The cross-forward stroke is one of the most helpful strokes used by solo canoeists, even though it’s looked down upon by some traditionalists who don’t like the look of a paddle swinging over the canoe. It is a powerful tool to counter the forward stroke’s tendency to veer the canoe toward the offside during quick starts. The cross forward can also be used to paddle around a curve to your offside.

Canoeing with the cross-forward stroke

The power of the cross-forward stroke comes from thrusting the hips toward the paddle. A hip thrust resembles the same motion you would use if you were sitting in a chair and wanted to move closer to the kitchen table.

The hip thrust is a slow movement and if the canoe is already moving you can use a quicker variation of this stroke by only employing arms. Though weaker, stroking with just arms will let you keep up with a moving canoe as it carves a turn to your offside, so you can maintain forward momentum and avoid spinning out.

5 steps to complete the cross-forward stroke

1 Switch to your offside

Begin the cross-forward by placing the paddle on the offside of your canoe. Bend forward at the waist to increase your reach and to enable your hips to add power to the stroke.

2 Reach forward for power

Your top hand should reach beyond your knee and the shaft hand should reach even further toward the bow. Both hands should be over the gunwale. Power comes from thrusting your hips toward the paddle.

3 Pull the paddle vertical

As the stroke progresses, use your top hand to push the paddle grip forward and the shaft hand to pull the paddle into a vertical position. Both hands finish the stroke near the knee. Since this may be an awkward motion at first, make sure you are warmed up before you try it.

4 Twist and return to onside

For the recovery, twist your top hand thumb a quarter-turn toward the bow. This rotates the blade’s power face parallel to the hull so that you can easily lift the paddle, edge-first, out of the water and back over to your onside.

5 Or, repeat the offside stroke

Alternatively, you may decide to turn the blade and slice it along the hull, keeping it in the water so you can repeat the cross-forward stroke.

Paddling Magazine Issue 65 | Fall 2021

This article originally appeared in Canoeroots and Family Camping, Fall 2007 and Paddling Magazine Issue 65. Subscribe to Paddling Magazine’s print and digital editions here, or download the Paddling Magazine app and browse the digital archives here.


The cross-forward stroke is one of the most helpful strokes used by solo canoeists. | Feature photo: Andrew Westwood



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