You are not logged in. Would you like to login or register?

10/25/2019 6:28 am  #1

Canoe Strokes

A recent trip report thread triggered my thoughts on canoe paddle strokes.  There was a comment that the J stroke was found to be too inefficient and I was wondering if we all approach it the same way (after typing that, I realize how absurd it is to think we might do things the same way).

I am a dominant left hand paddler...probably 60-70% of the time.  When I started learning a J stroke it was primarily a standard stroke with the turn of the blade at the end to act like a rudder and correct direction.  However, I found that "rudder portion" of the stroke substantially slowed my progress.  So I started experimenting with holding the paddle at a slightly rotated angle throughout the stroke and lifting outwards at the end of the stroke.  Instead of having the power face of the blade pointing towards six o'clock, it is closer to seven or seven-thirty.  This isn't as efficient as a pure, straight stroke, but it maintained forward momentum better.

With my rotation-adjusted stroke it does tend to push the canoe slightly to the right while the bow points slightly to the left of my direction of travel.  In other words, I kind of side-slip the canoe...probably a ten degree difference between where the bow is pointing and my direction of travel.  I know that isn't optimally efficient considering hydro-dynamics and bow design, but it feels more efficient than the rudder slow-down.

Do others do this?  Am I just one more step in a progression to reach paddling nirvana that is just around the corner with the "perfect stroke"?

This isn't a worthwhile issue when paddling tandem...more just for solo ventures.


10/26/2019 7:25 am  #2

Re: Canoe Strokes

I think what you are describing is known as a pitch stroke. If you are slowing down when completing your J, I would first want to make sure that you are not actually performing a goonie (goon stroke). Thumb down for a J, up for a goon. If conditions are making for unstable progress, I will vary my technique as needed and this might be as frequent as every stroke - J, J, pitch, pitch, pitch, power, power, goonie with an extended pry, and so on. Otherwise, I J all the time with the odd Canadian thrown in.


10/27/2019 9:07 pm  #3

Re: Canoe Strokes

Pitch is a powerful; stroke, not intended for many hours of lake paddling. I doubt that PaPaddler is talking about the pitch. I also not sure what "lifting outwards" means in this context - is it Canadian-style correction?
My problem with envisioning such 10-degree off straight line stroke is that the paddle is traveling away from the canoe from the very beginning of the stroke, which requires it (paddle) to get off the vertical more and more as the stroke progresses - and the less vertical the paddle is during the power phase the more correction required, or so I heard. Probably, my interpretation of the PaP description is wrong.


10/28/2019 8:10 am  #4

Re: Canoe Strokes

If you are slowing down on your J stroke, whether it is a flat water J or a RIver J, then you are prying out too far at the end of the stroke.

The ergonomics of the flatwater J are really quite horrible. It puts a lot of strain on the shoulder and wrist, which in turn steals a lot of power from the pry portion. In the right conditions it is a nice smooth stroke with an easy recovery, but it is not always the right stroke. The best part of the flatwater J is that the twist naturally draws the blade into the side of the canoe rather than away. 

The River J is harder to master as the twist would like to draw the paddle blade away from the canoe. However the ergonomics of the River J are way way way better than the flatwater J as it keeps joints properly aligned giving the pry portion of the stroke far more power and hence effectiveness.  I think I finally have my River J in good shape after spending 10 days on the Redstone River in the NWT last summer. 

(Note: the term "goon" stroke is an archaic label for a River J)


10/28/2019 11:15 am  #5

Re: Canoe Strokes

I did some quick research to make sure we are comparing apples to apples (I had never heard the 'goon stroke' term before). 

First, to respond to Eddyturn's question:  when I said 'lifting outwards' I should have described it as finishing the stroke with a slight power face pry...and it is certainly a 'thumb-down' on the upper hand. 

From what I saw of the goon stroke, that is a rudder or pry with the back face of the paddle - which would cause substantial reduction in forward motion as well as rather awkward paddle rotation...and I am by no means doing that.

I believe the most accurate 'defined' stroke that matches what I do was, in fact, the Pitch stroke.  However, I saw two descriptions of the pitch stroke that were conflicting.  The link below describes the pitch quite similar to my adopted method...and also includes a 'northwoods' stroke that isn't too different (and you will notice that the subject in the video has a slight lateral movement of the canoe with this stroke - so the direction of travel is slightly different than where the bow is pointing).   I will occasionally finish with a 'Canadian' stroke by returning the paddle forward while keeping it in the water.

Thanks for all of the insights - I think it is always worthwhile to question/challenge the status quo to figure there a better way to do this???

     Thread Starter

10/28/2019 11:50 am  #6

Re: Canoe Strokes

Or , I got it: you don't move the paddle towards 7:30, but that's the direction it faces. I should heave read your post more carefully. And answering your question: absolutely! There is a better way, always.
My favorite is sit-and-switch that takes no toll on wrist and shoulders, but it's not of much use in adverse condition. It's very effective on Algonquin-style very narrow and winding rivers, where any other stroke will require constant correction.


10/28/2019 8:57 pm  #7

Re: Canoe Strokes

I use the J when I'm not in a particular rush but I find I'm surprisingly much more efficient with the goon and it feels more natural to me.

Trip Reports & Campsite Pictures

10/29/2019 6:37 am  #8

Re: Canoe Strokes

I'll have to try some goon strokes as well!

     Thread Starter

10/29/2019 8:05 pm  #9

Re: Canoe Strokes

@PaPaddler that link to Charles Burchill is great! He is a master of technique.

Eddy Turn and I started this conversation in that other thread. So, at the risk of boring people to death and promoting the wrong way to paddle, here is the extended version from that trip of me paddling a solo canoe, on the left hand side, J-Stroking, forever.

Actually I think there are very few J's (and C's). It's more of a Canadian Stroke with most of the correction happening on the retrieve. I think my bent shaft paddle with its small surface area and very thin blade is fine for this. I drop the paddle shaft low and in front of my body and have a great deal of control over both the angle and depth of the blade on the retrieve. Both of these elements effect correction. By dropping the hand low and across the body, you also minimize the pain from wrist overextension that comes with performing a more vertical retrieve after a J-Stroke. I think the video shows this is a very efficient way to paddle.
If you take the time to watch the video I am referring more to the times that I am going straight as opposed to cornering. If there were more switch backs and ox bows you would have seen me switch side a few times in order to accelerate more through turns.



10/30/2019 8:09 pm  #10

Re: Canoe Strokes

Thanks for the video - nice paddle work! I never thought of Canadian with a bent-shaft, definitely will try it next season. Not sure about C and especially cross-draw with a bent - short reach kind of  takes the life out of these strokes. I knew very proficient open canoe slalom paddler that paddled a regular size (not a shorty) bent-shaft on the course, using the whole arsenal of strokes and changing sides whenever he liked it. He was on the podium more often than not. My point is that there are things possible and things feasible and the line between them depends on one's skills. I'd never go into a rapid with a bent-shaft paddle. Or without a spare for that matter.


10/31/2019 7:07 am  #11

Re: Canoe Strokes

@MartinG - our strokes are quite similar - I add a little more of a rotation to the shaft of my paddle earlier in the stroke but likely due to the fact that I'm paddling a tandem canoe from the front seat which doesn't respond as well to solo paddling as the boat you are in.

Very helpful, thank you!

     Thread Starter

Board footera

LNT Canada is a national non-profit organization dedicated to promoting responsible outdoor recreation through education, research and partnerships.