Why to consider the J-stroke

Packrafts aren’t great at keeping a straight line. The longer ones perform tolerably, but even they display far more ‘nose wobble’ than a kayak or canoe. Small, ultralight boats like an Anfibio Nano SL or the Klymit LiteWater Dinghy sometimes feel as if they are zig-zagging rather than cruising down a river, and if the sensation carries on for a long time, it can be intensely annoying.

I was discussing this issue with just about anyone who would listen last June. Then a friend surprised me by saying that he didn’t experience it very noticeably. We talked some more and attempted to investigate the difference between us, and it emerged that he was most probably importing a technique from two-person canoeing with a single-blade paddle: the J-stroke, used by the rear paddler to offset directional bias. After all, prior to packrafting, most of his river experience had been in a Canadian.

“I’m probably just hinting at it subconsciously and out of habit,” he said.

A couple of days later, he phoned to confirm. “I have just been out, and that’s certainly what I’m doing.”

Predictably, I attempted the same trick during my own next outing. It took a little practice to get the dose (that mere hint!) right. But the positive effect was undeniable.

If your own background doesn’t include single paddles, you may need to study the technique in theory before attempting to modify and incorporate it into your packrafting style. Here are two resources to get you started – one article and one video clip (I myself find a combination of static text and moving images ideal when I am trying to learn stuff).

 

Article: How to Do the Canoe J-Stroke

 

 

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