Gunwale, yoke, thwart, tumblehome? Canoeing has it’s own language. At least the J-stroke, the movement most commonly used to propel a solo canoe, is what it sounds like—the paddle blade traces a letter “J” as it provides forward momentum while keeping the boat tracking in a straight line.
1. Reach forward to plant the blade with a high upper hand, extended lower arm, and erect body. Wind up your body slightly to extend the reach and prepare for the pull.
2. At the “catch,” when the blade begins to pull through the water, keep the paddle as vertical and close to the boat as possible—this minimizes the turning effect created by angling the paddle across your body. A zero to 15-degree paddle angle to the water is best.
3. In the power phase of the stroke, push down with your upper hand and pull back on the shaft with your lower arm. Unwind your shoulder and back muscles to power the stroke.
4. The power phase of the stroke is complete when the blade passes the hip to a backward angle of about 15 degrees. Throughout the stroke, focus ahead rather than watching the paddle blade, and keep your head and body relatively still.
5. The J: Rotate the thumb of your upper hand down and in to turn the power face of the blade outward. Exert a slight outward pressure with the outer face of the blade and return the canoe to its course. Keep both hands low, though still above the gunwale; relax your shoulders, and prepare for the recovery. This phase takes lots of practice and fine-tuning. Stay patient.
6. Swing the blade forward, feathering your paddle (turning the blade so its narrower edge, rather than broad face, leads) for efficient traveling.