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How To Paddle A Kayak Correctly

How To Paddle A Kayak

Kayaking is a great way to get outdoors and spend some time on the water. Learning how to paddle a kayak is not very hard and is also a great source of exercise. You can do it with the whole family or just a couple of friends getting away for the weekend. Many places rent kayaks, and most have instructors that can teach you the finer points of kayaking. Here we’re going to start you off with the basics so you won’t feel like a fish out of water during your first excursion.

You’ll want to familiarize yourself with your equipment as much as possible, and if kayaking alone, having a working knowledge of your paddle can help in case of any unforeseen issues.

Parts Of The Paddle

Paddle Shaft — This is the piece that connects your two blades and also where you’ll place your hands. Most kayak paddles have shafts made from two common materials: aluminum or fiberglass; some newer and higher-end models even use carbon fiber. The length of the shaft will be determined by your height, paddle strokes and how big your kayak is.

Paddle Blade — Also made from aluminum or fiberglass, the blades of your paddle will be asymmetrical. This means that one side of your blade will be shorter than the other. This is to help keep you straight when in motion. As you improve, you may switch to an offset blade for more power. But if you are a beginner, then stick to matched paddle blades.

Choosing The Best Paddle For You

Choosing The Best Paddle For You

The right paddle length and type for you will be based on many factors:

  • Where you will be paddling
  • How tall you are
  • What your stroke type is
  • How big your kayak is

Once you have determined these, then you will have a much easier time selecting a kayak paddle.

How To Hold A Kayak Paddle

Holding your kayak paddle correctly will not only be safe but much more efficient for you. With the proper technique, you’ll be able to paddle for hours.

To find the best hand position, start by sitting in your kayak. Hold your arms up so your elbows are at a perfect 90° angle. Your hands should be over your head as if you are surrendering with your hands up.

Place the kayak paddle in both your hands without affecting the angle of your elbows. This is the proper distance that your hands should be for optimal control and power.

Seating Position And Posture

Beginners often overlook this, but kayak paddling techniques can be a huge help when getting used to kayak strokes.

Seating Position And Posture
  • Start by adjusting your backrest – you should feel it snug against your back but don’t be dependent on it, this isn’t your grandfather’s LaZ-E-Boy!
  • Always paddle upright and keep your chest open, it will give you the most powerful and versatile paddling technique
  • Find your footpegs and rest your feet on them; your legs should be outstretched but not with locked knees – you will use your legs while you’re paddling
  • Secure your thighs on the thigh pad which will help you maintain balance in the kayak and give you some leverage when paddling

Strokes For Kayaking

There are four basic strokes that you can use to control your kayak. When you’re out practicing, remove any rudders you may have on your kayak. Paddling without a rudder will give you excellent feedback.

Strokes For Kayaking

1. Forward Stroke

This is usually the first stroke everyone learns as it will assist you with moving your kayak forward in a straight line.

  • Your first action is to reach forward while engaging all your core muscles, and put the blade in the water as close to your feet as possible
  • Using your core, pull the blade towards the back of the kayak with your lower hand and push forward with your upper hand
  • Once the blade has passed your hip, and you have some forward momentum, swiftly withdraw your kayak paddle from the water and repeat the process on the other side

2. Reverse Stroke

The reverse stroke is used for paddling backward and can be used to stop when you’re moving forward. It is the opposite of the forward stroke.

  • First, put your blade in the water next to your hip
  • Push forward towards your toes
  • Use your top hand to pull back for added leverage

3. Sweep Stroke

Use the forward sweep stroke to turn your kayak quickly. If you paddle on one side using the forward stroke you will still turn but the sweep stroke will make it happen quicker.

  • Start the same way you would for the forward stroke by reaching forward and putting your paddle in the water near your feet
  • When pulling back, be sure to extend your paddle away from the boat in a semi-circle shape – use your torso for power, and don’t rely on your arms too much
  • Once the paddle is adjacent to the cockpit, you can use all your power to turn sharply if need be
  • After completing the stroke, remove your paddle from the water and do it again if you need to turn more

4. Draw Stroke

The draw stroke is meant to maneuver your kayak close to a dock or another boat. It’s the shortest of the four strokes and also the least powerful.

  • The first thing to note here is that your paddle blade should have the power face pointed toward you
  • Reach out directly to your side about two feet and put the paddle in the water
  • Pull towards yourself to make the kayak move in the direction that your paddle first entered the water
  • Remove the paddle before it hits your kayak, so it doesn’t get wedged against whatever you are docking against

Launching And Landing Your Kayak

Launching and landing your kayak the first few times will probably not be your most graceful moments. This can be tricky depending on how big the surf is that you’re launching into. Remember always to be safe and never launch into water you’re uncomfortable with.

First, find a spot in the water that is about 2-3 feet deep so you can start from a floating position. You also want a calm area so you can take your time while you get settled.

When you make your move towards the waves, be sure to paddle fast and with power. You don’t want to paddle through any more waves than you have to.

As a wave approaches, be sure to give one more powerful stroke to gain speed. This will help when the wave crashes over the bow. It also helps to have your kayak paddle in the water for stability while the wave is crashing.

Whether launching or landing, it’s important to make strong and quick strokes. This is not the time to stop and smell the roses.

Top Kayak Tips

Top Kayak Tips
  • Choose a paddle length that is right for you. To measure, stand up straight and extend your arm straight up. This should be the length of your paddle.
  • Start with a partner. To kayak alone at any level can be unsafe. Having someone who is going through the same learning process as you will make it more fun and safe.
  • If you are uncertain about your kayak paddling techniques or any water safety in general, then it’s never a bad idea to take a lesson. Your instructor will be able to identify your natural issues and put an end to them quickly.
  • When paddling, stay as upright as possible. This will help with your balance and put you in the best position to get the best pulling motion.

Kayaking Safety

To enjoy this activity to its fullest, every kayaker must be familiar with the inherent dangers. Any time you are on the water is an unpredictable time as conditions can change in the blink of an eye.

  • The best place to start your kayak career is on a river. The paddle will be more effective, and land is always nearby.
  • Most newcomers tend to start on a lake which is the next best place to start. Stay close to shore and constantly monitor weather conditions. Depending on the lake, you may have to navigate around motorboat traffic as well.
  • Always use life jackets and ensure they fit correctly. If you love kayaking as much as we do, you will be wearing it for hours at a time.

Frequently Asked Questions

The proper way to paddle a kayak is the start with a seated but upright posture. Reach forward and put your paddle in the water near your feet, and pull back with your bottom hand while using your core and back muscles. Push forward with your top hand then withdraw your paddle from the water when it’s beside your hip.

No, kayaking is not hard for beginners. It’s a great way to get out and enjoy the fresh air, sun and whatever body of water you are kayaking on. While it may take some practice to master sweep strokes and learning to paddle forward with confidence, a beginner can have plenty of fun.

The angle of your kayak paddle should be as close to upright as possible when using the push-pull technique. This will allow the blade to be fully immersed in the water, resulting in the most movement. It also allows you to keep your hands at an optimal distance apart on the paddle.

Yes, kayaking is good exercise. To the untrained eye, it may seem like it’s only for the upper body, but it activates your torso as well. If you are paddling with proper technique, then your larger muscles will be working. Your core, back and upper legs should be doing the heavy lifting.

Yes, kayaks can flip over easily. Due to the design of the kayak though, this is no problem. You can practice your rollovers in calm waters so you will know what to do when it happens. Use your kayak paddle as much as you can to shift your weight around. In shallow water, use the bottom to propel yourself upright.


Like anything else in life, practicing how to paddle a kayak is crucial. It’s best to get out there and try as many times as possible, especially initially. Once you start putting the pieces together, it creates a snowball effect, and you’ll learn how to paddle a kayak quickly. One of the great things about touring kayaks is you can go to so many different places. Just strap your kayak to the rook of your car and hit the road. Who knows where your kayak will take you.

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