Spin Control

Paddling whitewater can be thought of as paddling in arcs while turning and avoiding obstacles. Rarely does a paddler maintain a perfectly straight course downstream. Turning is essential for paddling whitewater, and is often an under-practiced skill.


kayak draw

The most basic stroke is the active bow draw, which is valuable for startingabrupt turns and for maintaining a squirt turn. The blade starts a comfortable distance out from your feet, with the power face of the blade facing your knees. For power, drive your feet and knees to the blade. Imagine swinging the boat to the blade rather than moving the blade to the boat. Leading the turn with your head and chest rotated in the direction that the boat will pivot is one of the best ways to get a tight turn.

kayak draw

You can get a little boost of forward speed from a bow draw called a C-stroke.It is an active bow draw, with a closed blade angle followed by a minimal forward stroke. With the C stroke you will use the closed blade angle similar in a bow draw. Minimize the forward stroke that follows, because too hard a forward stroke would turn the boat in the wrong direction.

A carving circle is the best way to practice this stroke. Tighten up the circle with the C stroke. If you aren’t at least vertical as seen from the front of the boat, it isn’t worth practicing. Oblique, or with your paddle shaft past vertical, is best!


Short boats turn so easily that you often have to spend more time controlling the spin, and less time starting the spin. Momentum is precious, so you want to use it to your benefit. You will always control the spin with a stroke on the inside of the turn.

kayak draw

One great way to maintain momentum is with a static draw by your hip. Thisrunning draw by your hip can help you keep momentum.

Taking the blade back helps resist the boats turning. By subtly adjusting your blade placement, forward and back off of your hip, and adjusting the blade angle(open or closed), you can harness and control your spin momentum. It might help to think of this stroke as serving the same purpose as a keel under the middle of your boat. You will find this very difficult if you do not have well refined sculling draws, that stay vertical with little effort.

kayak duffek stroke

For a tighter turn that maintains less momentum, plant the blade in front ofyour knee with an open angle to spin with the bow anchored and the stern swinging around. This classic duffek stroke is less frequently used with short boats because it creates such an abrupt sliding turn.

The hip draw will give you a wider turn. As you move the blade forward, you will get a tighter turn, more like a duffek. Opening the blade angle also tightens the turn. Experiment and compare! You will often start with a static draw at the hip and scull it forward towards your feet to get a sharper turn.

kayak  draw

There is one more turning option called a sculling bow draw. The blade scullsfrom the hip forward to tighten the turn. Often this subtle sculling will help you current pressures on the blade.

You will be most versatile if you are practiced at all of these draw variations. The draw by the hip, the sculling draw, the static duffek, the active bow draw, and the C stroke. Verticality of the shaft of the paddle is the most important component of these to practice, so it will be natural when you need a crisp turn out there on the river.