How To Paddle A Kayak – Proper Kayak Paddling Techniques


On the surface, kayak paddling may seem as easy as just dropping the paddle blade into the water and paddling away! But, there’s more to it if you want to efficiently and safely navigate through the water. That is why as a beginning kayaker, one of the first skills you need to learn is how to paddle a kayak correctly.

There are different kayak strokes and paddling techniques required for performing different maneuvers in the water like moving forward, going backward, turning around, or coming sideways. We are going to dig into these in a few, but first, let’s look at the two most important things every paddler needs to learn – proper seating and paddling posture and how to hold the kayak paddle the right way.

Proper Seating And Paddling Posture

Your seating and paddling posture will have a huge impact on how well you can execute kayaking paddling techniques. It will also ensure that your whole ride is comfortable, which will help prevent kayak aches and pains. Here’s how you get into your yak and find the perfect seating and paddling stance.

1. Set up the kayak 

Carefully place the kayak on the ground and make the necessary adjustments to the seats, foot braces, and other outfitting or accessories.

2. Get inside the kayak

If you have a sit-on-top kayak, sit in the cockpit first and swing your legs in. On the other hand, if you have a sit-inside-kayak, your legs should go in first and once they’re comfortable under the deck, slide your bum into the seat.

3. Adjust the backrest

Depending on the type of kayak seat you have, you can adjust the backrest while seated inside the kayak or exit the kayak to make the adjustments.

4. Adjust the footpegs 

Check to see that your legs are in solid contact with the thigh braces and your knees have an outward bend to them. Your toes should be pointing outwards and your heels toward the center of the boat. If your legs and feet are in the wrong position, you’ll have to exit the kayak and adjust the footpegs.

5. Give it a go

Gently rock the kayak from side to side and practice leaning forward as if you’re going to paddle. Continue adjusting the seat and footpegs if necessary. Once you’re comfortable with the setup, remember how it feels because that is how you’ll want to feel when you’re eventually on the water. 

Holding The Kayak Paddle Correctly


As a beginning kayaker, another basic skill you need to learn is how to hold your kayak paddle correctly. When the paddle is held right, moving over the water becomes more efficient. It also keeps you from injuring your hands, wrists, and other muscles used in kayaking. Here are some tips to help you hold the paddle correctly.

  1. Grab the paddle with both hands, loosely gripping the shaft (the paddle’s handle) with your fingers. Keep a firm but relaxed grip on the paddle to avoid wrist tendinitis.
  2. Raise the paddle over your head and let the midpoint of the shaft rest on top of your head.
  3. Check that your hands are equidistant from the blades on both sides. Adjust your grip on the shaft until your elbows form a 90-degree angle. This position will give you the best mix of power and control for an efficient and safe kayak stroke.
  4. Lower the paddle and rotate it accordingly until the smooth or convex face of the blade is facing you.

How To Paddle A Kayak: Basic Techniques For Beginners

Once you have mastered the right seating and paddling posture and how to effectively grip your paddle, it’s time for some action. So bring your boat to the water, grab your gear and paddle, and practice the following kayak paddle techniques. 

1. Forward Stroke

As the name suggests, the forward stroke is used to propel the kayak forward in a straight line.  Under normal circumstances, this kayak paddle technique is what you’ll be using to move across the water about 90% of the time, so mastering it should be one of your first goals as a beginning kayaker.

The key to a good forward stroke lies more in properly using your torso and relying less on your arms. By engaging your core and back muscles, you will be able to get more power out of every stroke. Besides, keeping this large part of your body in constant motion can help keep you from getting stiff while kayaking.

Keeping that in mind and applying the proper grip technique mentioned earlier, here’s how you execute the forward stroke.

  • Lean forward and immerse one paddle blade fully into the water.
  • Wind your torso as you pull the in-water blade towards your hips while simultaneously pushing the out-of-water blade with your other hand. 
  • When the in-water blade reaches your hip, slice the blade out of the water. As you do this, rotate your torso so that it is wound up for your stroke on the other side.

Tip: Keep the blade in a near-vertical orientation and at a consistent full level of immersion to help you track straighter and move faster. Looking to the horizon as you paddle will also help you maintain an upright posture.

2. Reverse Stroke


Kayakers rely on the reverse stroke to help them get out of certain situations like being stuck in a narrow creek with no space to turn around or back up when something is blocking their path. This kayaking paddle technique propels the boat backward, and to properly execute it, you’ll need to do the following:

  • Wind your torso backward and immerse the paddle blade into the water near the hull of the kayak’s stern (back-end of the kayak).
  • Pull the in-water blade toward the hull of the bow (front-end of the kayak). Make sure the blade’s path is parallel to the kayak.
  • When the in-water blade reaches your knee, slice the blade out of the water.

Tip: Keep your elbows close to your sides as you pull on the in-water blade to help prevent unwarranted shoulder injuries.

3. Sweep Stroke

Sometimes you may want to pivot or turn the kayak around to put your back to the sun or wind or perform a rescue. The most efficient way to do this would be to perform a sweep stroke.

The sweep stroke is a tip-to-tip kayak paddling technique, meaning, you start from the bow and pull the paddle to the stern. Keep in mind that you’ll want to do the sweep stroke on the side of the kayak opposite to the direction you want to turn. So if you want to turn your boat to the left, you’ll do the sweep stroke on your right and vice versa. Here’s how to effectively do a sweep stroke:

  1. Rotate your torso, extend your arm, and immerse the paddle blade into the water nearest to the hull of the bow.
  2. Pull the paddle towards the hull of the stern by making a sweeping motion. The paddle blade should be making an arching or half-moon path.
  3. Once the in-water blade reaches the stern’s hull, slice the blade out of the water.

4. Draw Stroke

You use a draw stroke when you want to move your kayak sideways and is particularly helpful when pulling the boat closer to the dock or another vessel. Unlike the sweep stroke where you start at the opposite side of the direction you want to turn, you’ll start the draw stroke on the side of the direction you want to go. To perform this kayaking paddling technique:

  1. Sit upright and rotate your body to the side you want to go.
  2. Put your paddle in a vertical position with one hand above the other. 
  3. Reach out and immerse the paddle blade into the water, more or less a foot away from your kayak’s side or in line with the front end of the cockpit.
  4. Draw your kayak and the paddle close together by pulling on the in-water blade.
  5. Stop before the blade hits the side of the boat.
  6. Recover the blade by slicing the blade backward or toward the end of the kayak.

Tip: It is important to find the right distance when doing step number three. Too far and you’ll over-reach and roll sideways; too near and you won’t have sufficient pull to move your boat.

Globo Surf Overview

Many people think that paddling a kayak requires no more than common sense and strong arms, but their first experience with a kayak and a paddle makes them realize that it’s a little more complicated than that.

Applying good kayak paddling techniques is necessary to prevent injuries and accidents. It also improves your power and speed and prepares you for the more complex maneuvers like kayak trunk rotation and put across rolling. Learning how to paddle a kayak and eventually mastering the strokes mentioned above will not only allow you to move effortlessly on the water but also make a huge difference in how much you enjoy your kayaking adventure.

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Globo Surf
My name is David Hamburg. I am an avid water sports fan who enjoys paddle boarding, surfing, scuba diving, and kite surfing. Anything with a board or chance I can get in the water I love! I am such a big fan I decided to start this website to review all my favorite products and some others. Hope you enjoy!