First Strokes

The offset blades determine how you grip the paddle shaft. One hand, the control hand remains indexed, that is, it stays in the same place on the shaft. Ninety-five percent of the U.S. paddles are right hand controlled, which makes your right hand the control hand. Some people prefer left controlled paddles. However, there's little evidence that a left control paddle will ease your learning, regardless of which hand is dominant for you.

Holding the Paddle... Get a grip, but not just any grip!

The offset blades determine how you grip the paddle shaft. One hand, the control hand remains indexed, that is, it stays in the same place on the shaft. Ninety-five percent of the U.S. paddles are right hand controlled, which makes your right hand the control hand. Some people prefer left controlled paddles. However, there's little evidence that a left control paddle will ease your learning, regardless of which hand is dominant for you.

I will assume that you are using an offset paddle. Your control hand holds the shaft with the top of your knuckles lined up with the upper edge of the blade. The opposite hand has a relaxed grip so the paddle can rotate in that hand.

Check the width of your grip. Your arms should form a ninety-degree bend at your elbows. This may feel awkward at first. Given time, you'll come to appreciate the greater amount of power and control. Sliding each hand in an inch or two is okay, but more limits your power.

Sometimes you may find it advantageous to choke up on your shaft momentarily, especially for rolls and aggressive playpaddling. Your shoulders may feel more protected this way. Marking your hand position with a piece of tape can help you locate your original hand placement.

kayak paddle grip

Avoid gripping the shaft too tightly by relaxing the fingers of your top hand during each stroke. Allow the shaft to rotate freely in your non-control hand. Maintain index with the forefinger on your control hand, but allow your other fingers to relax.

paddle

One hand must release! or your grips are in constant conflict. It is subtle, but if this happens you'll develop a "boxy" style with limited dexterity and future tendonitis.

Old school paddles had a 80 or 90 degree offset between the blades. With those offset blades, a paddler had to learn a proper grip technique in order to have any semblance of an effective stroke. The recent popularity of 45 and 60 degree offset paddles has eliminated wrist problems for some, however is has created problems for others. You still need a relaxed, non-control hand for all but the most vertical strokes. Many paddlers limit their ability by grabbing tightly with both hands, and therefore don’t get either blade to grab the water with the correct bite. This limits power and keeps you on a skill plateau.

Taking your first Stroke

Every stroke includes both a push with one arm and a pull with the other. Your control hand holds the shaft with the top of your knuckles lined up with the top of the blade. This orientation ensures that during a right side stroke, your right forearm continues pulling in the desired direction. Your left arm is pushing the stroke through. Left side strokes begin with cocking your control hand wrist down (like revving a motorbike). This movement turns the left side blade in the position of a forward stroke. During the pull of this stroke you'll be gripping with your left hand while your right hand pushes. Rotate the paddle shaft back into position for a right side stroke by relaxing the left hand. Keeping the fingers extended on the top pushing arm allows a fluid movement.

TIP A common paddling error is holding the shaft with a two-handed death grip. This is tiring and ineffective. Remember to relax the non-control hand during every stroke. Let the paddle shaft roate freely between strokes.

All strokes should be done with your arms stationed comfortably in front of your body. This position prevents your arms from becoming over-extended or in an awkward place. During strokes that sweep to the boat's end, you will turn your torso to maintain your arms in the proper position.

Holding the paddle correctly will increase your stroke power and decrease your chances of tendonitis. Keep your control hand fixed on the shaft, ready for an optimal pull. Allow the shaft to rotate in the other hand. Avoid holding on too tightly by relaxing your top hand during each stroke.

Stroke concepts

All strokes are based in two important principles. First, your torso, not your arms is the primary source of power. Second, a secure hold on the blade shaft is necessary before making any stroke movement.

Think of your torso as the engine, your arms as the transmission, and your paddle blade as the wheels. Too often paddlers use their arms as the engine and don't have a smooth transmission of power. The result is tired arms and ineffective strokes.

\tip\ Your torso is the stroke's primary source of power.