Basic Kayak Paddling Technique for Every Kayaker

5-minute read + 16-minute video

When it comes to learning how to paddle a kayak, there are a few things that are helpful for you to know. You’ll be able to paddle easier and longer, and fully enjoy your time on the water.

woman kayaking, bright orange kayak

Kayaking is the easiest paddle sport for beginners to learn. You can sit down in or on a kayak, grab the paddle and head out without knowing any technique at all.

But if you learn and practice a few tips, you’ll find it easier and more rewarding. You may even prevent soreness and injury. If you want to grow in your paddling skills and make kayaking a lifelong activity, start with these basic techniques to help you on your journey.

In this video, Aqua Bound Ambassador Ken Whiting shows us the basic kayaking techniques you can learn easily and quickly to boost your paddling efficiency and fun:

How to Hold a Kayak Paddle

While most people think their kayak is the most important component, it’s actually the paddle that serves as your motor and is what defines the techniques you’ll learn below.

(Incidentally, that’s why paddlesports retailers recommend you spend 1/3 of your budget on your paddle, with the other 2/3 on your kayak and PFD.)

There are a couple different ways you can POSITION YOUR HANDS ON YOUR PADDLE:

  • Place each one an equal distance between the center ferrule (the component that connects the two halves of the paddle together) and the blades.
  • If you put the paddle on top of your head, your elbows should be at a roughly 90º angle as you hold it, slightly wider than shoulder width.

KEEP A RELAXED GRIP on your paddle. There’s no need to grasp it tightly—it doesn’t help your paddling technique at all. Stay loose and you’ll prevent hand cramps, blisters and maybe tendonitis if you kayak regularly.

man kayaking in a red kayak

How to Feather a Kayak Paddle

FEATHERING a kayak paddle means adjusting the ferrule so the blades are offset from each other rather than aligned with each other.

Many kayakers like to feather their paddle when heading into strong winds. When your in-air blade cuts into the wind as your other blade is in the water, you have less wind resistance moving forward.

To use a feathered paddle, your dominant hand will maintain a firmer grip on the shaft and twist it a bit, depending on which blade is in the water at the time.

Try out different feathering angles to see what you prefer, especially when you paddle into a headwind. It’s personal preference whether you decide to feather or not.

Paddling Technique

This particular video doesn’t cover specific paddle strokes, rather techniques that you’ll apply to all the paddle strokes you’ll use.

The first is TORSO ROTATION. This will save so much stress on your shoulders, rotator cuffs and arms when you kayak regularly! Torso rotation simply means you should rotate your entire upper body—your torso—with every stroke.

When your strength comes from your core and includes your shoulders and arms, your body is working together without putting too much strain on one area. Not only that, your strokes will be more powerful as you use torso rotation.

Second, you can GET YOUR LEGS INVOLVED, TOO. This makes kayaking a true whole-body workout and helps keep stiffness at bay when you sit for a few hours at a time. You use your legs by pressing against your foot pegs as you paddle.

As you try this, you’ll find it comes naturally to press with the leg on the same side of your body as your forward arm.

Third, there are two main types of paddle strokes—LOW ANGLE AND HIGH ANGLE. With low-angle strokes, your paddle is kept at a more horizontal angle. It’s relaxed and efficient, and you can keep up low-angle strokes for a long time.

Low-angle kayak paddles have blades that are longer and narrower than high-angle paddles.

High-angle kayak strokes are more vertical. The wider blades are ideal for aggressive forward movement. High-angle paddles are ideal for kayak fishing and other scenarios when you have a weighted-down boat, as well as for short bursts of speed.

two kayakers on a wilderness lake

The type of kayak paddle you choose—either low-angle or high-angle—will depend on the type of kayaking you plan to do most of the time.

Miscellaneous Tips

DRIP RINGS are meant to keep the paddle drip from running down your arm after each stroke. While they’re adjustable, it’s best to bring them to about a hand’s width from the throat of each blade. If they enter the water during your stroke, they’re too close to the blades. If they drip water on your lap, they’re likely too far from the blades.

Do your best to KEEP SAND OUT of your kayak. The grit gets under your heels, in your foot pegs and in other unwanted places. It’s a great idea to keep a paddling sponge inside your kayak for each trip. It makes it easy to get rid of sand and extra water.

SUNGLASSES aren’t just handy, they’re important to keep the sun’s glare from harming your eyes. When you use polarized sunglasses, you’ll be able to see past the glare at the water’s surface and underneath at what’s below.

Keep these techniques and tips in mind and you’ll kayak happily for years to come!

(All photos by Thrive Visual)

Do you have paddle questions our friendly Customer Service Team can help you with today? Contact them: 715-755-3405 • [email protected]

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