Recommended Paddling Instructional Videos

How to Hold a Canoe Paddle: This video is short and sweet, but very very important. She calls
the paddle grip a “T-grip” because that is the type of grip for the paddle she’s showing you. Not
all paddles have a T-shaped grip, as some are triangular or wedge shaped and some are in between. But all paddles do have grips. Your top hand, when paddling, should always be on the
grip. You might hear the hand on the grip called “top hand,” “control-hand” or “grip-hand.”
Your bottom hand will always be holding the shaft of the paddle.

Forward Stroke: Here is a basic forward stroke being modeled by two canoeists: see how they
rotate their torsos and how the paddle shaft is vertical while in the water. The paddle goes in
ahead of the paddler and is taken out once it gets past their hips. Notice also how the paddle
blade slices up through the water before the next stroke starts. In addition, the pair of
canoeists’ paddles on the opposite sides of their canoe, and they are always in sync with each
other’s cadence. The bow paddler will set the cadence that the stern paddler follows. If it is too
fast, the stern paddler can communicate to the bow paddler. This offers a smooth and efficient
ride and is way more stable than paddling on the same side of the canoe.

Correction Strokes & Draw: Here is a good video that shows correction strokes for the stern
paddler: the J-stroke and the Stern Pry. The stern paddler should know at least one, either the
J-stroke or the stern pry. These are subtle strokes, not dramatic. The stern paddler makes sure
the canoe tracks well or goes straight. The bow paddler is primarily the engine. Also included in
this video is the simple draw stroke, which both the bow and stern paddler can employ in
turning the canoe. It is extremely useful for the bow paddler to know the draw stroke so they
can assist the stern paddler in turning if necessary. Sometimes the canoe can get too far off
course or push around by the wind, requiring both stern and bow paddler to work together to
get the canoe going in the right direction.

Sweep Strokes (forward & reverse): Sweep strokes are used to make big turns or dramatic
changes in course, unlike the draw strokes mentioned above, which are typically used to make
subtle or less dramatic turns, or slight changes in course. In a tandem canoe, the bow paddler
will execute a forward stroke by rotating the torso or “winding up” to place the paddle blade at
the tip of their canoe and “unwinding” or rotating their torso, which moves the bow of the boat
to the opposite side the bow paddler is on. Once the blade gets to the hip, but no farther, the
bow paddler will wind up to take whatever the next stroke needs to be. To execute a reverse
stroke, the bow paddler places their blade perpendicular to the canoe at the hip, paddle shaft
as horizontal as you can get with the paddle blade mostly submerged in the water, then winds
up or rotates torso so the blade moves the bow of the canoe to tip of the paddle blade. An easy
mnemonic for the forward sweep is tip to hip for the bow paddler in a tandem canoe, and the
reverse sweep is hip to tip. A stern paddler does just the opposite: hip to tip for forward
sweep, and tip to hip for reverse sweep. Notice in the video that the paddle shaft is mostly
horizontal to the water, and the blade is mostly submerged with just about an inch of the top
section of the blade visible before execution. The paddler’s top hand, often called “control
hand” or “grip hand” is the one holding the grip of the paddle. Note how low and in front of the
belly button the grip hand is during the execution of the sweep stroke. Last, but as important if
not most important, the stroke is not executed by the arms or shoulders, but by winding or
unwinding of the torso or core muscles. By maintaining a horizontal blade and keeping your top
or control hand on the grip, low and in front of your belly at all times, you have no other option
than to use your torso or core muscles to execute the stroke. Remember torso rotation is
important when executing all strokes, and when you execute the strokes, keep in mind you are
not moving the blade through the water, but moving your boat to the blade. Picture the water
as cement where you place your blade. Incidentally, in a solo canoe you would sit in the center
of the boat and your sweep would be from bow tip to stern tip, or tip to tip. When in a tandem
canoe it is tip to hip or hip to tip.

Thanks to John Wenck, Water Trails Coordinator for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, for
compiling these paddling instructional videos.