How to Paddle a Kayak

One of the best things about kayaking is that it can be done by pretty much anyone. And all you really need to understand is that by developing a good technique you can both paddle more efficiently and be much safer when you are in the water. 

Poor technique will also tire you out faster and that’s half the reason you should practice good technique. It will give you much more energy, and therefore you will have the energy reserved should you find yourself in a dangerous situation or in suddenly changed conditions. 

While sitting position in a kayak is important, paddling, paddle technique and how you hold your paddles is very important too. 

Holding your paddle

How you hold your paddle with be an important contributor to ensuring that your stroke is efficient and does not tire you out. You should also ensure you have a paddle that is the appropriate size and length for your.

If you are not sure what size is best for you, you can check it out online, or you can ask in your local paddle shop to find one that is suited to you.

Your paddling blades

You need to know your blades when you are paddling your kayak. Ensure the blades are matched, or feathered.

It is much easier to learn with blades that are matched, if your blades are feathered, you should look at the shaft’s center for pushbutton and holes that encircle the shaft. Press this button and rotate it until the blades are parallel. 

If the blades are asymmetrical then this would mean that one blade is a bit shorter than the other. This can be subtle, so it is important to play close attention to this. This shape helps the paddle not to spin as you pull it through the water.

If you see a uniform oval, then you have symmetrical blades. While you can paddle with any blade type you need to know which type you are paddling with. 

Check if the blades are slightly curved, this is not uncommon. If they are then pay attention to where the concave side faces when you grip the shaft. The curvature should let you get hold of more water for a more powerful stroke. 

Orient your blades

Orienting your paddle blades is all about lining it up with you for the best stroke. You need to pick up your paddle, hold it in front of you and check it. 

Check that as you hold it your large knuckles point up and that your blades are perpendicular to the surface of the ground. 

Ensure that the shorter side of each blade is on the bottom, if you have asymmetrical blades. 

Make sure that the concave side of each blade is facing you if you have this feature. 

Holding the shaft

The shaft is the part that you hold as you paddle. To adjust and ensure you are holding adequately, you can rest the shafts center point on your head, then readjust your grip so that your elbow are positioned at a 90-degree angle. 

This way when you bring the paddle down in front of you, you should have a ‘paddlers box’, which is a shape formed by the shaft, arms and your chest. Maintaining this box as you stroke will help you rotate your torso correctly and maintain a perfect technique. 


While it may be tempting to grip hard onto the shaft of your paddle, it can easily fatigue your arms, wrists and hands. You do not need to grip on for dear life. Having a relaxed grip can be especially useful. It will remind you to rely on your torso instead to power your paddle strokes. 

To do this, make an ‘O’ shape with your fingers around the shaft, do this with your index finger and your thumb. Then rest your other fingers gently on the shaft. 

How to forward stroke

Forward stroke is paddling’s most important stroke, and it is also the stroke that you will spend a majority of your time doing. To do these strokes it is important to engage your stronger torso muscles, in your core and in  your back to do most of the work, not just your arms as you would expect. 

You should ensure that you are holding your paddle correctly. 

Then start off which the catch phrase, during this phase you wind your torso and immerse your blade into the water on one side. Then you perform the power phase rotating your torso as the blade moves behind you, follow the blade in the water with your eyes and let your torso follow. While focusing on pushing against the shaft with your upper hand as you do so.

Then you release, when your hand reaches just behind your hand. At this point remove your blade from the water. 

How to Backward stroke

This stroke can be used as a type of ‘braking’ You can use it to back up or halt your movement. It is the exact opposite of forward stroke. 

Start with the drop phrase, wind your torso and immerse your blade on the side of the boat near your hip. Then rotate your torso as the blade moves in front of you. Then finally release when the paddle blade is even with your feet and slice it from the water. 

What about sweep stroke

If you were to repeatedly do the forward stroke on one side the boat would slowly turn. Doing a sweep stroke is a more efficient way to turn a boat. 

Start off with the catch phrase, extension your arms forward and immersing by your feet, sweep beginning in the direction opposite the direction you want to turn in.

Sweep the blade in a wide arc towards the stern. Power your body’s rotation to optimize the stroke. When the blade approaches the hull behind your cockpit, slice the blade and remove. 

This should result in an effective gradual arcing turn. 

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