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Kayak Paddling Techniques [The 5 Most Critical Skills You Need To Know]

Kayak Paddling Techniques

Most people enjoy water sports. However, to find thrill and fun in any of these sports, learning the right skills are essential, especially if you want to jump into kayaking. Unlike other water sports, you will not be able to paddle your kayak right away without first learning the right kayak paddle techniques.

To paddle as a professional kayaker, you have to apply the best techniques. The way of paddling may not be easy for everyone initially. But once you get the hang of it, kayaking will feel like a breeze.

Get into a kayak the right way

It is true that paddling is one of the most important elements for kayaking. However, the first step for every kayaker is to know how to get into the kayak the right way.

If it is a recreational kayak, you can access it while you are on land. First, slowly push your kayak into the water body. Then, place the kayak properly so that it helps you slide in easily.

When the kayak is in the water, you have to place your hand on the grab loop. The boat and the paddle must remain perpendicular to each other.

The 5 most important and essential kayaking strokes

1) Forward stroke

This is one of the most common kayaking strokes. Most of us will just take the paddle and paddle forward right away. However, many of us will not be able to apply the proper technique. We commit the mistake of moving our paddle using our arms without rotating our torso.

2) Backstroke

You may think that it is unusual to do kayaking backyard. However, in some cases, you may need to apply this technique:-

  • In the tightest spot
  • To get to the flipped or drowned kayaker very fast
  • When you have gone beyond your target spot

 Backward movement is essential in all these instances.

3) Sweep and reverse sweep

The sweep stroke is applicable for making a turn and for adjusting the course of your kayak. You may also spin your kayak with this stroke.

You can learn the reverse version of this sweep stroke. This is useful for turning around your kayak. You can do it at the time of paddling to the backward direction.

4) Draw stroke

This is another stroke for impressing others. For sideward movement, you can choose this technique.

This stroke is very useful when you are trying to reach another kayak right beside you.

5) Spin Maneuver

This is a blend of sweep stroke and its reverse version. You can twist around the kayak by relying on this technique. By learning this technique, you can also easily turn around the kayak.

It is quite easy for beginners to learn the process of paddling the kayak. You can easily acquire these 5 basic moves in a day. However, if you aim to be a skilled kayaker in just a single day, it will not be possible.

Kayaking techniques for beginners

Once you have learned the right paddling style, you will be surprised at how fast you can actually move the kayak without actually applying much energy that may cause high stress on the muscles. Therefore, it is essential for beginners to know the following steps for proper kayaking.

You have to place the blade of the paddle into the water, close to your own feet. When you have applied the stroke at the right side, you need to twist your torso’s right side.

Release your torso and then start putting the blade to water. The arm at the lower position must be straight. Hit the foot against the foot peg to gain more power. During all these movements, your body muscles will play a significant role. These muscles help you in applying power. However, your paddle blade has to be at an appropriate angle. Unwind one of your arms (upper one) throughout the movement. Remember not to hold your paddle too tightly.

After you have covered the steps for strokes, you have to raise your paddle blade from the water. Use your elbow for directing the movement. Your elbow must remain just below the level of your shoulder.

Your posture is the most important thing

You have to know the proper way of sitting in a kayak. The seat of the kayak has to make you feel comfortable.

The comfort level from the seat differentiates the better-quality kayaks from the lower quality ones. In most high quality river kayaks, the seats are highly comfortable, and you can easily recline on them.

However, while you are paddling the kayak, you have to sit straight with the right posture. You must not lean back in any way. The right posture also helps you in paddling faster without feeling backache.

Keep the feet at the correct position. You may also adjust foot pegs for bending the knees slightly. You can also spread the knees for better balance. The position of the legs also affects the sitting position. This decreases the stress on your back and hamstring. The backrest of the reliable kayak is adjustable.

Your legs and torso play the major role in the kayak paddling process. Your arms and shoulders are also useful for the transmission of power. We have found that most of the novice kayakers make these mistakes. They do not rotate the torso with effort. Novices keep their torso part very stiff and develop athletic posture.

Always remember to relax and not be too stiff while you are on the kayak. It can restrict your capability of shifting your hips. The rotation of torso starts at the initial point of your stroke. You can make three to four strokes at one of the sides, and then, you may switch to a different side.

These are the few common mistakes found in the effort of novice kayakers.

  • They sit with an improper sitting posture
  • A stroke ends far behind their hip
  • They apply wrong tech for the sideward movement of the kayak
  • They drive their upper arm too much to the front, causing an effect on blade angle
  • They bend their wrists and strain them

Thus, you must refrain from using the wrong techniques while paddling the kayaks.

Different Types of paddles

This is another relevant factor for all beginners. The kayak paddles are available in two versions- feathered and unfeathered.

In case of the unfeathered style, you can find the blades lining up with each other.

With the feathered models, the blades are facing opposite to each other. While taking a forward stroke, these feathered units are highly useful. Right-handed kayakers mostly choose this paddle. They keep up a very firm grip with their right hand for controlling the paddle.

Of course, regardless of matched or feathered, the most important factor is always to get the right paddles for efficient paddling. Check out this guide to find out what paddle size is suitable for you.

features of the blades

The blades of your kayak paddles may be asymmetrical; one of the sides is slightly shorter than the other. This is the best shape for tracking the paddle in a straight position while pulling it through water.

If the shape of the blade has a consistent oval design, it is refer to as the symmetrical blade. To train on your kayak paddling techniques, you may choose any of these blade designs.

Another thing, notable about the blade is their concave design. While holding the shaft, you have to focus on how the concave side is positioned. This type of shape helps you in grabbing more amount of water that results in a potential stroke.


In conclusion, learning the proper paddling techniques may be quite easy but mastering it takes practice. Buying the best quality paddles will help ease the practicing process. You can also seek help from other skilled kayakers. With regular kayaking, you will be able to improve your skills very fast.

Choose a smaller water body as a beginner. Once you get used to the kayak paddling techniques, you can try paddling in a river or sea. If you are also into fishing, you should invest in the best kayak for fishing. However, it is important to note that the paddle used for fishing is slightly different than normal. Check out this article if you are interested in the paddles for fishing.

Douglas Keister

I am an adventure fanatic that loves nature and adventure sports like kayaking, camping and water sports. I have been doing this for almost 10 years now and have learned quite a few tricks. With my experience, I hope to provide you with the most reliable and accurate information for your next adventure.

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Steav Smith - May 7, 2019

Thanks for talking about the danger of wind while kayaking and the increased chance of turning over. My sister loves the outdoors and her birthday’s coming up, so I was thinking of buying a kayak for her. If I get her a kayak, I’d want her to know the dangers of kayaking in the wind so she can be safe and enjoy the present.

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