Learning the basics of paddling

A vital element of leaning to canoe is learning how to paddle correctly and effectively. There are three basic stokes to master, and here we will divulge into how to perform each stroke and a few handy tips on how to better your performance in the water:



Forward Stroke

This is the most basic stroke to learn, and is essential for getting to grips with all other stokes, as this gives you the basic form. You should ensure that you sit up straight in your canoe whilst performing all strokes, as correct posture is vital for success.

  • Begin by raising the paddle out of the water, bringing your top hand up above your head and the paddle in a vertical position to the water.

  • Next, push the lower hand forward pushing the paddle blade toward the front end of your canoe.

  • Then place the blade of the paddle into the water keeping the blade perpendicular to the water.

  • Now, you want to begin to slowly pull the paddle along the side of the canoe, pushing downwards with the top hand and pull back with the bottom hand.

  • You need to make use of your torso, by rotating your upper body to match the stoke, this should give your stroke power, with the momentum coming from the torso more so than the arms.

  • Finally, bring the paddle out of the water once it has been pulled up behind your body and repeat the first step.


A little more advanced, however the J-stroke is an essential to keep your canoe heading in the correct direction. Usually used by the canoeist sat in the stern of the boast, this has more of a correctional function than the person steering but still helps the canoe to keep moving forward.

  • The J-Stroke begins in the same way as a forward stroke by raising the paddle and ensuring that it is not angled across the body, but in a vertical position, then entering the paddle into the water and pulling it along in a straight line beside the canoe.

  • Nearing the end of the stroke, you will need to rotate the paddle blade so that it is in a ruddering position. This should be done by twisting your top hand in a downwards motion – the thumb of your top hand should be facing towards the water.

  • At this point, your bottom hand should push the paddle away from the canoe, and the movement as a whole will form a letter “J” in the water.

  • This should help to keep you on a straight journey, correcting the canoes position that is altered from paddling on both sides of the boat.

Draw Stroke

The draw stroke, along with the J stroke, will help you to keep the kayak on its path, rather than veering off as you paddle from side to side.

  • Again, for the draw stroke you wish to raise your paddle, ensuring that it is not angled across the body, however, for this movement, you want to ensure that the blade is parallel to the canoe, rather than perpendicular, so that you can draw the paddle towards the side of the boat.

  • Next you want your lower hand to reach with the paddle as far away as possible – whilst still maintaining the upright position and place the blade in the water.

  • You then need to pull the paddle towards the canoe, when the paddle is nearing the side of the boat, you need to twist the blade again and pull backwards – as you would in a forward stoke – and lift the paddle out of the water with a slicing motion.

  • Remember to use your upper body rotation to give power to your movement.

If you’re looking to better your canoe paddling skills, why not take a look at our paddles for sale and get yourself a fresh set to learn your new skills!

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