Last post we talked about how to get in a kayak that you’ve fallen out of. Now you can paddle with confidence, no need to worry about the “what if” scenario. If you haven’t read that one, it’s a great place to start. Click here to read that post.
In this post we’ll be talking about kayak paddling technique. How to paddle a kayak forward, or forward stroke. It’s not terrible complicated, but it can make all the difference once you’ve learned it. Have a fun day on the water with less fatigue is always great. These tips will help you paddle farther for longer while using less energy. Who would like that?
First, let’s talk about our paddle.
Size Does Matter: Like most sports equipment, kayak paddles are best when sized to the individuals needs. Some paddles are longer or shorter, ranging on average from 210cm- 240cm. The length really depends on the type of kayak you will be padding, your style, and your wing span. Be sure to only purchase a paddle from an expert that can help with proper sizing. We’ll get more specific on that in another post. But know that a casual paddler or a larger person will usually use a longer paddle. Someone with a narrow touring kayak or a more aggressive style will use a shorter paddle.
Anatomy: Here are the parts of a paddle. Starting at the tip, that’s called the tip. So clever. Then we have the blade. This has a convex side, or backside that faces away from you. Then a concave side that looks like a spoon, this faces the paddler. The long center part is called the shaft, that’s where our hands go. Where the blade meets the shaft is called the knuckle. If your paddle blade have a long end, that will face up. Pretty straight forward stuff.
To Feather or Not To Feather: Some people prefer to have offset paddle blades, some prefer to have blades that align evenly. Both are great, mostly depends on your style. I personally like a feathered blade on windy days. And a straight paddle on my cruising casual days. The big difference in the two styles is in feathered paddles you have a hand that is loose (called a grease hand), and one that rotates the paddle (called a control or glue hand). This allows the paddle shaft to rotate so it can get full water contact, while the portion out of the water has a smaller profile to cut through the air. With even blades you’ll have a relaxed grip for both hands, no need to rotate.
Hold This: Where to place your hands. You’ll place the center of the paddle on top of your head, place your hands so your arms make 90 degree angles. Sometimes I’ll place tape in this area so I can find it easily.
Have a Seat: How to site while paddling. This can really depend on your kayak, conditions, and what your objective is. But, in general, you’ll want to sit upright with good posture. You’ll also want to make sure your legs are bent so they can help stabilize and rotation to apply power.
Move Along: How to move forward, or forward stroke. This is can be broken down into three phases, also known as CPR. This stands for Catch, Power, Recover. Sometimes it’s broken down into 4 phases, but I like the CPR acronym.
- Catch – Ideally the paddle will enter the water at your toes, that will require some rotation. If you lead with your shoulder, this will give you the reach and rotation needed. Get a full blade in the water. I mean all of it.
- Power – Fallow through with a pull that unwinds your rotated upper body. I’ve seen some experts with straight arms and some with bent. It’s not super comfy to have locked out arms, but it’s definitely faster. So, maybe a bit of both, depending on what you’re doing. I’ve found it most comfortable with a slight bend, the point is to not rely on your arms, though. They are best used to supplement power and guide your paddle.
- Recover – This starts when your paddle reaches your hip. You’ll exit the paddle out of the water as cleanly as possible, try not to scoop a bunch of water. Usually an exit without splashes is ideal.
The process will cycle until you’re too tired, reached your destination, or spot a dolphin swimming by. Something I thing when I’m focusing on my technique is something learned while competitive swimming. Smooth is fast, try not to disturb the water, try to keep the splashes from your paddle as small as possible. This will translate to less wasted energy and much more efficient paddle stroke.
This is also a very basic break down of the technique, a starting place really. There is lots more to learn, this will give you a great knowledge base, and you’ll be much faster than your friends.