Nice Stroke

We finally gave in and did some research on canoe strokes. Turns out there are some pretty big differences between rafting and canoeing. Looking back this should have been obvious, but who needs actual information when you’ve got good old fashion stubbornness and logic steeped in, well, nothing.


After some searching around online, Phil gave me a quick tutorial of how I should be paddling from the front of the boat and was armed with new–well new to him–ways to incorporate steering strokes. We put in on a glassy Town Lake Tuesday evening. As soon as we started using our new strokes, we started flying down the lake. Water was flying up, people on the trail stopped to watch, it was amazing.

Okay, maybe it wasn’t that dramatic.

But we were able to keep the boat pointed in the right direction without either of dislocating a shoulder, yelling, or losing a tooth. Pretty successful. We were also able to shave 3 minutes off our mile time. That’s a 13 hour difference over the 265 miles of the Texas Water Safari!

Here are some of the differences in strokes we’ve found that have made all the difference.

If these are obvious to you, you can (a) go ahead and quit reading now because it’s about to get boring (b) congratulate yourself on your interdisciplinary boating skills and (c) hit us up with tips we may be missing out on in the comments below!


If I had to teach a crew how to paddle in a raft, here were my instructions:
(1) Lean and  punch forward.
(2) Paddle 90 degrees to the water.
(3) Arms parallel on the paddle and to the water.
(4) Pull back with your whole body.
(5) Stop at your hip.

Always the model student, I followed these same instructions when attempting to paddle. Turns out this isn’t very effective when your switching sides every 5-10 strokes and have no real place to lock your feet or legs for leverage. Instead I got a pretty intense arm workout and far too many breaks.

I learned that in a canoe the paddle stroke is more of a twisting motion. Instead of leaning forward and punching out with your top arm, get the blade as far as possible by twisting your body, keeping the t-grip closer to your body. Then twist your body back, taking the blade well beyond your hip to finish the stroke.








Phil didn’t have so much a new stroke to learn, but more of getting his mind to do the complete opposite of what he was used to.

In a raft,  to generally keep the boat going forward, boaters use what is called a J stroke. It becomes an automatic movement made in times of the boat coasting.

In a raft it is a regular forward stroke that goes into a pry. Take the forward stroke, rotate the paddle so that your thumb is facing up (or backwards) and then pry off the boat to make the blade go away from the boat.

With the canoe J stroke, take the normal stroke, rotate the paddle so your thumb is pointed down and push the blade away from the boat with your arm.


While reprogramming your brain to change something automatic is no small feat, there’s also the newly found muscles in your forearms needed to twist in that opposite direction. Of course I haven’t had to deal with it, but in response to my questioning of his efforts, Phil claims it can be pretty painful at the beginning.

So there you have it. Some minor changes that have made a lot of difference already. Hopefully we stay in this forward momentum of improvement. Lord knows we can’t go backward.

If you have any tips to save us more time…or perhaps our marriage, let us know in the comments below.



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