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Canoe Strokes

Some of the basic strokes in paddling are the forward stroke, the J-Stroke, and various forms of cross strokes, including cross forward, cross draw and cross back.

Forward Stroke

The paddle enters the water comfortably ahead of the paddler' s position. With the blade perpendicular to the keel line and the paddle vertical, pull straight along the side of the canoe. Keep both arms relatively straight throughout all phases of the stroke. Push forward and down over the blade with the top arm and pull with the lower arm. Body and shoulder rotation provides much of the power.


This stroke provides forward momentum at the same time that it keeps the canoe on a straight course. Start off with a forward stroke, but then push the top hand farther out over the water than the lower hand. This motion moves the blade under the boat and carves the -by levering the paddle off the boat. The last push away from the boat should be a quick one.

Cross Forward

Executed parallel to the canoe' s centerline. Both hands remain over the water, keeping the paddle shaft vertical to the water. The stroke is short and performed in front of the body. The paddle is planted as far forward as a person can lean comfortably. Move the upper body forcefully to an upright position and stop the stroke at your knees. An underwater recovery helps to establish a quick back-and-forth rhythm.

Cross Back

More often used by solo paddlers, this stroke requires good upper-body flexibility. The paddler crosses over the boat with the paddle and inserts the blade opposite the hips. The body must be rotated until the shoulders are almost parallel to the boat' s centerline. This stroke is a powerful way to stop a boat quickly to scout a rapid, and is usually used with a back stroke to maintain position in the river.