There are two paddling positions in a canoe—bow (front) and stern (back). The stern paddler maneuvers the canoe's direction, sets the pace, and calls instructions to the bow paddler. The more seasoned canoeist normally takes the stern seat, the amateur or smaller canoeist, the bow.
The bow paddler in a cruising canoe employs the basic power stroke most of the time. This is actually doing what comes naturally. Paddling on the right side, you hold the grip of the paddle loosely in the palm of the left hand and grip the shaft with the right hand. You dip the paddle bladeinto the water in front of you, pull it back using the right arm, lift the blade clear of the water, move it forward, and repeat the operation. That's all there is to it. You change hands for the left-side power stroke.
The most significant part of paddling is to feel comfortable and set a pace that harmonizes with you. Do not lunge into the strokes or do all your vigorous paddling in the first few minutes. Dip the paddle, stay upright and pull back, holding the paddle straight and close to the side of the canoe.
Sitting in the rear, the stern paddler adapts his stroke and pace to the bowman. He uses different strokes, but all are so appropriate to the control of the craft that he will do them without knowing their names. For straight cruising, he uses the power stroke in accordance with the bow paddler, but on the opposite side. When he is getting off course, he employs the J stroke or the steering stroke. The J stroke is just a forward carry through after the power stroke; this takes
For doing an abrupt turn, the stern paddler digs the paddle in at the end of a stroke and pushes down and forward, while the bow paddler does a wide, sweeping arc that sends the bow around. Again, these are very normal movements that a novice canoeist will do them almost automatically. A common problem with a lot of novices is digging the paddle in just before he begins a stroke and splashing forward. He also brings in on the follow-through at the end of a stroke and sloshes water into the canoe. You can do away with this by counting off a rhythm: "Stroke .. .one, two ... dip, stroke," and so on. It makes you consider the paddle's position. Another problem with a novice is that he thinks he must put body into the strokes. He leans on the paddle as he draws a stroke, rolls upright on the return, and leans into the next stroke. From the bow seat he can not see that this motion brings about such a roll that the center gunwale goes under and the canoe takes the water. Sit erect, relaxed, and let arms and shoulders do the work.
These strokes are all you must know for canoeing in average water on rivers and lakes.