5 basic canoe and kayak paddle strokes

November 3, 2015

Few places in the world are more perfect for canoeing and kayaking than Canada, whether you want an afternoon on a peaceful lake or a week-long adventure in the heart of the Rockies. To get the most out of your canoeing or kayaking adventures, here are five basic paddling strokes to help you go forward, make turns, and stay afloat with ease.

Keep in mind as you read this guide that these strokes can work in either a canoe or a kayak. As such, these two terms are used interchangeably throughout this piece.

5 basic canoe and kayak paddle strokes

The forward stroke

This stroke pulls your canoe forward.

  • Start with your paddle out of the water.
  • Hold it vertically at eye level with your hand at the top of your paddle. This hand is known as the "grip hand."
  • Push the blade of the paddle forward and into the water with your lower hand.
  • You then pull the paddle straight alongside the boat, guiding with your grip hand.

The draw stroke

This stroke helps with turning and changing direction.

  • Face your torso in the direction you want the kayak to go.
  • Place your paddle in the water as far from the boat as possible on the side towards the desired direction.
  • Pull your paddle back towards the bow and lift the blade out of the water when it comes to within a few inches of your kayak.

The stern pry

The stern pry is the opposite of the draw stroke, it's used to turn your canoe towards the paddle side. Think of it as turning your craft with the back, rather than the front, as the turn's pivot point.

  • To pull of a stern pry, put your paddle vertically into the water, and as you come to the end of the forward stroke quickly pull in your grip hand and push the paddle blade outward.

The cross draw

The cross draw is done to help turn your kayak to the offside, or opposite side of the paddle.

  • To start this stroke, take the paddle out of the water and swing it across to the offside of your kayak.
  • Then fully rotate your torso without changing your hand position.

The J-stroke

This stroke keeps your canoe straight as it moves forward and helps correct its direction. Here's how to do it:

  • As you pull your paddle backward alongside the canoe, allow the grip hand to push forward and down while the bottom hand pulls back.
  • Toward the end of the stroke, twist the paddle outwards to make a quick "J" shape in the water.

Be safe and in control

Learning these five basic strokes are essential if you want to be safe and in control while you're in your canoe or kayak. Once you've nailed them down, you'll never have to worry about circling in the water ever again.

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