Going Forward

When you first tried paddling forward, you probably used your small, nimble arm muscles to provide all your power. A better strategy is to incorporate larger muscles for a more powerful, efficient stroke.

WAIT! I Recommend practicing turning strokes before you tackle learning to go straight forward. Whitewater boats are designed to turn, so you will have more success, sooner, trying to make them turn.

When you first tried paddling forward, you probably used your small, nimble arm muscles to provide all your power. A better strategy is to incorporate larger muscles for a more powerful, efficient stroke.

Sound familiar? As in sweep strokes, forward strokes depend on power that originates from torso rotation. The challenge is keeping the blade vertical to the side of the boat, which results in an efficient pull forward. The blade in a forward stroke should be very close (a few inches) to the boat, with your top hand remaining at eye level. This blade position minimizes the turning effect. The further away the blade is positioned, like a sweep stroke, the more the boat will turn.

kayak forward stroke

To begin the stroke, lead with your chest, the bigger the twist the better. Get extra blade extension by bending your top arm. Concentrate on getting the blade crisply and fully submerged in the water before pulling yourself forward. Use the power of your leg and torso muscles before allowing your bottom arm to bend. Push on the footbrace for extra power. Strive to find a smooth, gliding sensation, without any front to back bobbing. Pull the blade out as it reaches your hip, and wind up for the stroke on the other side..

TIP Torso rotation is most easily learned while standing on land, in front of a mirror. This allows you to monitor how much you are rotating and to feel the rhythm of movement without having to deal with keeping your boat stable or straight.

Going Straight

Paddling in a straight line may be your first frustration in kayaking. The boat may seem seem to have a mind of its own, twisting into tighter and tighter turns with each stroke. Although a sea kayak's rudder helps the paddler follow a straight path, certain strokes are useful to maintain the line.

When the boat start to turn, it seems to get a mind of its own. A solid sweep or stern draw corrects this. Be sure to line up on a distant landmark so you realize earlier that the boat is turning. With experience, you will anticipate a turn, and correct it before the boat starts to spin. Don't waste energy trying to correct by making stronger forward strokes.

To Go Faster: Paddle in Molasses

kayak forward stroke

Speed from a standstill is the key to kayaking all waters. Think of your boat as gliding in a giant vat of molasses Each stroke will stick securely in the water to carry the force it needs to move you quickly and efficiently. By imagining the blade pulling against molasses, you will use the force needed to effectively pull the boat forward.

The blade in molasses analogy can provide the answers to commonly asked questions about the length and speed of forward strokes. The blade should be planted as far forward as your torso twist allows, in order to pull yourself forward the greatest distance. Don't pull until the blade is fully immersed. When the blade reaches your hip, the power phase of the stroke is completed and the recovery begins. Simply increasing your stroke rate won't necessarily make your boat go faster. To go faster, concentrate on pulling harder while keeping the blade in the water, then recover quickly to the next blade plant.

Tip Imagine sitting in your boat and reaching forward to start a lawn mower? This twisting reach is the source of the torso/hip power needed for kayaking. However, using that power is tricky. Too much front to back motion bobs the boat and jeopardizes your control and efficiency. Instead, use torso rotation, twisting around your spine to provide the pull of each stroke.

To practice these concepts with your forward stroke, try flatwater paddling alongside a series of fixed points like dock pilings or buoys. The blade should enter the water cleanly, with minimal splash. Watch the blade and monitor how much it slips with each stroke. It should hardly move at all, while you move past. You should consistently feel resistance against the blade. Remember the boat in molasses analogy!