How to Paddle a Canoe

The Draw Stroke
by Red Rock Wilderness Store

Ok, this is the other main canoe stroke that you absolutely need to know. It is, for all intents and purposes, the exact opposite as the J Stroke. The J stroke pushes the back of the canoe away from the paddle and the Draw Stroke pulls the canoe to the paddle. Using the two strokes together allows you to stay on the same side of the canoe and change the canoe's course of direction without switching sides on the canoe after every two strokes. We do this because switching all the time has "pilgrim" written all over it. Sure, everybody has to start somewhere, but, if after 25 years, you are still making the canoe go forward by paddling willy-nilly (see definition), I'm sorry but you STILL don't know how to paddle. And, yelling at your poor wife in the bow about how "she isn't a very good paddler" is just plain wrong. The guy/gal in the back of the canoe is the person entirely in charge of where the canoe is going, period. All responsibility for the direction of the canoe is with the person in the back.

"Paddling Willy-Nilly" is defined as paddling to make the canoe go forward via any means possible and most often using the twice-on-the-left-then-three-times-on-the-right-and-repeat-sloppily-while-waving-your-paddles technique. The bow paddler sits up front in a world of his/her own sometimes paddling on the same side of the canoe, sometimes not. Paddling Willy-Nilly results in far less control of the canoe and tends to generate many biting comments and insults usually hurled at the bow paddler for "not paddling right". After 30 years of outfittng, if I had a dime for every time I've heard the belittling comments of a male with an inferiority complex bitching about his wife's or girlfriend's paddling inadequacies while up in the bow....it's just not right!

Paddlers of the Willy-Nilly technique tend to gravitate towards Brand X kevlar racing canoes with no rocker (and kayaks) because these inferior-for-anything-really-useful hulls require absolutely no skill to paddle in a straight line no matter what the paddling technique in employ. Unfortunately, these rockerless canoes require an inordinate level of paddling skill by both the bow and stern paddlers working as a team to actually turn them. And, that's right about the time when all those insults directed at the bow paddler make a bold comeback...

Again, with the Draw Stroke (or any stroke for that matter) sit up straight and reach out to the side, draw the canoe to the paddle and then turn the paddle to push the canoe ahead in one smooth effort. Never just draw the canoe when lake paddling. Always draw to you first and then turn the paddle and apply power within the stroke. Opposite of the J Stroke, last part of the Draw Stroke is the power phase where you are pushing the canoe ahead. The canoe should not slow down appreciably during this stroke.

Bow Paddlers and the Draw Stroke - If you are going to teach your bow paddler anything show them this stroke. They would execute it exactly like I'm doing it in the pictures - it's no different. It is up to the stern paddler to request a Draw Stroke on the right ot left of the canoe to pull it into the wind or help turn in a tight river. After a while, some paddlers can read each other's minds and know what to do in a given situation like when a blast of wind hits the bow at an angle and threatens to take the canoe suddenly off course. Don't assume that your paddling partner has mind-reading abilities just yet however. I've met several folks of both genders who have absolutely no sense of what to do when being blasted off course by a sudden gust of wind and you may not want everybody responding on impulse. Sometimes it may be better to maintain total navigational control from the stern and tell the bow hen to draw left or draw right. Practise and training makes the canoe travel quite well.

1. To execute a Draw Stroke while the canoe is moving, you'll turn your paddle blade to run parallel to canoe. The paddle slips freely in the water alongside as you can see above. Note that I'd been draw-stroking trying to catch the various phases of the stroke by the smooth water on the left side of the pic along with waves on the paddleside. I gotta get a better camera... 2. In this pic, I'm in the process of using my lower arm to draw the paddle to me. What is actually happening is the paddle ends up being planted in the water and I'm really dragging my butt and the canoe stern to the paddle. A properly designed lake canoe will slide to the paddle with some resistance. A heavily rockered white water canoe like Souris Rivers new Skeena would almost spin around in a circle using the draw stroke as hard as I am doing above.

3. Now this is the important part that I can easily never find it in all of the canoe books out there and it's lack thereof is also evident because I meet so many folks who know the "draw" part but not the follow-through. The draw part alone is worthless for efficient lake paddling. To properly do this stroke, observe my top hand in picture 2 and above. Turn your hand so the paddle goes to "push" mode and end the Draw Stroke with a strong push back making the canoe go forward.


Here is closer look of the Draw Stroke with its paddle-blade-path indicated. Reach out, stick the paddle in the water, pull to you and turn the paddle to push in one, smooth, strong maneuver. The back of the canoe will slide in the direction of the paddle and then slip forward as you finish out the stroke. It's easy, effective, and efficient but generally you won't see the red arrow laying on the water setting up the stroke. Sorry there is no template that you can bring along. Just memorize the picture.

Of course to do the Draw Stroke on the other side of the canoe, you switch hands, put the paddle on the other side and challenge your ambidexterity. Practise makes perfect and in the course of about 15 minutes, you should be able to get a good feel for the way the canoe handles and needs to be handled to make it go the way you want. It's much easier than figuring out how to use a computer printer or one of those new-fangled, cellular telephones. I just hate those things. Canoes are MUCH better and infinitely more reliable. You can't cross water or catch a fish using a phone or computer. I wanna see somebody try to eat a computer when the chips are down. It's ironic that I feel this way as I type on my computer to lay out this web page, eh? The world is all screwed up...

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