How To Paddle A Kayak: The Complete Guide

Man paddling a kayak

It sounds so simple - but learning how to paddle a kayak the right way is one of the most important first steps in your kayaking journey. Maybe you've been paddling for a while and think you have it all figured out. But trust us - with the right technique, you'll enjoy greater efficiency in your strokes. This will help you conserve energy and have more fun on the water.

That's why in this complete guide we're going to teach you to how to use a kayak paddle. You'll learn how to hold a kayak paddle, the four different stroke types, and advice for paddling through different types of water. This article is going to take you from complete beginner to well on your way to becoming a paddling expert.

We've got a lot to cover - so let's not waste any more time. We're going to begin by discussing why learning how to paddle a kayak is so important.

Is There Really A Right & Wrong Way To Paddle A Kayak?

We know what some readers are thinking - learning how to use a kayak paddle can't be that complicated. You hold the paddle and stick the blades in the water to move around. Simple, right?

But, contrary to popular belief, there are kayak paddling techniques you must learn if you want to get good at this activity. Sure - you can hop in some still water and push yourself around and have a great time. But if you're planning going kayaking in the ocean or a river, you need to be aware of how to paddle through those types of water. These types of water require more advanced kayak strokes to help you maneuver more effectively.

Furthermore, if you plan on spending a long day out on the water - you want to conserve your energy as much as possible. Learning the correct way to paddle will help you unlock greater stroke efficiency. You'll get more power out of your strokes, too, helping you accelerate faster. There are even ways to enhance the way you execute turns and save energy along the way.

All of this said, there is no doubt about it - learning how to paddle a kayak is important. That's why we've taken the time to build this guide for you. Without any further ado, let's begin with the first step: how to hold a kayak paddle.

First Things First: How To Hold A Kayak Paddle

Again, learning how to hold a kayak paddle is one of those things some kayakers will neglect at first. It's a paddle - you grab the grips, right? Is there really anything else to it? Yes, as a matter of fact, there is.

There are a few things you need to know if you are hoping to hold your kayak paddle in the most efficient, optimized way. First of all, understand what type of blades you have - so you can orient them properly. You also have to adjust where you grip the shaft and relax your hands to unlock a truly efficient, non-fatiguing stroke.

Learning How To Hold A Kayak Paddle Requires Understanding Of Your Paddle-Type

We recently wrote a complete guide on how to choose a kayak paddle. We highly encourage you to take a look at it if you haven't already. You may not be using the right type of paddle for your goals or unique body type - and you'd never know it! Here are a few questions to ask yourself when examining your paddle that will aid you in holding it correctly:

Do you have matched or feathered blades? If your blades are feathered, you'll want to align them to be parallel (matched) with one another. This makes it easier for beginners to get started. You don't have to replace your paddle - simply push the button in the center of your paddle and rotate one side until it matches the other. Simple as that!

Do you have symmetrical or asymmetrical blades? This speaks to the actual shape of each individual blade. If one half of the blade does not match the other half, your blades are asymmetrical. This will affect how you hold the paddle - which we'll cover more in-depth shortly. Just take note of which type you have.

Do you have concaved or curved blades? These are more or less the standard these days, so the answer is more than likely "yes". You'll want to grip your shaft such that the curved end helps you grab more water. Think of the blade as "scooping" water and you'll know you're holding it in the right direction.

If you don't have your kayak paddle just yet, don't sweat it - our collection of fiberglass kayak paddles includes the best products from the most well-respected brands in the industry. Head over and get yours today so you can make paddling as efficient and fun as possible!

Orient Your Paddle Correctly

Now that you have a better understanding of the type of paddle blade setup you have, you can start to learn how to hold a kayak paddle correctly. It starts with orienting your paddle. Begin by holding the paddle straight out in front of you. Take note of these factors:

  • Your blades should be perpendicular to the water and your knucks should be facing upwards with an overhand grip.
  • If you have asymmetrical blades, make sure the shorter side of your blade is on the bottom. this helps with stroke efficiency.
  • If you have concave/curved blades, the concaved side should face towards you - to help scoop water more effectively and generate power.

Proper orientation is important - but it's just half of the battle. Let's talk about the actual grip you take on the paddle shaft.

Gripping Your Paddle Correctly

Once your paddle is properly oriented, raise it up and rest it on top of your head. This helps you find the center point of your shaft. From there, you should strive for a 90-degree angle in your arms. This creates the strongest paddling position possible. Maintain this position, known as the "paddler's box", throughout every paddle stroke you take. If necessary, adjust your grips to accommodate the paddler's box.

You should also take note of the grip you have on your paddle. You shouldn't be squeezing your shaft - relax that grip if necessary. All a tight grip will do is tire your hands, wrists, forearms, and shoulders out prematurely. You should make an "O" around the shaft of your paddle - letting it sit loosely on the bottom of your "O". From there, you can wrap the rest of your fingers lightly around the shaft. This lighter grip will encourage you to paddle with your torso rather than your arms.

And there you have it - you know how to hold a kayak paddle correctly now! Let's move onto actually learning how to paddle a kayak.

How To Paddle A Kayak: Paddling Techniques For Beginners

Ready to learn how to use a kayak paddle? There are four basic paddle strokes we want to teach you today. These will make up the foundation of your kayak paddling technique. They are:

  1. The Forward Stroke
  2. The Reverse Stroke
  3. The Sweep Stroke
  4. The Draw Stroke

The Forward Stroke

As you can probably imagine, the forward stroke is the first one you're going to learn because it's what you'll use the most. The forward stroke is how you propel your kayak "forward" as the name suggests. When learning the forward stroke, it is important to remember that with all these paddle strokes you should strive to use your torso and core - not your arms. Sure, your arms will help out - but don't make them do all the work. Your torso is much stronger. Let it do the heavy lifting.

With that said, there are three phases of the forward stroke: The catch phase, power phase, and release phase. In the catch phase, you will wind your torso back and put your blade forward in the water. Try to insert the blade up towards your feet - the further down you can initiate the catch phase, the more power will be generated in the next phase.

Once you've inserted your blade, it's time to initiate the power phase. Rotate your torso back past the starting position, pulling the water with you. The blade should end up behind you at this point. You'll want to focus on pushing your other hand forward as you pull back. This mental cue will help you generate greater efficiency. Finally, you can initiate the release phase - where you pull the blade (now behind you) out of the water and begin the catch phase on the other side of your body.

The Reverse Stroke

Now that you have a better understanding of the forward stroke, let's talk about the opposite movement - the reverse stroke. You can already surmise that this is the stroke you'll use to bring your kayak to a stop or to reverse direction altogether. And now that you know the forward stroke, you know that the three phases will just be reversed:

Start by rotating your torso and dropping your blade in the water back behind your hip. Then, initiate the power phase by rotating your torso and pushing the water away from you - until your paddle blade ends up down by your feet. At this point, you can initiate the release phase - slicing your blade out of the water and repeating the stroke on the other side to keep the movement going.

Simple enough, right? Let's talk about some more advanced strokes you can add to your arsenal.

The Sweep Stroke

Want to execute a turn on the water? You'll need to use the sweep stroke to do so. you can accomplish the same result by repeating a forward stroke on one side of the boat. But, your turn will be much quicker and more efficient with the sweep stroke.

Start with the catch phase. Stick your blade up near your feet on the side opposite you want to turn. For example, if you're seeking a right-hand turn, you'll initiate the catch phase on the left side. The turn phase is where you begin the sweeping motion. Create a wide arc back towards the turn of the boat. The key here is to create a wide arc - whereas you draw your paddle straight back with a forward stroke, you should draw your paddle in an arc towards the stern of your kayak. The release phase should be initiated once your paddle blade reaches the hull behind your cockpit. Slice your blade out of the water and get right back into the catch phase if necessary.

The Draw Stroke

Last but not least, we've got the draw stroke. This is a way to move your kayak sideways - without turning. You'll move in a straight line either left or right. This stroke will be your bread and butter for pulling yourself into a friend's boat or intro a dock.

Start by rotating your grip on the paddle. It should be oriented such that the blade is now horizontal to the surface of the water. Then, you can reach your blade about 2' away from you and touch the tip into the water. You'll notice that your paddle shaft is angled about 45 degrees from the water surface. Using your lower hand, pull the water towards you. Once your paddle blade is just about to touch your kayak, release and initiate another stroke if necessary.

Final Thoughts On How To Paddle A Kayak

There you have it - how to paddle a kayak with great efficiency and power. It's not as complicated as it may seem, but there are a few things you need to know before getting started. And now that you're aware of them, you're ready to hit the open water and enjoy all the bliss and excitement it has to offer!

If you still need to get all your kayak gear, don't worry - the folks here at OutdoorPlay have you covered. As lifelong paddlers ourselves, we know exactly what makes or breaks your time on the water. And we've carefully vetted and curated the products on our site to help you make the most of each adventure you set out on. From clothing to safety equipment, to actual kayaks for sale - we've got it all.

So, what are you waiting for? Get all your essentials today and enjoy your next trip to the water in style, safety, and convenience!

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