The 3 Most Important Canoe Strokes to Learn

Learn How to Canoe the Right Way

Canoeing Coldwater Creek a Close Call with a Branch
George E. Sayour

It should be surprising that most canoe owners don't know how to canoe. Unfortunately, this is too easily evidenced by watching people fumble around in their canoes while out on the water. All too often these people only employ one type of canoe stroke and switch the side they are paddling on way too frequently. And yet, even this one stroke, the forward stroke, is not executed correctly.  

This guide will explain the skill progression of learning the different canoe strokes from the anatomy of a stroke to the forward, J, and draw strokes which will advance your paddling and enjoyment of the sport of canoeing.

Difficulty: Average to Intermediate

Time Required: It will take a few months of practice to perfect these strokes, maybe less, maybe more.

How to Learn Canoe Strokes

  1. Learn the Anatomy of a Canoe Stroke
    There are many different canoe strokes that can and should be called upon during every canoe outing. The one thing that all of the strokes have in common is their anatomy. That is, all canoe strokes are made up of the same parts. The three phases of every canoe stroke are the catch phase, the power phase, and the recovery phase. Having knowledge about the purpose of each phase will help speed up the learning curve toward mastery of each stroke.
  2. Learn the Canoe Forward Stroke:
    The first canoe stroke to learn is the forward stroke. This stroke is the basis for all other strokes. It is also the primary stroke that the canoeist seated in the bow of the canoe will use. Although basic, the forward stroke requires proper form which includes sitting up straight and the proper torso rotation.
  1. Learn the Canoe J-Stroke:
    The j-stroke is the first “advanced” stroke you should learn. It is crucial toward keeping the canoe tracking properly. The j-stroke is used by the canoeist in the stern of the c,anoe as a way to correct or compensate for the direction of the canoe. With each forward stroke the canoe wants to turn to the opposite side. The j-stroke helps to correct that tendency while keeping the canoe moving forward.
  1. Learn the Canoe Draw Stroke:
    Like the j-stroke, the draw stroke is meant to correct the canoe's direction while keeping the canoeing moving forward. The draw stroke is effective when utilized by the paddler in the bow of the canoe as a way to help the paddler in the stern correct or compensate for the direction of the canoe.
  2. Learn to Paddle in Tandem:
    Perhaps one of the most difficult things about paddling a canoe is to learn to paddle in tandem. The paddler in the stern is the one who controls the canoe's direction. It is for this reason that the more experienced canoeist should be in the stern. The bow and stern paddlers should paddle on opposite sides of the canoe. Proper use of the strokes listed above will alleviate the need to switch sides excessively. Switching sides, therefore, becomes a way to receive an even workout while canoeing and not a necessity for keeping the canoeing moving in a straight direction.​

Tips for Learning How to Canoe

  1. Practice each step on both sides of the canoe.
  2. Practice with a friend.
  3. Be patient.

What You Need

  • Canoe
  • Paddle
  • PFD
  • Partner
  • Patience