The “forward stroke” is, quite simply, the stroke that pulls your canoe forward. It’s the stroke you will spend the most time doing, whether you’re in the bow (front) or the stern (back) of the canoe.
Though the forward stroke may appear to be simple (and it is), there are lots of ways to do it wrong and a) look and feel stupid, b) waste lots of energy, and c) potentially injure yourself. The goal is not simply to move your boat forward, but to move it forward with the greatest power and efficiency possible, so pay attention.
To begin this stroke, twist your torso to face the opposite side of the canoe from where you are paddling and reach past your toes to put the paddle in. (So if you’re paddling on the right, you’re body is twisted to the left) Both arms should be as straight as you can get them.
Keeping your arms in the same position, pull the paddle through the water by twisting your upper body around to the same side as your paddle. Your arms should not pull, just hold the paddle – your stomach and back muscles do the pulling as you twist.
To complete the stroke, fully twist your torso around to the side your paddle is on. Try to keep your upper arm high, and the paddle as vertical as you can, and allow your lower arm to bend some.
At the end of the stroke, slice your paddle out of the water, and “feather” around to your starting position. (“Feathering” just means you keep the blade of your paddle parallel to the surface of the water so it cuts through the wind instead of catching it. On a really blustery day the wind can yank a paddle right out of your hands if you forget to feather.)