How to Paddle a Canoe

The Sweep Stroke
by Red Rock Wilderness Store

This is the stroke I'm going to cal l# 2.5 with #1 being the J Stroke and #2 being the Draw Stroke. This stroke is more helpful to the stern paddler if the bow paddler actually knows how to sweep right or sweep left. Critical to this stroke is the hand placement, namely how far you slide the paddle out for leverage and the depth of the paddle blade. This stroke was impossible to photograph with my digital camera, but at least I can describe and show what it's supposed to look like. The end result of a Sweep Stroke is to push the bow away from the paddle and pull the stern towards the paddle. As you'll see in the pictures below, I would be causing the stern of the canoe to be dragged towards the paddle. As a stern paddler in a fierce wind, I would request a sweep left or sweep right from my bow paddler to force the bow the direction that I wanted to go. Also, in conjunction with my bow paddler who is sweeping on the the right, I would do a hard J Stroke on the left at the stern. This would cause the canoe to turn to the left quickly and with good power. Because the Sweep Stroke only dunks half the paddle blade at an angle in the water and more or less "sweeps" with a large arc (accompanied by splashing sounds of water getting shoved out of the way of the paddle as it skims on top), the bow paddler may need to perform several fast sweeps. This is possible to do because the paddle is not deep in the water like with a regular stroke.

1. For a stern Sweep, slide the paddle out in your hands and reach forward with the blade to putting it half way in the water. See that red and yellow arc? That's where I would sweep. Note that my bottom hand now halfway up the shaft and much closer to my top hand. In order to produce an effective sweep, you need to get out there. Since leaning out there is ill-advised, you want to extend your paddle out instead. Notice that I crouch down a bit as I lean slightly forward and prepare to pull that canoe stern over. . (Incidentally, the canoe is not leaning as much as it appears - that's camera lens distortion. 2. With paddle half-way in the water, sweep across the water's surface following the great big arc. Remember that the red arc won't be there on most lakes so memorize this stroke. 3. Continuing on the same sweep rotation. Note that in an action shot, you'd see a big splash arc much like you see on TV when a jetski is making a hard, banking turn at high speed. Who'd ever thought that I'd use reference to a jetski to illustrate a paddle technique?
From the Bow: Note that the bow paddler would execute the same maneuver from the front of the canoe by sliding the paddle forward as in Step 1, reaching out with a vertical blade right up next to the bow of the canoe, and sweeping in several big arcs. At the same time, the stern paddler applies a strong J Stroke with good forward power on the other side of the canoe and the canoe turns wherever it needs to go with relative ease unless it's a Brand X kevlar canoe. You can do backfilips and summersalts in a Brand X canoe and it won't turn in a wind. But they sure do paddle straight and ride low in the water! The lack of control combined with the non-existant freeboard in a huge wind is SO comforting!

See the J Stroke Here

See the Draw Stroke Here

See Where to Find Great Paddles Online

Learn about Bent Shaft Paddles Here

Red Rock's Home Page Here

4. The final phase of the Sweep Stroke ends up way back at the stern of the canoe, thereby dragging the canoe to the same side as the paddle is located.

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