So you’ve purchased a new kayak and are looking forward to getting out on the water to give it a go. If you can manage to not topple over on your first trip out, you’ll need to learn how to paddle. It may seem like paddling a kayak is the simplest thing in the world. While it is simple, it’s probably not what you envisioned either.
Paddling a kayak is kind of an art form. It involves a particular technique to master quick movement through the water, including sweep strokes for turning, reverse strokes, a draw stroke for sideways movements, and the forward stroke, of course.
If you’ve ever grabbed a paddle off the rack in your local Walmart, Bass Pro Shop, or Academy Sports, you probably recognized how weird it feels. The blades are shaped in a particular way, and the handle is often pretty long. It takes some getting used to, that’s for sure. Fortunately, learning how to paddle a kayak is easy to start and more fun to finish.
How to Paddle a Kayak- Complete Guide
Holding your paddle
This is the first and most important thing to master. Holding your kayak paddle right will give you the best leverage in the water while minimizing fatigue in your hands and arms.
- Know your paddle blades
- Asymmetrical or symmetrical blades
- Concave or curved
If there is a button to depress in the center of the handle, press it, and rotate the blades so they are parallel. Concave blades are curved in the center, which allows you to grab more water and pull.
Hold the paddle straight in front of you, and ensure your knuckles are above the shaft, with the shaft running left to right in front of you. Make sure that the short end of each blade points down towards the water, with the concave side facing you.
Kayak Paddling Techniques
For everything in life, there is a right way of doing things and a wrong way of doing things. If you want to get the most out of your kayak and master the craft of effortless movement through the water, there is a particular way to do it.
Techniques for the ocean
The most intriguing part about going out on the ocean is launching in the surf. You use your whole body to engage the paddles and utilize your foot pegs. Set the pegs so your knees remain slightly bent. You will use your leg power to transfer strength and motion to your upper body and arms.
The strokes you use in lakes or still water are the same but more focused and with more energy.
Techniques In lakes (Still water)
Lakes or a still water environment are the best places to learn the proper strokes in a kayak. Of course, the elements out on a lake or any body of water can change on a dime, so pay attention to the weather before you head out for the day.
On a calm day, you have the best opportunity to learn the different strokes and get the hang of controlling your kayak out on a motionless body of water.
In rivers or moving water
You should only tackle a river once you have mastered the feel of push and pull paddling. That doesn’t mean you should jump from the lake to Class VI Rapids. That’s just asking for the opportunity to push up daisies very soon.
Start with lazy moving rivers. Work on your different strokes and get a feel for how the river water flows over the blades. The more comfortable you become, the closer you are to getting in faster-moving water.
How to grip your paddle
Grip the paddle with your large knuckles over the top of the shaft, palms facing down. Now raise the paddle to your forehead and place the center of the paddle’s shaft right between your eyes. Slide your grips out or draw them in until your elbows are at 90° angles.
You don’t want to apply a death drip since that will fatigue your wrists and forearms. You want most of the power that goes into paddling to come from your upper body, not necessarily your arms.
There are five kayak paddle stroke techniques, and they all have a unique use, whether flipping your kayak around or just plunging ahead.
Dip each blade in the water (individually, of course) and pull it back lightly, towards your body. At the same time, push the higher, opposing arm, away from you. Reverse the process.
The pushing potion should be stronger, with the arm holding the blade in the water serving as a hinge, but still pulling to a small degree. Think of it like riding a bike. You push the pedals down and away from you, with the opposite foot doing very little.
The reverse stroke helps you turn around quickly, especially if there is an obstacle in the way and you need to reverse course and change direction. Face the concave blades forward and away from you and dip the blade on one side of the other with a powerful pushing motion.
The draw stroke turns your paddle into a keel, and you can use it to vertically dip the blade and control your lateral movements. The blade dips diagonal, the leading edge inward, so the motion change isn’t severe but subtle and controlled.
The sweep stroke is just what it sounds like, using an almost identical motion to sweeping a floor with a broom. If you want to move to the left, reach forward with the right blade and dip the blade, concave down, and pull towards you, in a sweeping-away motion, with the blade touching the back of the kayak.
Kayak safety should be foremost on your mind, especially if you are a newbie, trying things out for the first time.
- Do not kayak in extreme weather
- Stay visible
- Wear a safety vest
- Keep a whistle around your neck
- Start with calm water and work your way up
- Wear sunblock
- Avoid wildlife (alligators)
- Learn and practice
Kayaking is a blast and you will build countless memories of your time out on the water. Learning to paddle isn’t always the most exciting and thrilling thing to do, but it is necessary both for your overall abilities and your safety as well as others.
The paddle techniques above sound complicated, but they’re really not. It’s one thing to describe them and another to watch them happen. You should get as much visual information (YouTube, etc.) as you do reading.
Once you master the calm waters of a pond or lake, work your way up to a lazy creek or maybe get on board with a family expedition down a lazy river. If you don’t want to tackle rapids, you never have to because the best thing about kayaking is you can have fun the way you want to.
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