The North Woods Paddle Stroke?


LOVES Wooden Canoes
Been reading with interest this forum and have come across this alternative stroke mentioned. However, I cannot find it anywhere described or illustrated in detail. I went to NorthWoods website, but the brochure is no longer in print. Anyone have a description that describes this?
Northwoods Stroke


Try Becky Mason's website in the directory, her fathers (Bill Mason) video and book Path of the Paddle or a very well written article in WoodenBoat, #55, Nov/Dec 1983, "Paddling Like an Ancient".

Hope this helps,


I looked around for "Beck Mason's Website" in the directory and didn't see it. Would you provide me with a link? THanks.
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Greg Nolan said:
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If you search for info on the "Canadian Stroke" you may find more info. CRCA has lots of paddling resources on it. The basic mechanics of the storke are the same, the main difference is the grip and how you hold it.
Robert Kimbler in his book 'A Canoeist's Sketchbook' has a chapter on the north woods stroke. He said he learned it first hand from Garrett and Alexandra Conover and had earlier read an article in 'Canoe' by Garrett titled 'Traveling with Ease and Grace'. He (Kimbler) says "the secret of the stroke is that the lower hand on the paddle shaft functions as a nearly, but not entirely, stationary fulcrum while the power is supplied at the top grip by pushing forward with the whole weight of the body..."

I think there may be a mention of the north woods stroke in 'Canoeing with the Cree' by Eric Sevareid but I don't have my copy to check. -Chuck
dugkim -

The North Woods stroke is really just the paddle stroke you develop naturally if you do a lot of long-distance paddling. You (1) use the large muscles of your torso, which usually involves (2) a kneeling position and (3) you habitually stick to paddling on one side or the other (tradition is right side for stern, left for bow) using a (4) stroke that describes a "C" or "J."
Hey All
I have been searching all over the internet for information on the Northwoods Stroke and I keep coming across Garrett Conover's article titled 'Traveling with Ease and Grace.' However, I can not seem to find it anywhere. Does any one have a link to it or, would any one be able to send me a scanned copy?
I am from Australia where no one I have ever met has heard of the stroke so any help would be greatly appreciated.

p.s - Yesterday in the mail I got a copy of Robert Kimber's book along with Becky Mason's current DVD. These both give great information on the DVD!
The Northwoods Stroke is best learned from Garrett or Alexandra Conover. That is how I learned it. However, there are a few other resources that can be helpful. One is the last couple of minutes of Rollin Thurlow's video of Building the Atkinson Traveler which shows old Maine Guide Mick Fahey (the man who taught Garrett and Alexandra) doing the stroke. Another is a video from Jack Mountain Bushcraft which shows Tim Smith doing the stroke on his Canoe Expedition Course Segment 3 of 15, ( ). Further resources are Jane Barron, another Mainer, who has taught a paddle strokes workshop at the Maine Canoe Symposium and presumably will be teaching it again in the future. Another resource is Kim Gass who has promised to teach the stroke at the 2013 Assembly (But I don't know if it is really on the schedule yet or not).
Probably the best way to learn it is to paddle alongside Garrett or Alexandra in another canoe and try to imitate their movements while they instruct you. I wish they had made an instructional video of this stroke and maybe they will sometime in the future. (Hint, Hint) There are a number of very subtle parts of the stroke that are not always obvious in descriptions or videos. I do know that when one has become used to using this stroke it is difficult to convert to other styles of paddling and vice versa. I guess the muscle pathways do not like to change. And, finally, I doubt that there is one perfect Northwoods Stroke as I have observed subtle differences in the different practitioners of this stroke. It certainly takes practice and is best learned on a long trip where fatigue will help one appreciate its efficiency.
Mark Z.
don't think about it.

For whatever encouragement it’s worth, like many others I consciously tried to learn the Canadian or north woods stroke for quite a while. And just couldn’t get it. Finally after many years of a lot of solo paddling, I found my stroke just evolving into it until one day I realized I was doing this stroke. This was confirmed for me when I was out paddling with a group that included a guy who had just come back from a week paddling with the Conovers and he said, “I see you’ve got down the north woods stroke down pat.” Once you’ve got it, the C/pitch/north woods is the perfect forward power stroke. Its fast, it’s efficient, it’s easy on the arms and body. It’s a subtle combination of lifting, angling and slicing the blade forward through the water, at the moment of recovery that’s the trick. Now it’s as natural as breathing. So I suspect the way to learn it is to paddle a lot and let your muscle memory teach it to you, without engaging your conscious brain too much.
For me, the hardest part of teaching myself the northwoods stroke was unlearning the ordinary J stroke that I had been using for decades. But if you are a beginning paddler, it is not hard to learn at all. Several years ago we took a week-long trip with Garrett and Alexandra Conover, who confirmed that I had taught myself the stroke – though it was then not yet second nature to me, as it has become. But one of the others on the trip was basically a novice, and by the second day, after spending the first day in a canoe with either Alexandra or Garrett, he had the stroke down pretty well.

The material you want, Travelling With Ease and Grace, was first published in the September 1984 issue of Canoe and Kayaking. Paddling like an Ancient was first published in WoodenBoat Magazine # 55, and an article on the North Woods Paddle was in #67 of Wooden Boat Magazine. I think back issues can be obtained from these magazines.

Check your private messages.

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Yeah, well I would make the point that there is a mystique or Holy Grail quality to the northwoods stroke that I think is overdone. Consider this. The northwoods stroke works fine when you are paddling flatwater pretty much in a straight line solo with no or little wind. In other words, under perfect canoeing conditions. You can’t run rapids with it, maneuver quickly or go into a head wind on a lake where there’s a heavy chop. It’s a very limited refinement of several standard stern paddler stokes.
I, for one, have never suggested that the northwoods stroke is an all purpose stroke useful at all times in all circumstances. When appropriate (and sometimes even when not) I draw, sweep, pry, backpaddle, scull, simply improvise, and even still use the J-stroke. For me paddling is not a religion, and I am always suspicious of mystiques. Being far from an expert paddler, I expect that I often choose a less-than-ideal stroke, and I know that my execution is regularly far from perfect. But I generally get where I want to go.

I learned the northwoods stroke because I had heard that is could be efficient and effective (as I have found it can be), and that though the stroke has a long history, it seems to have fallen into general disuse. Sometimes I enjoy the challenge of learning something new for its own sake; sometime I like learning how to do things the old way (I have hand planes as well as a router and cordless drills as well as braces and bits) and I do like exercising new skills (even if inexpertly) that I may pick up along the way.

Most of my paddling is on flatwater, so I often have occasion to use the northwoods stroke, which I use when paddling tandem, not just solo, and use (but not always) in choppy water when paddling into the wind. I have no problem with those who do not use the stroke and who have no interest in learning it. As they say, different strokes for different folks.
I'm Mick Fahey's granddaughter and he taught me the north woods stroke when I was small. Just turn the paddle. The least resistance, silent, and continue. It's just common sense. The best way not to disturb the wildlife. Now I live in the Pacific Northwest and work with orphaned or injured wildlife, but my Grandfather was the first to teach me about such things... Although he did have to come rescue me once out on Chesuncook after I broke into his whiskey stash and took the canoe out for a ride. I was about 14. In my own defense, the wind was up.
I also remember Garret and Alexandra well, even if they don't remember me, the pissant teenager. Garret was talking to Granddad about botany at the time. Alexandra was woodworking.
I also remember Garret and Alexandra well, even if they don't remember me, the pissant teenager. Garret was talking to Granddad about botany at the time. Alexandra was woodworking.

It's off topic from a paddle stroke but I'm interested to learn that you might know a thing or two about Chesuncook Village...
Do you know the name of the gentleman who had a cabin on the Lake and who was a supervisor (?) for the Great Northern? In whatever year it was that they ran the last drive on the Penobscott my father and I met him at the end of the NE Carry. He kindly pulled us behind his (motorized) canoe as far as one of the Great Northern camps where we stayed that night. He was heading down the river to open up the camps before the drive and then staying at his camp in the village. If I stood in front of it now I might recognize it.... It's been quite a long time and I'm sure that he's long gone..but I've always wondered who such a kind person was..if you recall I'd love to know.