Just like anything else paddling a canoe can be easy and fun, but it takes practice to get good at it. Navigating flat waters is the easiest, because about the only thing you really have to worry about is aching arm muscles the next day. Going forward and backward on relatively flat water is pretty easy. Problems arise when wind and waves or rapids come into play. In order to overcome these obstacles you'll need to have several strokes in your arsenal.
There are several different paddling strokes and each one is used at different times depending on the current situation. Using the right stroke at the right time allows you to navigate through the water in the direction you want to go and in a manner that is safe. Often times the basics strokes are combined together or you might have to make a slight adjustment to the basic stroke depending on your skill level and what is needed at the moment. The main objective is to get your skills to the point where you can move the canoe smoothly and efficiently.
By far the easiest stroke is the forward stroke. Basically this stroke is used by the bowman to propel the canoe in a straight line. The paddle blade is put forward and dipped into the water. It is then drawn straight back. This stroke can be used on the right or left side of the boat. It is imperative that the paddle be kept straight when drawn backward or the boat will veer of the straight line.
The J-stroke, so named because it looks like you are writing the letter J in the water, is a stroke used for steering or turning. Starting out as a forward stroke you end the stroke by rotating in the paddle and pushing it away from the boat. This stroke is most commonly used by the bowman when maneuvering the canoe in reverse or backferrying in white water.
There are two strokes used by the stern man, the Superior and the Pry stroke. The Pry stroke can be used from either side of the boat. The paddle is inserted vertically in the water, with the power face outward and the shaft braced against the gunwale. The motion of the stroke is a gentle prying away from the boat and this moves the boat in the opposite direction of the side.
The Superior is the preferred stroke in rough water and is usually used in white water canoing. This is used to steer or guide the canoe and there is a hint of a pry at the end of the motion. This stroke uses the other side of the power surface to steer the canoe.
The best way to learn the basics of canoe paddling is from an expert. There are a lot of other strokes that need to be mastered. These include the push-away stroke, the running pry, the draw stroke, the scull and the reverse skull, the cross-draw stroke and the sweep.
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