Home Kayaks How to Paddle a Kayak: Techniques you NEED to Know

How to Paddle a Kayak: Techniques you NEED to Know

How to Paddle a Kayak

Learning how to paddle a kayak seems easy, right? Well, until you sit behind the paddle and do it yourself, you don’t know just how hard it is. Keeping the kayak in a straight line is a bit tricky for those who don’t know the proper technique, let alone turning. Paddling isn’t about raw power, but proper body alignment and rotation as well. People often complain about their kayak turning to the left or right, but that’s because they’re not paddling in a proper manner.

But, don’t worry, learning proper techniques is easy. This little article will try and teach you how, so read carefully.

Holding the paddle: It Actually is Important

Let’s start with the absolute basics, shall we? It may sound ridiculous, but there is a proper way to hold the kayak paddle. It’s not rocket science, but if you hold it in a wrong way, you will get more fatigued. For starters, don’t hold too tightly. That will tire you our more than it should. Place your hands at on the paddle at elbow length. With your dominant hand hold the paddle firmly.

Your Control Hand Shouldn't Move

This is your control hand, and it shouldn’t move. Your off-hand should hold the paddle lightly. Holding the paddle lightly enables you to rotate the paddle in your hand. This maneuver seems illogical, but it is hugely beneficial, because of the shape of the paddle. Usually, the paddles are “feathered,” which means they’re not parallel, but slightly turned. This allows the blade to cut the wind and reduce the resistance when you’re moving it through the air. Using this technique is very useful, to help you not waste energy.

No Matter the Paddle, Stick to Your Technique

Nowadays, however, more and more paddles have parallel blades. Their popularity is because they’re simpler to use, and they don’t require you to twist the paddle. Plus, they just feel more natural. Even so, just stick to your technique, and you'll carve through the water like butter.

How to Paddle a Kayak in a Straight Line

Paddling in a straight line is where most people tend to get frustrated, and where technique counts most. The most important thing about keeping the kayak straight is rhythm. Staying with a steady rhythm evens out your pace and keeps the kayak going the direction you're trying to get the dang thing to go. In fact, the kayak starts turning because of uneven stroke power. Since your dominant hand is stronger, it tends to create a more powerful stroke and lead you to one side. Here’s how you eliminate that problem.

Posture is Key

First, make sure you sit upright. Sitting to one side will hurt your tempo, or destabilize the kayak. Leaning back or forward will tire you out quickly. If you have a backrest, don’t lean against it. Make sure your knees are slightly bent, and your feet are resting on the pads. Doing this will put much less strain on your hamstrings and lower back.

Pay Attention to Paddle Placement

Now, sink the paddle into the water near your feet, curved side down. Remember to rotate your body toward the bow, and keep your stroke arm straight. Now, turn your body back into neutral position. Pull with your shoulder, not your arm, and push with your legs. The stroke should feel as if you are pulling yourself toward your feet. The stroke should end when the paddle reaches your side. It will feel natural to push past this point, but this will only slow you down, so try to avoid this.

Rinse and Repeat

Repeat this movement with your off hand to ensure correct rhythm. Also, try to fixate your eyes on something in front of you as a point of reference.

Stopping the Kayak in the Water

Of course, kayak doesn’t have breaks, so if you want to stop, you’ll have to use the paddle. This is done rather simply. If you’ve mastered the technique above, you should be fine stopping the kayak as well.

In essence, what you need to do is a backward stroke. Simply put, this is a reversed forward stroke. Here’s how you do it.

Locate the Stern

First, rotate your body sideways. Look at the stern. This will be similar to looking back when driving in reverse. You need to know where you’re going, or you might end up somewhere you wouldn’t like.

Hold the Blade to Your Side

To perform the stroke, place the paddle near the end of the kayak, behind the cockpit, curved part of the blade facing forward. The shaft angle should be high, and the blade should be as close to the side as possible. Now, rotate your body to a neutral position.

Remember, don’t push with your arms, but with your back and with your legs. Your back muscles and leg muscles are much stronger than your arm muscles and will make this technique quite more powerful. Hold the blade to your side--it is not necessary to push the blade all the way forward, as this will tire you out. Repeat on the off side. At full speed, you should come to a full stop within three strokes.

Turning the Kayak

Turning the kayak is a bit more complicated than stroking forward and stopping, not dissimilar. There are few techniques that you can use when turning your board.

Turn Using Your Body Weight

The first method, carving, involves using the fin (skeg). This is the easiest way, and it won’t tire you as much. All you do is shift weight to one side of the boat. The boat will lean to one side, and the fin will do the rest. To execute the technique, just push the knee against the brace and shift the weight. Don’t shift too much, or you’ll capsize.

Try Using the Paddle as a Rudder

The second technique involves using your paddle as a rudder. This technique is easy enough but should be a less viable option as it slows the kayak down and breaks your rhythm. To execute the technique keep stroking as usual. After you finish the stroke, leave the paddle in the water. With the blade turned parallel to the boat, you won’t turn. Now tilt the blade in either direction to turn – tilting the blade open will turn to the left while leaning it toward the kayak will make it turn right.

Use the Forward Sweep Stroke

There is another technique that doesn’t slow the kayak down but is executed with a paddle. It’s called the forward sweep stroke. Position the paddle as if you were doing the harder to paddle. Now, instead of pulling backward, pull the paddle in an arc. This will quickly and efficiently turn the boat.

Kayaking techniques for beginners

Of course, the methods described above aren’t all the techniques there are. Also, learning all of them just by reading about them won’t get you anywhere. So go get out on the water and try them out! Wait... let's finish the lesson first!

Here are a few techniques you need to know:

Low brace – this technique is useful when you’re losing balance. It involves using the paddle and pushing yourself off to restore the level position.

Exiting the capsized kayak – exiting the capsized kayak is one of the most important survival techniques. It involves tucking your body near the hull, unhooking the straps and resurfacing.

Assisted and unassisted emptying – after you’ve capsized, getting into the kayak can be a little tricky. You’ll need to empty the boat of water, and you can do it yourself or with assistance from another kayaker.

Pro tip: If you’re alone and you’ve capsized, make sure you stay with the kayak if you’re unable to get back into it. The buoyancy of the kayak will keep you on the surface, and it is much easier to spot than a lone swimmer. This holds especially true if you’ve capsized in the rapids.

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  1. This educative post is all I need to begin my kayaking lessons. I know I will need physical exercises and practical classes too, but this article just thought me how to do it like a Pro. In fact, I will be in a better position during my practical classes as compared to the other learners.


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