How to Paddle and Steer a Canoe


There are a few basic principals that apply to virtually every stroke you do in a canoe. Those principals will help you use your larger upper body muscles, help you avoid injury to your shoulders and other muscles, and they’ll also make your paddling more efficient and a lot more graceful. The first basic principal is called the paddler’s box. The paddler’s box is an imaginary box in front of your chest. The sides of the box are the planes that hold your arms. The front of the box if your fingertips. The back of the box is your chest, and the box moves as your rotate your torso left or right. Any stroke I do I want to keep my arms inside the box.

This is a way to avoid injury to your shoulders and also to make sure that you’re using your larger upper torso muscles. If I want to do a stroke out to this side, I have to move the box to get my arms out there. If instead I just move my arm out there, my arm’s outside the box and I risk injuring this shoulder and I also don’t have nearly the power that I have because I haven’t engaged my torso muscles. The second principal is going to be up isolating your upper and lower body. For isolating your upper and lower body you want to have your lower body be able to move independently of your upper body. I want to be able to do any stroke at all in any combination with any lean or any lower body movement. If I can do those perfectly and I isolate my upper and lower body, I have the most efficient paddling position and I’m able to coordinate any upper body stroke with any lower body lean or other motion. The final principal is moving the boat and not the paddle.

When I plant the paddle in the water, I want to plant the paddle and imagine that the water’s instantly around the paddle. Then when I take a stroke, I want to pull the boat toward the paddle rather than the paddle toward the boat. You’ll see in a lot of these strokes that we do in the next several series that moving the boat and not the paddle is really the trick and is the reason that we’re doing a lot of the finer points of the strokes in order to make sure that you get the paddle solidly in the water without splashing and have a nice solid hold. “}