The way your paddle interacts with the water dictates how your canoe moves and the kind of experience you have as a canoeist. Learning a range of useful strokes will make you a versatile paddler who can canoe in different conditions and situations with greater confidence. Over the years, Paddling Magazine has brought you many important skills, and of these we have handpicked the top seven most important canoe strokes to make you a better canoeist.

Woman paddling canoe solo
Becky Mason demonstrates the forward stroke.

1. The traditional forward stroke

This is a very basic but essential canoeing stroke. If you master excellent technique and form while paddling forwards, you will increase efficiency and maintain power. Once you know how to use a forward stroke, you are able to advance to more complicated techniques. See how Becky Mason does a forward stroke here.

Woman paddling cane solo.
Becky Mason demonstrates the backwards stroke.

2. The backwards stroke

A great rule of thumb with canoeing is that any technique you can execute forwards, you should be able to do backwards. This is a great way for your brain to truly understand what different movements do. Being able to do an efficient backwards stroke can also serve you well when you need to backtrack in tight areas and don’t have enough room to pivot properly. Learn the backwards stroke here.

Man solo in canoe leaning to do a brace
The low brace can lend added confidence in a canoe.

3. The low brace

The low brace can be a total lifesaver. It works by helping you apply pressure on the surface of the water. The resistance you create can keep you from capsizing. If you are out on the water in wind or choppy waves, having a reliable low brace can increase your stability and confidence in these difficult conditions. Learn more about the low brace here.

Overhead shot of person in canoe
The C-stroke is helpful for solo canoeists.

4. The C-stroke

This stroke is a great tool for soloists to get the canoe moving forward. It’s a combination of the bow draw, forward stroke and J-stroke with the trajectory of the paddle forming a “C” shape. Learn how to do the C-stroke here.

Two people paddling a canoe across a lake.
The J-stroke will make your canoeing vastly more efficient.

5. The J-stroke

Do you steer your canoe by switching sides as soon as the boat begins to veer left or right? You need to learn the J-stroke. This stroke allows you to remain on one side and control the direction of the boat. It is essentially a forward stroke that uses wrist rotation at the end to push water in a direction that steers the canoe. See more about the J-stroke here.

Man in bow of canoe doing a draw stroke
With a draw stroke, you move the canoe toward your paddle.

6. Draw stroke

The basic draw stroke will let you move the kayak sideways. This helps if you want to move close to or away from another boat or shore. With this stroke, you want to reach out with your paddle and keep your hands stacked. Draw the blade towards the side of the boat, and finish by bringing the paddle cleanly out of the water behind you.

Canoeist doing a pry stroke
With a pry stroke, you move the canoe away from from your paddle.

7. Pry stroke

The pry stroke is another way to move the canoe sideways. It is pretty much the opposite of the draw stroke. Start the paddle close to the canoe and move it away from the boat. Then bring the blade out of the water behind you for a clean exit and return to the starting position. This stroke can easily tip your boat, so use it with caution.

For a video demonstration of the J-stroke, draw stroke and pry stroke, watch the video below.


  1. Next time, I suggest you put the Draw and J strokes before the C, as you need to learn a Draw and a J in order to do a C. And, while I am here, a forward stroke is just kind of insulting to elective readers of an online paddling magazine, just sayin.


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