The Forward Paddle Stroke in Kayaking

forward stroke in kayaking(photo courtesy of @happypaddlin)

The forward stroke is the most important stroke to learn when kayaking.

You don’t need to have good technique to get a kayak moving. But by developing good technique you’ll be able to paddle more efficiently, more effectively and more comfortably.

In it’s simplest form, the forward stroke involves planting the paddle blade at your toes and pulling it through the water to your hip—where the stroke ends and your next stroke begins.

But we’re going to look at the stroke in a bit more depth by breaking it down into three parts:

The Catch

The part of your paddle stroke where you place your blade in the water. Sit up straight with a relaxed grip on your paddle. Reach to your toes and plant your blade fully in the water. This reach should involve your arms and shoulders.

The Catch


Reaching with your shoulders means twisting your upper body at the waist. When you take a stroke on the left side of your kayak you’re going to reach with your left shoulder. That effectively turns your body to the right, or winds up your body.

The Rotation

This is commonly referred to as torso rotation. It’s how you get the large core muscles involved with your strokes so you’re not just using your arms. You get a lot more power that way.

With your body wound up, plant your blade in the water so it’s completely submerged. Once it’s planted, you’ll pull on your paddle and unwind your upper body to drive your boat forward.

Your body’s like an elastic band in that, once it’s wound up, you have a lot of energy to use. And rotation refers to the way you use that energy to power a forward stroke. You’ll use as much of your large torso muscles as possible.

AB forward stroke


This will probably surprise you to hear, but your arms are really just a supplement to the power your torso rotation provides. If you don’t believe it, try paddling with your arms locked straight. It’s not going to be comfortable doing this, and you’re not going to want to do it for long!

Now that you’re using your torso rotation, let’s take a quick look at what the rest of your body will be doing.

As you pull on your paddle blade, keep your elbows bent and low. The range of motion of your arms is actually quite small since your torso will be doing the bulk of the work.

As a general rule, the more vertical your paddle shaft is while taking a forward stroke, the more forward power you’re getting from it. These aggressive forward strokes are great strokes when you’re in a hurry, but they’re also more tiring.

For general paddling purposes, you’ll want to drop your top hand to shoulder or chest level. This less aggressive stroke is commonly referred to as a low-angle touring stroke, and can be kept up for much longer.

Even though your upper body does most of the work, your lower body can still be involved. The way you do this is by pushing on the foot peg on the same side you’re
taking a stroke on.

The Recover

The Recovery is at the point your forward stroke ends and your blade gets removed from the water. This happens when your stroke reaches your hip. At this point you’ll simply slice your paddle up and out of the water sideways. Then get ready for the next stroke by planting the other blade deeply into the water.

AB forward stroke


Now that you have all the pieces for an efficient and powerful forward stroke, try to put them altogether as smoothly as possible while keeping your boat as quiet as you can. A quiet boat has minimal bob from side to side or up and down, and will glide through the water efficiently.

We hope this video helps you with your forward paddling!

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