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How to Paddle a Kayak Efficiently in Three Easy Steps?

How to Paddle a Kayak
Written by Derrick Riley
Last Update: August 14, 2023

Kayaking is an exciting and enjoyable water sport that involves different stages of learning and disciplines. Paddling is an essential activity, and the key to becoming good at this sport. Are you confident you can paddle a kayak just like the pro players? Maybe you are not, and that’s why you’re reading this article. Well, my friend, I won’t disappoint you. Rather, I’ll show you how to paddle a kayak, stay safe, and enjoy the game to its fullest.

How to Paddle a Kayak?

We are not aiming to provide a full kayak paddling manual, as it would require more time and space. Instead, we want to thoroughly answer the following question: “How to paddle a kayak?” Choose the right paddleboard first. Then there are different phases of kayak paddling that you should master in order to have full control over the paddle and, consequently, the kayak movements. So, you’ll learn how to

  • Hold the paddle
  • Orient the blades
  • Grip the shaft
  • Position your hands
  • Apply various strokes
  • Know the safety requirements 

Learn How to Hold the Paddle

How to Hold the Paddle
In general, we can share some useful tips with you when it comes to holding the paddle. Many people think they know how to paddle a kayak, but they end up stuck or even worse – their kayak overturns! Therefore, here are the essentials of holding the paddle. Let’s learn more technical details regarding the following:

  • Orienting the paddle blades
  • Gripping the shaft
  • Positioning your hands on the shaft.

1. Know and Orient the Paddle Blades

Orient the Paddle Blades

Knowing and orienting the paddle blades is one of the key parts of learning the proper way to paddle a kayak. Although you may have the right kayak paddle for yourself, you should get used to different types of blades and learn how to use each type. This will significantly improve your kayak paddling technique.

Knowing the paddle blades means you should be able to differentiate between the following:

  • Parallel vs. feathered blades
  • Asymmetrical blades
  • Curved blades

Namely, parallel blades are the best choice for a beginner. You will easily learn to paddle with this type of blades, which is also known as the matching blades. On the other hand, if you are using the feathered blades, you have to benefit from the “push” button and learn how to rotate the shaft. In this way, you will bring them to the parallel position.

If you have asymmetrical blades, you will notice that you can paddle in a straight way. If they are curved, you will be able to make very powerful strokes. Now, let’s learn more about orienting the paddle blades. There are several simple rules:

  • Orient the large knuckles upwards.
  • Position the short side of the blade to the bottom.
  • Position the concave side so that it faces you.

2. Grip the Shaft

First, raise the neck of the paddle to the head so that both your elbows are at right angles. Then, mark the position of the hand with a piece of tape, making sure they are at an equal distance from each end of the paddle. Hold the paddle with your hands placed on the marked placements.

3. Position the Hands on the Shaft

Position the Hands on the Shaft

The paddle should be held with your hands slightly wider than your chest position. Your hands should be stretched out because this is how you can get as far as you can and you can make a bigger momentum.

Prepare for Paddling

There are several things that are the essential parts of the preparation for kayak paddling. Those include:

  • Preparing your body,
  • Considering where to paddle a kayak,
  • Preparing your safety equipment.

If “How to paddle a kayak?“ is one of the questions on your mind, this probably means that you are not 100 % ready for this activity. You must prepare your body. Being in good shape will help you in any sport, especially water sports. You should know how to swim, improve your body strength, and stamina.

Moreover, you should pick a good and safe location for kayaking. Also, pay attention to weather conditions. Partially sunny and partially cloudy weather is perfect for kayaking. Even light rain can provide an amazing experience. However, postpone your kayaking adventure on a windy day.

When it comes to preparing your safety equipment, you should never forget a life vest and some spare boots, as well as spare clothes. Having a waterproof section in your kayak where you can place your phone is a great decision, as you might need it in some emergency situations.

Learn How to Apply Various Strokes

You will need to master different kayak paddle techniques. In general, you should start by moving forward without bending your waist, swirling the upper part of the body. Put one paddle blade into the water. Then pull the blade back into the water to straighten the body to be able to move the other hand forward.

When the immersed blade is in the plane of your hips, lift it out of the water, rotating the handpiece to turn the opposite blade. Move forward to the opposite of the blade and repeat the movement.

Also, remember that flat blades can be used on either side. Curved or jagged paddles must match the handle that controls the rotation action, i.e. if you are holding it in your right hand, the right blade is facing down while it is in the water.

Now, we will define and talk more about the following types of strokes:

  • Draw stroke
  • Forward stroke
  • Reverse stroke
  • Sweep stroke.

1. Draw Stroke

Draw Stroke

If you want to make your kayak move sideways, this kayak paddling technique becomes essential. When will you need these strokes? Imagine that you want to approach a dock. The best way is by making precise draw strokes.

How to Do It?

There are several steps you should follow when making a draw stroke. Those include:

  • Rotate the blade to bring it into a horizontal position.
  • Touch the water with the blade about 2 feet away, on the side of the kayak, while pulling the blade toward you until you closely approach the kayak.
  • Repeat the stroke as many times as you need.

2. Forward Stroke

Forward Stroke

Forward stroke is the essential stroke of any paddling. Kayak paddling is not an exception. If you want to enjoy kayaking, the forward stroke is a must. You will need arm power, torso muscles, as well as core and back muscles.

How to Do It?

  • Immerse the blade fully on the side while winding your torso.
  • Strongly move the blade behind you while rotating your torso.
  • Slice it out of the water when your hands reach your hip.

As this is the most important kayaking paddle technique, we will talk about some tips and tricks of a good forward stroke.

Tips for a Good Forward Stroke

Pay attention to proper posture. Use your body as an instrument. Always sit straight, but don’t forget to relax. Your legs should be kept together. Your knees should be slightly bent. You are supposed to be able to balance your body and the kayak with your legs and feet.

Also, torso rotating we have already mentioned is one of the key moments in forward stroke paddling. Most people think that the shoulders are the key players, but your posture is actually your best ally.

After you had made the forward stroke, remember to always take the blade out of the water in this way: backward and away. Use your elbow to lift the blade. Your wrist should follow your elbow, not lead it. Also, you should not lift the elbow higher than the level of your shoulder.

3. Reverse Stroke

Reverse Stroke

One of the ways to stop a kayak from flipping or moving forward is by making the reverse stroke. It is very interesting that you can use the same movement to make your kayak move if it is currently still! Isn’t that cool? Therefore, you must master the reverse stroke skill.

How to Do It?

  • Wind your torso while immersing the blade on the side.
  • Rotate your torso while moving the blade in front of you.
  • Bring the blade into an even position with your feet and slice it out of the water. 

4. Sweep Stroke

Sweep Stroke

You will be using sweep strokes to turn the boat to the right or left. Therefore, sweep strokes are among the most important kayaking paddling technique types. For example, to turn the kayak to the right, you should make a strong sweep stroke to the left. Also, you can paddle in a wide bow-to-toe movement on both sides.

You should always paddle from the left to the right. If, for example, your kayak goes a little more to the left than you want, you need to paddle strongly to the left in order to correct the direction.

How to Do It?

As sweep strokes are the best way to turn your kayak to the left or right, we will share some expert tips on doing the right moves. Follow these steps:

  • Immerse the blade into the water close to your feet while extending your arms towards your feet, i.e. forward to be able to do so.
  • Always start on the opposite side from the direction you want to go to, i.e. turn your kayak to.
  • Turn the blade by making a wide arc and moving it toward the kayak stern. You should use power and always rotate your body to get more momentum.
  • Release the blade when you approach the zone behind the cockpit, i.e. the hull and finish by taking the blade out of the water with a move known as “slicing”.

5. Stopping the Kayak

Stopping the kayak is as important as forward, sweep, or reverse strokes. To stop the kayak, make short, rigid movements with the paddles on both sides. You might have to repeat these movements several times, depending on how fast your kayak was moving before you decided to stop it.

Safety Considerations

When kayaking, you should always have some additional equipment with you. It must include a spare pair of boots and a life west. Spare boots are essential for river kayaking, while rescue boats are essential at sea or on larger water surfaces. Here are some additional safety considerations you should not neglect:

  • Never consume alcohol before paddling.
  • Protect yourself from severe weather conditions and cold water by using proper clothes.
  • Wisely choose your paddling location.
  • Avoid windy weather.
  • Opt for quality paddles suitable for the type of kayak you are using.

Also, you should master the skill of entering the kayak from the water. Even though you think it is not easy to overturn a pedal kayak and you might not actually need this skill, it is better to be on the safe side. Windy weather or unpredictable kayaking location may surprise you and if you lack paddling skills, you might end up in the water. This is why you should also wear a life west, regardless of your swimming skills.


If you want to enjoy your kayaking experience, you must never stop learning and practicing. Improving your paddling techniques is a must. Mastering the paddling techniques will keep you safe in any situation and help maximize your kayak paddling benefits. If you are on a tandem kayak, your paddling skill can save the day! We hope we have provided enough quality information on how to paddle a kayak. Stay safe and enjoy!

About the author

Derrick Riley

I’m Derrick in my early 40s, but planning to bag from every saltwater source in America. In practice, I’ve explored over a dozen bodies of water that hosted almost all of the saltwater game fish. My personal favorites are brook trout and striped bass though. I don’t mind catching bluegill and white crappie either.

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