proper J-stroke question

Well said…
…shorten your stroke and do your “J” earlier…depending on the boat it may even be slightly before your hip when kneeling.

I often tell new students it truly is a “feel” thing and simply spending more time paddling–using basically sound techniques that you’re learning in class–will allow you to paddle in a straight line. Some don’t believe it.

You dont have to assume a hard tracker
With practice I am having a blast in my Colden Dragonfly with my Zav bent. The DragonFly has symmetrical rocker two inches rear and forward.

Works in my Nakoma too…two and a half inches rocker each end…

Just pay attention to the symmetry of the bow wave and if the bow gets a little off back off the power which reduced the amplitude of the wave pinning your bow. Then you can easily correct.

thanks for all the responses
I am indeed talking about the “thumb down” flatwater j-stroke, not the “thumb up” whitewater “stern pry”. I probably should have said lever off the gunwale instead of pry to reduce confusion.

I paddle a Esquif Avalon, mainly solo from the bow seat facing stern. Often with my kids, but they don’t help a whole lot. Although the boat responds well to a c-stroke, I find it a little easier to hit n’ switch a few times to get up to speed and then j-stroke after that.

After years and years of just goon stroking and not knowing or caring about anything better, I’m trying to learn to paddle “the right way”. “Thumb down” felt weird at first, but is pretty intuitive now. I do tend to change my stroke mechanics depending on the wind and current or my fatigue level. But in general, I’ve found a nice strong torso-driven pull and a quick lever off the gunwale, leaving my lower shaft grip pretty loose, works best for me. It seems a little inelegant, so that’s why I threw out the question for expert opinion. And I’ve also seen the j-stroke demonstrated different ways in various books and You-Tube videos. I’m glad to hear that Becky Mason hits her gunwale too; that makes me feel better about my technique.

I would sure love to learn how to do a slicing in-water recovery ala Canadian and Indian-style. Looks so cool. But its a little beyond me at this point. I hear its easier with an ottertail paddle.

Check out dis…
fer some visual instruction o’ de Canadian an’ Indian strokes.


River J
The term River J came from my ORCA whitewater courses. As you said, labels are just that and anyone can make one up. I certainly make up enough labels, but for once this one came from an ‘official’ source - albeit a few decades after Mason used the label Goon Stroke. :slight_smile:

C and sliced return corrections.

– Last Updated: Jul-21-11 2:27 PM EST –

The C stroke's effectiveness will diminish as your paddling station moves further astern. The bow draw component obviously can't work unless you can reach into the on-side bow quadrant of the canoe.

To explain the return slice correction of the Canadian and Indian strokes, mentally paint a big "P" on one face of your paddle to denote the power face.

During the pull phase of a forward stroke the P is facing astern, and the stern begins to slide toward the on-side, causing the bow to turn to the off-side. Your correction is intended to move the stern, and hence the bow, back in the other directions. You can induce this course correction force at the end of your forward stroke in three general ways.

Each of the three ways begins with the thumb down rotation of the grip hand thumb, which turns the P face away from the canoe. The next action is doing one of three things with the paddle to put force onto the P face, which in reaction will apply a "correcting" force on the stern.

1. Gunwale Pry. Lever the paddle with a quick pop off the gunwale just behind your hip with a pull of your GRIP ARM. This is the quickest and most abrupt way to correct in the stern, and without wasting time on an extended rudder or a dragging paddle.

2. J Stroke. Without touching the gunwale, push the P face laterally further away from the stern with your SHAFT ARM. This outward push movement of your shaft forearm, which has nothing necessarily to do with how tight you are holding the shaft, is the movement that can feel very awkward, straining and tiring.

-- Note on the paddle return after 1 or 2: You return the blade after the correction force via the air or via a neutral slice through the water up to the bow to to begin the next stroke. By "neutral" in-water return, I mean a slice return that puts no pressure on the P face or back face during the slice.

3. Canadian Stroke. Begin as a J stroke, except don't do the lateral pushaway part. Instead, just slice the paddle toward the bow in the water, with the P face away from the canoe, and LIFT UP on the paddle as it is slicing forward. This slicing lift will put force ("load") on the P face and cause the stern to correct. Hence, the Canadian stroke corrects the course during the return itself -- giving two benefits for one efficient paddle move.

This lifting in-water return slice is easier on the shaft forearm than the J's lateral pushaway, and feels a lot more elegant. You don't have to lift very hard, and the lifting slice only has to last for about 15"-18" of forward motion to accomplish the correction. (You can vary the length by the amount of your lifting force.) Once you feel the correction is accomplished, you can pop the blade out of the water, which feels and sounds neat, and finish the return to the bow through the air. Alternatively, once the correction is complete, you can stop the lifting force and continue the return with a neutral in-water slice.

Once you have mastered the Canadian stroke's lifting ("loaded") slice return, you can then try what I believe is properly termed the Indian stroke. To do this, you do a 180 degree palm roll before beginning the loaded return slice. This has the same stern correction dynamic, but orients the P face so it is facing the canoe. This puts your grip hand and wrist in a more convenient orientation to begin the next forward stroke when you finish the in-water slice return.

Correction to Indian-Stroke Description?

– Last Updated: Jul-21-11 6:21 PM EST –

The way I interpret your description of the Indian stroke is to rotate the paddle 180 degrees in the opposite direction as what is actually the case. Whether that's what you intended to say, I don't know. Here's how I would describe it.

Apply a standard power stroke, and at the point where the power face turns outward and pushes slightly outward with a J-stroke, the Indian stroke acts very much the same, so the power face actually turns to face AWAY from the boat. Thus, if paddling on the right side of the boat, the paddle shaft begins to rotate counter-clockwise as the correction phase of the stroke begins (that is, it's counter-clockwise as viewed from above). Immediately after the portion of the recovery that is similar to that of a J-stroke, the slicing underwater recovery begins, and correction can be applied during any or all of this recovery phase (the palm roll is needed to rotate the shaft this much). At the forward reach of the underwater recovery, the the paddle shaft begins to rotate a little more, in the same direction as before, initiating what is much like the beginning of a C-stroke (no palm roll needed at this point), and from there, the rotation continues to complete a full 180-degree-rotation cycle just as the next power stroke begins.

I don't think you actually intended to describe the rotation as turning the power face toward the boat during recovery, as that would require the same kind of action at the end of the power stroke as with the goon stroke (wasted energy on two-way cyclic motion instead of progressively curving motion), and the transition from slicing recovery to power stroke would be awkward for the same reason, IF a 180-degree turn were applied (if the power face were the same on successive strokes, turning the power face toward the boat would be best, but that wouldn't be an Indian stroke).

Just to make sure I'm not doing this wrong and spouting stupid info, I consulted Bill Mason's "Path of the Paddle". Yep, I've been doing it correctly.

thanks for the link!

Been away from the web for a week
and just found this thread. Cannot help myself…must…comment…

A “J” stroke is a “J” stroke. Thumb down.

A Goon Stroke is not a backwards “J” stroke nor an “alternative J stroke” nor a “upside down J stroke”. It is a gunwale pry. Useful in the proper conditions. Ugly in all but a few.


F’n Purist in a Tillery

J stroke, letting the paddle rotate
I know people say not to twist the wrist on the lower hand; let it rotate freely. But how many actually do this? I kind of thought I did, until I really thought about it this weekend.

Turns out that I don’t let the paddle shaft rotate freely. I rotate my wrist. I tried letting it rotate. But it seemed less efficient. It introduced unnecessary friction.

How many here actually let the paddle rotate in their lower hand?

I do that occasionally.
Mostly while puttering about. A quiet technique.


Did you know that osprey are nesting at the McHenry launch?

Yes, I mispoke on the Indian stroke
The second half of my second to last sentence was incorrect about the orientation of the P face.

The palm roll at the beginning of the in-water return does not affect the orientation of the P face, which stays pointed away from the canoe. The palm roll just changes by 180 degrees the orientation of the top hand on the grip, which my last sentence was supposed to make clear. This allows your grip to be ready for the next forward stroke. Otherwise, you would have to do a palm roll – or paddle blade twist – at the beginning at the next forward stroke.

The Mason video linked by FE is the best free video I know for showing his four canonical forward correction strokes. He specifically mentions prying off the gunwale for extra power during his discussion of the J stroke and also the Canadian stroke.

The one important missing ingredient in this video is that Mason doesn’t specifically list the C stroke as a forward correction stroke, probably because he always paddled a tandem canoe and not a short modern solo. However, he does go on to demonstrate a bow draw component of a forward stroke when discussing the Indian and draw strokes.


– Last Updated: Jul-25-11 9:41 PM EST –

because I do palm rolls and then an inwater recovery.

Letting the shaft hand be loose is a big help to aid students to learn their first FreesStyle move axle . Its preceded by a slicing inwater recovery.

My students all learn it..Whether they use it day to day is up to them but most seem to when they return for more classes.

When I dont want the friction loss of an inwater recovery I go to hit and switch.

Sorry that this appeared in the wrong was a response to Brian

I was trying to ask about the j stroke

– Last Updated: Jul-25-11 9:53 PM EST –

When you J stroke, do you rotate the lower wrist or let the shaft rotate freely in a loose lower hand?

Edit: I just re-read one of your earlier posts and it sounds like you do keep a loose lower hand.

The j-stroke is subtle

– Last Updated: Jul-25-11 10:36 PM EST –

Let the shaft rotate in your lower hand.

I paddle 120 days/year...about 100 of that solo, so I am j-stroking a lot with a traditional long blade paddle.

To answer the original question. I do not pry off of the gunwale unless I am making a big fast correction (and I actually found that I put my hitchhiker thumb against the gunwale when I do that). I rarely need to make big fast corrections because I use the j-stroke to make small corrections with each stroke.

The trick with the j-stroke is not to be too "digital" about it. It's not an on/off thing where part of the stroke is a forward stroke and then you turn-on the steering correction part. Sometimes I gently cant the blade in mid-stroke..and that's enough, sometimes it looks a bit more like what you think a j-stroke looks like. The idea is for your paddling to be eventually stop thinking about specific strokes and just move the paddle the way it needs to be moved. There are no rules.
It just takes time and practice.
Use the Force, Luke.

That’s the only way I do it.

– Last Updated: Jul-26-11 8:33 AM EST –

I always spin the shaft with my top hand, and let it rotate within a loose grip of my bottom hand. Never occurred to me that there was another way. Same goes for all the other shaft-rotating strokes, including sculling the boat sideways.

I think perhaps one reason I do it that way is related to the body-mechanics stuff I spoke of earlier. I simply cannot push outward very well with what amounts to a lateral force at the wrist joint. It strains both the wrist and elbow if done for long periods of time. If anything, I rotate my lower hand a little bit in the opposite direction you describe, not as much as one would do with a goon stroke, but it's the same idea, because it changes the outward-pushing part of the stroke to be a little more in-line with my hand, wrist, and fore arm, so there's less moment arm and more straight-line push.

I've got skinny arms and wrists though. Most guys are built a lot more robustly than I.

By the way, in light of some other recent comments here, I'll point out that for normal strokes I don't actually make the blade move outward any noticeable amount at the end - it's just a little flip and angle change, but there is a bit of force to counteract with the hands as that occurs.

Loose lower hand

– Last Updated: Jul-26-11 1:05 AM EST –

You are talking about the point at the end of the forward stroke where you rotate the P face from facing astern to turning away from the canoe. I'll call this the "J rotation".

You can, of course, hold your shaft hand tight or loose when executing the J rotation. I think it's better to hold it loose, because you can then apply the rotation force via your top grip hand.

If you hold your shaft hand tight, you will tend to apply the J rotation force via that shaft hand, by curling your shaft wrist downward. This tightly gripped curl will tire your shaft wrist and forearm. Then, you have to do the lateral pushaway of the J with that tightly gripped and curled down wrist, another tiresome move.

It's less straining to execute the J rotation simply by holding your shaft hand loose and rotating the paddle via the force of your top grip hand, by turning your top wrist all the way thumb down. This relieves almost all of the torque and strain on your shaft grip, wrist and forearm.

You can then: (a) nudge the paddle into the J pushaway; (b) slice the shaft diagonally forward and upward into a Canadian stroke recovery; or (c) palm roll your top grip hand and slice the paddle into an Indian stroke recovery.

Yes, there is some friction as the paddle rotates through your shaft hand, if that's what you are talking about, but that's really trivial and becomes unnoticeable. Kayakers with offset blades rotate their shafts through their non-control hand on every stroke.

Good point…
about the on-off thing. My J stroke is a gradual thing; starts out as a straight power stroke but as the blade comes back close to even with my body I’m starting to turn thumb down and rotate it. Farther back the stroke goes the more the shaft rotates. I seldom have to do any kind of outward movement of the blade at the end of the stroke, the angle of the blade is all that’s needed for correction in flat or slow moving water. So no need to pry off the gunwale. I’ll occasionally use the goon stroke as a change of pace or to make a serious correction in faster water, but compared to the J stroke it’s a momentum killer. And I can’t stand to hear the clunk on the gunwale, so if anything touches the gunwale it’s my shaft hand, never the paddle itself.

Rather Crude
I vote “busch league.” I wouldn’t dare do that using a carbon shaft, even when doing a reverse bow jamb.

OK again…
the choice of corrective action is more a function of conditions, hull type, solo vs. tandem, and load. From a standstill, in heavy current or WW, in heavy wind, in a heavily rockered hull, or with a heavily loaded canoe the thumb-up correction might be necessary, especially for those first few strokes. You’ll know when the J-correction cannot be used as the hull cannot be effectively moved and the stronger but cruder thumb-up is necessary.

A very common mistake in moving forward, is too much correction required to turn the hull back on course which reduces efficiency. After gaining momentum, the corrective part of the forward sequence should be small. For most recreation paddlers it is too much and that is due to poor technique during the pure forward phase. In other words, if the corrected style of forward movement is composed of two parts, the pure forward plus some sort of correction. When the pure forward is done well, the correction part will be negligible, except when starting from a standstill in moving water, or in heavy wind, or a heavily loaded or rockered hull. Confused yet? HTH