The best canoe paddle strokes to learn for beginners are the basic strokes that propel the canoe forward, slow or stop the canoe and change the direction in which the boat is moving. It is essential to learn these most basic paddle strokes to move through the water safely and efficiently. Once the basic strokes are mastered,the beginner canoe paddler can use the skills gained from these strokes and learn more advance paddling techniques.
The most basic paddle stroke to learn is the forward stroke. The forward stroke is the easiest to learn and acts as the basis for all the other strokes. Make sure to keep the paddle in a near vertical position, then dip the paddle into the water and then draw it straight back. Bring the paddle forward again, put it into the water, and draw it back.
The forward stroke propels the boat forward but it can also be used to turn the boat. To continue paddling forward, alternate paddling sides every four to five strokes.
The back stroke is essentially the same stroke as the forward stroke, except that it is done in reverse. The back stroke is used for stopping and slowing the canoe as well as moving the canoe backward.
The draw stroke is used to change the direction of the canoe when you are traveling forward. The draw stroke can be used by the paddler in the bow (back) of the canoe to correct for the stern (front) paddler, by the stern paddler to keep moving forward in a straight direction without having to change sides frequently or to quickly change the direction of the boat.
Dip the paddle into the water vertically about an arm’s length away with the blade of the paddle facing you. Quickly draw the paddle toward the boat being careful not to get the paddle caught under the boat. Being proficient at the draw stroke is necessary during whitewater canoeing; the draw stroke enables a quick change in direction to avoid hitting rocks or other obstacles.
The J-stroke is a more advanced paddling technique that keeps the canoe on a straight course compensating for any sideward motion from wind; it is often used to avoid the turning associated with the forward stroke.
Begin the J-stroke like the forward stroke, but as the paddle reaches the area of the paddler’s hips, rotate the paddle, and turn it away form the canoe. When you practice the J-stroke, just imagine that you are carving the letter “J” with your paddle. Once perfected, the J-stroke makes paddling easier and more efficient in flat water.