Know Before You Go Canoeing in Missouri

Does the thought of paddling a canoe make you nervous? Would you like to overcome your fears, or become an expert paddler? Improving your canoeing technique will make your next river trip a fun experience!

  • J Stroke – (Done from the back of the canoe).  This canoe paddling technique allows you to keep the paddle on one side of the boat, enabling you to steer by the way you finish out your stroke. Start by reaching forward and pulling water. From there, about half way through your paddling stroke, twist the paddle and finish the stroke by pushing away from the rear of the canoe. When you paddle from the right hand, you pull the boat to the left. When you push away from the stern of the boat, it will keep you going straight. The stroke mirrors the letter J, which is why it’s called a J stroke. Play with the push out pressure, and you will see that you can pick your direction with the final effort in your canoe paddling stroke.

  • Reverse J Stroke – Through the stroke, do the same as above, but start by pulling water with your paddle stroke leaving a little room between paddle and boat. As you go through your paddle stroke, twist the paddle and pull water under the rear of the boat as you finish the stroke. This will make a turn to the opposite side that you are paddling from, example right handed stroke on the right side of the boat, and desiring to turn left. The reverse J is typically used for light steering, as the sweep stroke would be used for more aggressive turning efforts.

  • Pry Stroke – This technique creates a prying action against the side of the canoe. Play around in flat water, and while sitting solo in the most center seat of the boat, typically the front seat, plant the paddle in the water against the side of the boat and angle the blade to run with the boat. (Parallel). Then pry away from the side of the boat. You can push the boat effectively, making harder turns. In flat water, it helps to hold the canoe on edge.

  • Sweep stroke – Just as it sounds, it is a sweeping action of the paddle for hard direction turning or spinning the canoe. Plant the paddle near the bow, and with a body action, sweep the paddle stroke through the water, with a wide radius, keeping the full blade in the water, and sweep the water around wide and then to the stern. Imagine that you are moving the boat to the paddle. Spin the boat to the paddle, don’t just pull water. Then as you execute your paddle strokes, allow the body to help twist, jump, or swiftly slide the canoe to the direction you want it. Sweep strokes typically work well in running rivers. Turn your boat with forward thrust, as well as holding your canoe on edge and sweeping the canoe around rapidly in a flatwater move.

  • Holding your canoe on edge – This exercise helps you know where your secondary stability is. While sitting in the front seat backwards (reversing your boat to do this), drop to your knees, then brace your knees, feet, and thighs, everything you’ve got as you spread your legs against the sides of the canoe. Toes against the corner of the canoe, and heels toward each other. This position drops your center of gravity, improving your balance, as well as bracing and holding the canoe with your lower body. You will be on the front edge of the seat. Great position for river running! For holding the boat on edge, lean the canoe to one side, careful not to tip over, and find that secondary stability that the canoe will offer.  You will feel it, a stopping point when the boat is leaned. Use your position in the canoe, sliding to that side, and standing on that hip and knee, keeping head over the center of your balance line. Stand on your hip. Find that spot where your canoe gets stable again! This is your secondary stability. Now try sweep strokes, pry strokes. On hard edge, your canoe takes on a different shape, depending on canoe style.

  • Rapid slide – Maneuvering a riffle or rapid bend on a river is easy once you figure out how to do that power slide around the bend. Pick your boat angle first. You will see that you are sideways to the current, but as you start to paddle forward, you will head that direction to that side of the current. As the current of the river pushes you towards the outside of the bend, accelerate through the rapid bend and slide around that corner you are going through. If your angle is too tight, you will spin out in the inside of the bend. If your angle is not tight enough, you will hit the outside of the bend. If you let off the paddle pressure or power, you will hit the outside of the bend, so pick your angle, accelerate with your paddle strokes as you slide around the bend, holding that right angle to get you properly around. Again, do not let off the power as you slide around the river corner. If you make it safely around that rapid bend but spin out at the end, make sure you straighten out your angle soon enough to follow that wave train right on out of the river rapid bend. You are safe where you spin out, so you did 99 percent of the maneuver correctly, but it can get frustrating having to back the boat out to restart back down the river.  If you straighten the boat out early enough through this exercise, you’ll head right on down the river like a real pro.

  • Draw stroke. – Reach way out to the side and with paddle parallel to the canoe, pulling water toward the boat will pull the boat toward the direction you are pulling water

    Paddling a Canoe

    Different Strokes for Different Folks

    from. If done from the front and back of the boat in a tandem or two person situation, you will pull water directly towards the boat with the paddle, and as each person does this you can pull yourself to shore in a sideways slide fashion.

  • Sculling – As you start the draw stroke, make the paddle more horizontal. We are not going to pull the boat this time. This time lay the paddle on the top of the water and let the tip sink. Now start twisting back and forth in a figure 8, even motions of angles, and try to catch water with each twist. This is a still water maneuver.

  • Bracing – It is common to brace yourself against the paddle and use that as a crutch. When you get the feel of your paddle and know the pressures that are applied, you can feel the benefits of leaning against this as you balance yourself. A near fall can be stopped by applying downward pressure as the paddle hits the water surface in a flat way. With a strong bracing technique, a solo paddler with have much greater ability with the stability. It is not hard, just lay your paddle flat out on the water and you can lean on it to catch yourself! Recover quick, but you do have some time. This is a real common technique used in kayaks because of the low body position and long paddle.

  • Learn to ferry your boat. Park your boat on a shore where the current is easy, with the front of the boat pointing upstream. Then as you angle your boat, pretend your boat is like a wind sail, and the river water is now wind. Angle the boat slightly, and with lower side paddle strokes, control your angle carefully as you cross. If it wants to push you out and down stream you have too much angle, straighten your angle to the water, then gently correct your angle to get across that stream with the speed and control you desire. Faster water requires slight angles, and slower water requires greater angles to the current. Do this in easy and slow rapids first, and get the hang of it. This exercise will teach you about the dynamics of the water more than any other paddling exercise we know. Then when you are sitting by the current at the beach and your boat keeps wanting to get pushed, remember your angle and you can now see what the boat is wanting to do just because of your angle to the water.

  • Hooking eddys on the river. When you come down through a rapid you will see on the inside of the stream a water line, where the fast water meets the slow water in the eddy. These pools on the inside of rapid bends are called eddy lines, or eddy pools. When you point and cross that eddy line, lean into your curve like you are on a bicycle, ready to do a corner. Lean with your hips, keeping your head over the the center of the boat as much as possible. Also keep your focus up, so you are balancing your head and shoulders to the horizon as you cross the line. Throw your hips into the outside of that curve you are about to do, as when you cross that eddy line, it will want to throw you out.  Swing through that eddy line with a little hip action, and lean in towards the inside of your curve. This takes practice, and you run the risk of a spill. Do this where it is safe to practice, on an easy eddy, so you can get the feel for the technique. The same goes for reentering the current from the eddy. Again you are crossing the eddy line, and you will want to lean into the curves slightly. Play around in eddys, as that again will give you the feel for the dynamics of the river, and hopefully give you more skills as this is practiced in easy places, so you have more control in the tougher situations, and are not caught by surprise as the currents want to push you around.

  • Do not lean upstream! – In many cases on the river, a pair of paddlers in a canoe will come up to an obstacle sideways, and they will lean upstream to avoid hitting the obstacle with their bodies. This is not where the threat is. The threat is behind them, the water coming at them! It is indeed counter intuitive. If you come upon a large rock sideways for  example, remember to lean towards the rock and away from the water coming at you, from behind you. Drop to the knees locking yourself in the boat and lowering your center of gravity. When you come upon the large rock and hit it, grab the rock, and push your way around the rock either forward or backward, and let the water carry you around that rock. You also would want to lift the high side of the canoe a little, the side where the water is coming at you, and the boat will surf or attempt to surf that water, as you slide it around the rock. Keep your head up, keep your center of balance, as you do this maneuver. This is not a recommended situation, but can get you out of a bad one. Avoid all root wads! Scout the river first if you are unsure. This means get out of the boat at the top of the chute or channel, and walk it to see it.

  • Wear your PFD. You should wear your life jacket or PFD, (Personal Floatation Device), for greater protection! Most of all, be careful out there! We need each and every one of you to have a great time, so you can come back another day and do it again!

  • Avoid Root Wads! Worth repeating, a tangle of roots underneath the surface, or partially exposed, are brambles you don’t want to get caught in.