aesthetics. It becomes completely unconscious and reflexive after many years.

J stroke is needed for stern tandem,
but I’ve learned to dispense with it almost entirely for solo paddling. I’m getting tired of explaining how, so y’all are going to have to figure it out for yourselves.

One thing. Watch people J stroke and you’ll see most of them are dragging the paddle just as much as they would do with the “goon” or rudder stroke. Shorten your stroke, do your J without trailing your paddle back behind you.

nope not needed
most long distance travellers do not use a pure J at all but a Northwoods or Canadian…both rely on a pitch of the blade front edge downward during a slicing recovery.

And the fastest stroke for the sternsman is the hit and switch in tandem with the bow…Bow sets the cadence but its often too fast to allow the stern to do the J…Either the bow slows down and the stern does the J or both do hit and switch…

And like the kayak forward stroke, that is not a stroke easy to do well.

Yes, but my pries from the gunwale are

– Last Updated: Jul-20-11 10:03 PM EST –

more of a quick "pop" when wind is a real factor...once done, getting the paddle back in the air and then into the water again...cleanly can be a momentum saver in heavy wind. I know prized expensive paddle owners are now cringing(LOL) but I enjoy paddling on crystal clear, windy days...especially in the extreme heat of summer, where up here the cooling wind on an 80+deg day, on the water is the place to be...and anyday paddling up here beats any day back in my cubicle, or waiting for system problems calls while at home.
My strokes are somewhat short anyways so I'm pretty aware of where the blade is and what it's doing. Think it's more of a windy environment stroke as the speed of it can far surpass anything where you either use more arm/muscle movement but can be useful in conjunction with an offside stroke or two now &'s just one of those variations on a stroke that's good to have in your arsenal for when you need it I think....

Like what was said, you may, but no point in doing it continually. Sometimes, when fighting wind, it is better to switch sides than have to do hard J strokes. Underway, hard J strokes are not usually necessary. Canadian stroke is a bit more comfortable for me.

If you are having trouble, I would suggest to slow down, and have your partner slow down, both the cadence and effort, until you get smooth and confident. Under maximum sprinting power, it can be difficult to do a J stroke

I agree sit and switch is more efficient, assuming a boat that tracks OK.

Like what was said, you may, but no point in doing it continually. Sometimes, when fighting wind, it is better to switch sides than have to do hard J strokes. Underway, hard J strokes are not usually necessary. Canadian stroke is a bit more comfortable for me.

If you are having trouble, I would suggest to slow down, and have your partner slow down, both the cadence and effort, until you get smooth and confident. The old “slow is smooth and smooth is fast”. Under maximum sprinting power, it can be difficult to do a J stroke at all, given the very short time for correction.

I agree sit and switch is more efficient, assuming a boat that tracks OK. Having said that, I think everyone should learn both ways to keep a course.

Blended Strokes
Yep, I believe that blended strokes is part of the beauty of it all. I rather enjoy the feeling of reacting to the effects of various fickle combinations of wind or turbulence or obstacles, and have the stroke just sort of automatically become something different at various moments to get the job done.