5 Kayak Paddling Techniques (and What to Avoid)

It might seem like an easy task to jump into a kayak and start paddling. While this may be true, the fact is that taking the time early on to develop effective paddling technique will not only make you a more skilled kayaker but will also help you exert less energy and enjoy your experience much more. Paddling techniques vary based on the type of water where you might be kayaking, but there are some hard and fast rules that will ensure that you can maneuver effectively through the water no matter where you might find yourself.


Follow the tips below to become an expert paddler in no time.

1. Posture, Posture, Posture!

Remember when your mom used to tell you to sit up straight at the dinner table? It turns out she was just trying to prepare you to become a great kayaker. When paddling in your kayak, you might tend to lean backward as you paddle. However, you should focus on keeping your back straight and your shoulders upright and relaxed. Open your chest and breath deeply, and avoid leaning on your backrest as you put force into your paddling.

2. Watch Your Footwork!

When paddling, your legs should be kept together with feet planted firmly on the footpegs. Before beginning, adjust the pegs to ensure that your knees are able to bend slightly when seated and that you can separate them to lean against the inner sides of the kayak for balance if waters get rough. Select a kayak with solid footpegs that are adjustable and properly positioned.

3. Let Your Lower Half Do the Work.

While paddling might seem like an upper-body workout, most of the force should actually come from your legs and torso. Your shoulder and arms should simply act as a sort of level through which the force is transmitted into the paddles. To practice this, try to paddle while keeping your arms locked and only rotating your torso. This might seem uncomfortable, but it will help you develop an understanding of how the mechanics of your body should work when paddling.

4. Start Your Stroke.

To begin the stroke, rotate your midsection until the blade is in the water just above where your feet are located. Keep your arm almost completely straight, then relax your other arm and press your foot firmly against the peg. Then sink the blade into the water.

kayak paddling

5. Complete the Stroke.

Your stroke through the water should end once your lower hand is near your stomach. You might feel tempted to continue the stroke past this point, but this will actually kill some of your momentum. Keep your stroke between your feet and your belly in order
Now move the blade upward and out of the water. Now repeat the process on the other side.

Now that you’ve gotten some basic tips on paddling form, here are some common mistakes to avoid.

Incorrect Posture—Keep that back straight, and don’t get lazy as your kayaking trip goes on!

Poor Rotation—Remember: the strength comes from your midsection and legs, not your arms and shoulders. Make sure to keep that torso turning.

Too-long Strokes—Resist the urge to end the stroke too far back, as you’ll be killing your momentum and forward speed.

Shifting Weight—It can be tempting to throw your entire body into every stroke, but this will cause the kayak to rock which can not only kill forward momentum but can also capsize your boat.

Bending Wrists—Kayaking is definitely not all in the wrists. Keep your wrists straight to avoid putting undue strain on the joints.

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