How Canoeing Works

Paddling Strokes

Did you realize that, except for the wind, all the energy used to move your canoe through the water is transmitted through your paddle? [source:]. All canoe strokes work on the same principle -- for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. This is Newton's third law of motion.

The most basic canoeing strokes can serve a beginner canoeist very well. These versatile, simple strokes can be built on when a canoeist becomes more advanced. Let's take a look at some of the most common strokes. All of these use one hand as the shaft hand and one as the grip hand. As you learned previously, the shaft hand is the upper hand and the grip hand is the lower.

To move your canoe forward, use the force.

Use the backwater to move your canoe backwards. Extend your paddle straight back with your fingers facing down. Insert the blade in the water and push forward.

Sometimes you'll just want to keep your canoe still. Use the hold stroke to prevent headway. One way to stop your canoe is to stroke in the direct opposition to the stroke you were doing -- the opposite of the straightaway. Another way to do this is to paddle horizontally across the canoe. Push your grip hand straight up across your body while pulling the shaft against the canoe with your lower hand.

When you want to change the direction of the canoe, use the draw. You can pivot or broadside your canoe using this stroke. To move the canoe in the direction of your paddling side, maintain the position of your hands on the paddle. Lower the grip hand with your fingers up, and extend the blade out in line with your hip, with the flat portion of the blade facing the canoe. Put the blade into the water. Then, as you push your grip hand across your body towards the water, pull the lower portion of the paddle toward the canoe with the shaft hand so you get an equal push-pull action.

The opposite of the draw is the pushstroke which pushes the canoe away from the paddling side. Insert the blade straight down and slightly under the canoe so that the flat part faces the side of the canoe. The grip hand should be out over the water as if you were trying to pry the canoe loose with the paddle. Push with the shaft hand, and pull down with the grip hand using equal pressure.

To keep a straight course and offset sideward motion from wind or the stern paddler's strokes, use the j-stroke. Start this stroke like you start the straightaway. As the paddle reaches the area of your hips, start turning the blade away from the canoe by turning the grip in a clockwise direction. Apply continual pressure against the water by pushing with the shaft hand, and pull with the grip hand. As you finish, the blade should be in a position with the flat portion parallel to the side of the canoe.

If you're the sternman, another stroke you'll use is the sweep stroke. Do this to turn the bow from your stern's paddling side without affecting speed. With the grip hand at waist level and the flat portion of the blade facing forward, extend your paddle to the side in line with your hip and horizontally sweep back toward the stern. Pull with the bottom hand and push horizontally with your grip hand to get leverage.

Depending on the direction you wish to turn your canoe, here are a few ways to turn your canoe:

  • Both paddlers draw.
  • Bow does a reverse sweep; stern a forward sweep
  • Bow does backwater; stern a straightaway
  • Both do pushaway
  • Bow does forward sweep; stern a reverse sweep
  • Bow does straightaway; stern a back water

By now, you can probably paddle with your eyes closed. What's next? Here comes the fun part -- let's explore popular canoeing destinations.