To a sea kayaker, a day of paddling is a significant challenge. Knowing a few special stroke techniques helps alleviate strain on your body, allows you to keep up with your friends, and builds your confidence.
The secret to efficient forward paddling is torso rotation, which incorporates the large muscles of your torso, rather than the small muscles in your arms. To wind up for the stroke, think of rotating your ribcage. The more you can twist the better, then use the power of your leg and torso muscles as you unwind into a stroke.
An easy way to practice the basic motion of a forward stroke is in front of a mirror, so you can monitor how much you are rotating. This helps you get the fluid motion before you have to worry about your stability or keeping your boat straight.
The most efficient way to paddle is to think of your paddle being stationary in the water, and then pull your self and the boat past the paddle. It's almost as though you had a series of posts stuck in the mud up in front of your boat. And as you get to each pole, you grab it, pull with your torso, and push the boat through with your feet. Pull your boat towards your planted blade, and get the blade out as it reaches your hip.
Let's look at the catch common to quality strokes. Concentrate on getting the blade crisply and fully submerged in the water before you pull yourself forward. The blade should enter the water cleanly, with minimal splash, and stay just under the surface of the water. To speed up, minimize the air time between strokes, but keep the same firm catch.
You can try locking your arms, to learn to maximize your torso rotation. Another good drill is deliberately pausing before you plant the blade. This reinforces the feel of extra rotation and a careful catch. Focus on rotation, on extension forward, on pulling your hips up to the blade, and on glide.
Let's look a little more closely at the hand positions for a forward stroke. Equally skilled paddlers enjoy endless debates on the merit's of a power stroke with a high top hand and a touring stroke with both hands kept low.
For short distances and high speeds, people tend to paddle with a high shaft angle.... the top hand remains high, between shoulder and eye level. For shorter sprints, like dealing with surf, you'll find this power forward stroke useful. For extended paddling, energy conservation is a priority. The resulting touring stroke has a lower top hand and elbows, and the stroke comes back a little further. For extended tours most prefer a longer and narrower blade, and a wide variety of stroke techniques.
With any stroke, stay relaxed so you can use optimum amounts of strength and finesse. Avoid holding on too tightly by relaxing your top hand during each stroke. Open a few fingers for each push to ease the strain on your wrist. Pull with your fingers hooked, not actually gripped on the shaft.
Perfecting a forward stroke is a gradual, never-ending process. Experiment, think about each detail of your stroke, and develop a smooth continuous motion. Strive to find a smooth, gliding sensation, without any front to back bobbing. This helps insure that your power is efficiently pulling you forward. The best way to improve your stroke efficiency is by following, and mimicking, a really smooth paddler.