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Kayak from Oak Island in Waterloo to Seneca Falls

Paddling Techniques

Basic Paddling Technique

There are several basic strokes used to propel your kayak where you want it to go, but first you will want to be holding your paddle correctly. Many paddle blades are adjustable. When you are first learning, you want your blades to be at the same angle. Rotate the two halves of the paddle until the blades are parallel. In windy conditions it helps to feather your blades at different angles to lessen wind resistance but when you are first starting out, focus on proper technique. Often one side of the blade will be longer than the other. With an asymmetrical blade the longer side should be on top and the shorter side should be on the bottom. This will help your paddle track straight as you pull it through the water. If you have a symmetrical blade on your paddle it doesn’t matter which side is up or down. Is your paddle curved? If it is, you want the concave side facing you. This spoon shape will give you a more powerful stroke. Now that your paddle is oriented correctly. Where do you grip it? Place the center of the shaft on top of your head and move your hands until your elbows make a 90- degree angle. When you hold your paddle in front of you with the correct grip, the paddle shaft, your arms, and torso form what is called “the paddle’s box”. Keeping your hands and paddle shaft within this box will help you maintain good form and technique. Remember not to grip your paddle shaft too firmly. This helps you stay relaxed and stops you from form forming blisters on your hands.

The Forward Stroke

The stroke you will use most often is called the forward stroke. It is broken down into three steps. The catch phase, the power phase, and the release phase. In the catch phase, place your right hand gripping your paddle underneath your right eye. Twist your torso to the right and place the left blade into the water by your feet. In the power phase you will pull your paddle blade through the water with your left hand and push the paddle shaft with your right as you twist your torso to the left. In the release phase, as your left blade comes toward you lift it out of the water before it passes behind your back and bring your left hand up underneath your left eye. This movement should set you up to repeat the three phases on the right side.

 The Reverse Stroke

The reverse stroke is just like the name implies. It is the reverse of the forward stroke. Drop your left blade into the water next to your hip with your torso facing it. Your right hand gripping the paddle should be just underneath your right eye. Rotate your torso to the right while bringing your right blade down into the water by your right hip. Your left hand should end up just underneath your left eye. This movement sets up your next stroke to be repeated on the right side.

The Sweep Stroke

The sweep stroke is used to help you turn your kayak, and like the forward and reverse strokes, it is also broken into three steps. Starting on the opposite side of the boat that you wish to turn, place your blade into the water by your feet. Then in a wide arc, pull your blade through the water while rotating your torso. Remember to push with your opposite hand. You want to follow your blade with the front of your torso as you rotate. As your blade nears the hull behind your cockpit, pull the blade out of the water. Repeat this sweep on the same side several times until you are facing the direction you desire.

The Draw Stroke

The draw stroke is used to move sideways when you are trying to approach another object or a dock. Turn your paddle blade so that it is horizontal with the water. With your torso turned in the direction that you want to move, reach out with your blade and place it in the water at a steep angle. Pull the blade toward the side of your kayak. Turn your blade 90-degrees to remove it from the water without pushing yourself away from what you are trying to approach. Repeat this stroke until you have sidled up to the object you want to be next to.

Remember the “Paddler’s Box” and try to keep your paddle shaft and hands with in it. This will stop you from straining or reaching too far. Try and keep your paddle blade as vertical as possible and fully under water to keep your stroke powerful and efficient. Sit up straight or lean forward just slightly to stay balanced and maintain your “Paddler’s Box”. Following these steps will help develop good habits and keep you from tiring quickly. It will take some thinking at first but if you practice good technique, it will eventually become second nature.