How To Paddle A Kayak

Although kayaking may look pretty simple, it can be quite tricky to perfect your paddling technique. But, once you’ve learnt how, it can be such a free feeling to paddle through the water. 

Read on to learn some basic tips before you begin and some of the key paddle techniques you’ll need to know. 

How to Paddle a Kayak

How To Hold A Paddle 

The key to having an efficient stroke is to make sure you’re holding your paddle correctly. You also need to make sure that you’re using the correct paddle length for you. 

There are four key things to know to hold your paddle right. 

Know Your Paddle Blades 

  • Matched Blades (Parallel): It’s easier to learn to kayak with matched blades. 
  • Feathered Blades (At an Angle to Each Other): There should be a push-button on the centre of the paddle shaft. Press the button and rotate the two halves of the shaft until the blades are parallel with one another. 
  • Asymmetrical Blades: One blade is a little shorter than the other. 
  • Concave Blades (Curved): This shape allows you to “grab” more water for a faster and more powerful stroke.

Orient Your Paddle Blades Correctly

You want to hold your paddle out in front of you and check for the following three things: 

  • Your knuckles should be pointing upwards and your blades should be perpendicular (at a 90° angle) to the ground’s surface. 
  • The shorter side of each blade should be on the bottom. 
  • If you have concave blades, the curved side should be facing you. 

Adjust How You Hold The Shaft

Rest the middle of the paddle shaft on your head and readjust your grip so that your elbows are at a 90° angle. 

Bring the paddle back down in front of you – you should now have the “paddler’s box” shape. Maintaining this box shape while you stroke should help you rotate your torso when you paddle. 

Keep Your Grip Relaxed 

Maintaining a relaxed grip will help you from tiring out too easily and will force you to rely on your torso to power your paddle. 

To relax your grip, make an “O” shape around the shaft with your thumb and index finger. Gently rest your other fingers on the shaft. 

Now you’ve set yourself up properly, you’re ready to paddle. 

How To Forward Stroke 

This is the most basic but most important kayaking paddling technique and it’s most likely the one you’ll use the most. You’ll need to learn the forward stroke to propel yourself forward, making sure to engage your torso muscles for more power. 

There are three phases to the forwarded stroke: 

  1. Catch Phase: Wind your torso and anchor one of your paddle blades in the water next to your feet. 
  2. Power Phase: Rotate your torso as you pull the blade through the water to propel the kayak forward. Focus on pushing against the shaft with your upper hand as you move. 
  3. Release Phase: When the blade reaches your hip, slice it out of the water. 

Next you want to rotate your torso and repeat these steps on the other side. 


  • Focus on using your core muscles (torso, back etc) rather than using the muscles in your arms – your arms will tire quickly. 
  • Keep yourself as upright as possible to help you maintain your balance. 
  • Think of the paddler’s box during each stroke, this will help you align your body correctly during each phase. 

How To Reverse Stroke 

You can use a reverse stroke to paddle backwards, which is pretty useful if you need to back your kayak up. Similarly, this is quite a simple stroke as it’s just the opposite of a forward stroke: 

  1. Drop Phase: Wind your torso and anchor one side of the paddle in the water next to your hip. 
  2. Power Phase: Rotate your torso as you push your blade forwards. 
  3. Release Phase: Once your blade reaches your feet, slice it out of the water. 

To repeat, just rotate your torso slightly and put the opposite side of the paddle in the water. 

How To Sweep Stroke 

Repeatedly doing a forward strike on the same side of the kayak is a more efficient way to turn around. 

Again there are three steps to the sweep stroke: 

  1. Catch Phase: Extend your arms forward and sink your blade into the water near your feet – make sure you are sweeping on the opposite side of the kayak to the direction you want to go in.
  2. Turn Phase: Sweep the blade in an arc towards the stern (back) of the boat. Focus your power in the rotation to optimize the stroke. 
  3. Release Phase: Once the blade reaches the stern, slice it out of the water. 

You may need to repeat these steps again if you haven’t reached the direction you want to go in. Once you’re facing the way you want to go, continue with a forward stroke. 


  • You want to make sure you’re doing a wide sweep so you can gain enough momentum to turn the kayak.

How To Draw Stroke 

You will need to use a draw stroke to move your kayak sideways. This is particularly useful when trying to move your kayak close to a dock, or another boat. 

  1. Make sure your paddle blades are rotated horizontally. 
  2. Next, reach out the tip of your blade and touch the surface of the water about two feet away from the side of your kayak. 
  3. Keep your paddle in the water, but tilt your paddle shaft to a steep angle. 
  4. Use your lowered hand to pull the blade towards you, keeping the tip of the blade in the water during the stroke.
  5. Stop just before the blade reaches the kayak.

Usually it’ll take a couple of strokes, so to repeat, rotate your blade to a 90° angle, and slice it out of the water. Repeat steps 1-5 until you’re in position. 


  • If you accidentally hit the side of your boat, do not pry your paddle out of the water as this can cause you to capsize. Instead, let go of your top hand, relax and start the steps over again. 

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