How to Paddle a Kayak For Beginners

How to Paddle a Kayak For Beginners

Make sure your hands are in the proper positions on the paddle shaft, when resting it over your head your elbows should form a 90-degree angle (this is known as the ‘paddler’s box”).

Extend one arm and lower the blade into the water far enough forward so you can reach it, then use your other hand to bring it toward you with one pull of your other hand.

Seating position

Snugly sit in your kayak, keeping legs slightly bent and pointed toward either side of the vessel. Adjusting either the seat or backrest if it feels too hard or soft may be necessary.

Place one paddle blade close to your hip, wind your torso around it and lightly push on its shaft with one hand, so that the blade advances along the side of your boat towards your feet. Continue pushing it, using your torso rotation as power for pushing. When it reaches the hull behind your seat, turn over and slice out of the water so as to not hit your feet on either the side or other boats.

Keep your hands in an “O” during each stroke to help avoid wrist and arm fatigue and make rotation of your torso simpler; this relaxed grip also teaches how to control paddling speed more easily; practice may be required before becoming adept at paddling without becoming fatigued or colliding into other kayaks or objects.

Paddle position

To paddle effectively, it’s essential to engage your torso muscles rather than relying solely on arm power. A great way to do this is by aligning the blade of your paddle properly.

Reaching one side of the kayak and submerging its tip into the water, then moving backwards in a D-shape is known as a sweep stroke and allows for small course adjustments without losing momentum.

Once you become proficient at this stroke, you can apply it to more substantial changes of direction. But first you must set up your paddle correctly: position it before you with its blade perpendicular to the boat and your hands shoulder-width apart on its shaft; with large knuckles of your dominant hand facing upwards while shorter edges (if they differ) of each blade resting against their respective bottom corners (if they’re asymmetrical).

Attention should also be paid to whether or not your blades are slightly concave, meaning one side is longer than the other. This allows them to capture more water for an efficient stroke while helping avoid too much slipping on the surface – something beginners often struggle with.

Forward stroke

Forward stroke is an essential kayaking motion and should propel you forward. Your hand should pass in front of your nose as both blades stay flat against one another (long sides towards stern of kayak). When taking a forward stroke, ensure both elbows remain close to your body for maximum efficiency.

The catch phase of forward stroke involves reaching down with your paddle and dipping its blade into the water near your feet. For maximum power from your stroke, unwinding your torso by pulling back to about your hip, pulling back again with hand on same side, then pushing forward again using opposite hand is best practice – here you get maximum leverage from paddle.

Recovery (also called end of stroke or ending of stroke) occurs when you remove your paddle from the water, pulling up out of its grip to release it back onto another blade in preparation for another stroke. Barton advises beginning recovery when your blade passes your knees and ending it when your paddle reaches your hip.

Sweep stroke

This stroke allows you to turn the kayak by pushing water away from its nose while extending your paddle for greater turning power. The sweep stroke can be used when stationary or on the move and is an excellent method of approaching other boats and docks, or maneuvering around rocks, weeds or any obstructions found within lakes and rivers.

Position the paddle blade perpendicular to the boat with hands shoulder-width apart on the shaft. On non-working side of paddle should remain nearly straight with arm positioned mid torso (Paddler’s Box). Working blade must enter water edge first and be pulled back slowly while following kayak arc from bow to stern, remaining submerged throughout stroke.

To complete the stroke, unwind your torso by pushing with the stroke-side foot against the foot peg and using your upper hand to gently pull backward on the shaft. Beware not to let your paddle hit against the side of the kayak as it’s being pulled backward; doing so could cause it to tip over and lose stability; if this does occur, stop immediately and reposition your paddle immediately!

Draw stroke

The draw stroke is an effective way to learn kayak turning using a paddle, and also build feathering or “slicing” skills in the water. Start by placing the paddle vertically in the water next to your feet and winding your torso as you push against your stroke-side footpeg for powering the stroke. Once the blade has become immersed, begin rotating your torso by swinging the paddle back towards your hip in an arch shape until it reaches your hip. At that point, slice out of the water to complete this turn, before continuing forward paddling normally in regular forward strokes again.

This stroke is ideal for practicing on moving water as it engages not only arm strength but also core and back muscles. Relaxed gripping helps avoid fatigue and stress on hands, wrists and arms; if this proves challenging try holding just with index finger and thumb; rest the remaining fingers lightly against shaft; this should provide a comfortable, secure grip that relies more on torso propulsion to move the boat forward.


Paddling in calm waters requires additional skill than simply paddling straight ahead, and turning requires even more finesse than simply paddling straight ahead. A technique known as the sweep stroke allows for turning in an arc to help maneuver around obstacles or docks in tight spaces. Begin by planting both feet firmly against either side of your cockpit before dipping one blade of the paddle into the water on one side before swiftly switching sides quickly for completion of this stroke – beware not allowing it to hit against your boat, which would result in its loss and could tip over control!

To ensure you’re holding the paddle correctly, first make sure both hands are at equal distances from its blades. Next, inspect the shaft to make sure your knuckles line up with the top of the paddle – if not, adjust your grip until they do! Ideally, this should form what’s known as “the paddler’s box,” consisting of your chest, arms and the shaft.

Torso rotation is another essential aspect of proper paddle technique. By rotating your upper body with each stroke, torso rotation can alleviate stress on shoulders and rotator cuffs while making strokes more powerful.

Launching and exiting

If you’re new to kayaking, it is advisable to practice before trying it for the first time. Without proper technique it can be tricky entering and exiting a kayak; several methods exist; one important way is using quick hard motions while boarding; others include asking a friend for assistance or using something as leverage to lift yourself off of the ground with such as paddle or object; this will provide additional stability and protect knees.

Once in the water, make sure to paddle towards a shallow area where you can easily stand up. Upon doing so, swing your feet into the cockpit seat and ensure they fit securely on its foot pegs; alternatively you could use your hands to grab onto either side of the cockpit for assistance in standing up.

An easy way to exit a kayak is to roll into a body of water – ideally on a sandy or grassy beach as rocks may be uncomfortable. Once in, place both hands on either side of its cockpit and push with legs up through.

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