Kayak Paddling Techniques: A Beginner’s Guide

One of the great things about kayaking is that anyone can pick it up very quickly. All you need is a kayak, a kayak paddle and some water and you’re good to go. But, it does help to know a bit more about how to handle your boat when you’re in it.

In this beginner’s guide, we’re going to cover the different paddling techniques that you’ll need to know when you hit the water for the first time.

Why it’s good to learn proper techniques for paddling a kayak?

It’s good to learn the different types of kayak paddling for a number of different reasons. With proper technique you’ll be:

  • More efficient
  • Safer
  • Less likely to get tired
  • Prepared to deal with more difficult water and weather situations

There are a number of different strokes you’ll need to be familiar with some more advanced than others.

The different paddling techniques you need to know

So before we discuss the different strokes there are a few basics we need to cover.

Whenever you make a stroke you should aim to have the whole paddle blade in the water. There’s no advantage to it being deeper and it won’t work properly if you have the blade only half submerged. Aim for the whole blade to be just under the water line.

Forward paddling

The most basic and used paddling technique is the forward stroke. This will move you forward and if done correctly will not turn to the left or right but keep the boat straight.

To stop the kayak from turning as you paddle forwards you should place the blade as close to the boat as possible.

  1. Reach as far forward as you you can comfortably without bending your back, aiming for about the distance where your feet are.
  2. Place the paddle blade into the water pull towards you whilst simultaneously pushing away from you with your other hand
  3. Pull the blade back through the water until its about level with the back of your seat.
  4. As you lift the blade out of the water rotate your body the other way and repeat on the opposite side.

Try and find a more experienced paddler who you know has good technique and watch and emulate them as much as you can. You can also practice when you’re out of the water.

Back stroke

Next, we have the back stroke which is very similar to the forward stroke but a little trickier. The first thing to mention is that you don’t need to change your grip on the paddle, you don’t need to twist the blades or change anything when paddling backwards.

  1. Twist your body and reach behind you to place the blade in the water as far as you can comfortably reach
  2. Push the blade forwards through the water trying to use your torso rather than your arm strength.
  3. Continue until your arms are straight making the stroke as long as possible before repeating on the other side.

Don’t worry if you turn slightly whilst performing this stroke, just make sure there aren’t any obstacles behind you.

As with everything in life it takes practice so see how far you can back stroke whilst keeping the boat in a straight line.

Stopping the kayak

Being able to stop your kayak quickly is a very important paddling technique to learn. You don’t want to be crashing into anything!

To stop a kayak whilst you’re moving forward thrust the blade into the water bedside you and resist the force of the water hitting the blade.

This will cause the kayak to turn and as soon as you feel it begin to turn to the same on the other side of the boat, thrusting the blade into the water and resisting the force of the water.

Repeat this process until you’ve stopped but it will usually work after the 4th or 5th time.

Draw Stroke

The draw stroke is a kayaking maneuver that you’re going to be using a lot when you’re out on the water. Draw strokes allow you to move the kayak sideways. You’ll use this stroke to pull up alongside something like a dock or to help out a fellow kayaker who’s capsized and you want to lend them a hand getting back in.

To do a draw stroke:

  1. Turn your body to face the direction that you want to go.
  2. Place the blade in the water to one side as far as you can reach away from you with the drive face of the blade towards the kayak.
  3. Pull the blade in the water towards you and repeat as needed

One thing to watch out for is that the boat may begin to turn whilst you’re performing a draw stroke. If this happens you’re making the stroke either too far forward or too far back. Try to place the paddle in the middle and pull towards you as straight as possible.

Summing up the strokes

Hopefully, that’s helped you get more of an idea about the different kayaking strokes and how we use them. There are lots of others that you’ll need to know about as you become more experienced. I’ll update this post shortly with some more of the advanced ones shortly.