different paddle sizes

How To Paddle A Kayak – Beginner’s Guide To Basic Strokes

Everyone can enjoy kayaking, from people who have never done it to those who have done it for years. Whether you want the thrill of open water or a quiet view of a lake, this popular activity lets people of all skill levels go on paddling adventures. 

Don’t be intimidated; even novice kayakers can learn how to paddle with some guidance and practice! This blog post will dive deep into everything related to paddling a kayak, from safety tips to the different strokes and more! 

So, here are some guidelines and tips on how to paddle a kayak, as well as a beginner’s guide to basic strokes. Let’s jump right in. 

1. Size your paddle. 

different paddle sizes
Image Credit: Happiness Without

Powering your way across the water with a kayak paddle can be an enjoyable experience as long as you’ve got the right size for yourself. Ensure you get the best kayak paddle that’s the correct size for your height and arm span. 

When it comes to kayaking, the length of your paddle directly impacts power. Choosing a longer paddle can give you more power, but be careful: it’s like pedaling your bike with the harder gears, and it will drain your energy quickly.

As far as length, if you’re between 5′ and 5’10”, then anything from 220-230cm should do just fine; those taller than that might want to look at something closer to 230-240cm to maximize their leverage. Of course, taking the time to figure out what’s best for you never hurts!

2. How to grip your paddle.

A kayaker gripping her paddle
Image Credit: Active Weekender

Want to be a kayaking pro? Then you’ve got to get your hand placement and posture right! That means positioning the dominant hand firmly on the “power grip” of your paddle, as without this, it’s just a long stick. Keeping a firm grip in all the right places will make your strokes more effective, move you forward, and save you some work (and embarrassment) later on.

To get the best hold on your paddle, put both hands on the shaft with the knuckles facing up and about shoulder width apart or a little wider. Make sure each hand is 6 inches away from its respective blade head while keeping elbows bent at a 90-degree angle with the full paddle above your head inside what we call “the paddler’s box.” 

To form the paddler’s box, think of a square that begins with your hands and moves up to your arms and shoulders. From there, it should trace across your chest before returning to meet the paddle, creating an outline similar in shape to a square—hence the name!

3. Check your blades.

five sets of different kayak paddle blades
Image Credit: Paddle California

You can tell a lot about your paddle just by looking at the shape of its blades. Suppose one side is slightly shorter than the other. If so, you have an asymmetrical blade, which is great for paddling straight through the water. On the flip side, if there’s more uniformity between both sides, then chances are good that it has symmetrical blades instead. 

Also, learning to row with parallel blades can be much easier than rowing with feathered blades! Check the holes around the center of the feathered shaft, press the push-button, and rotate it until each blade runs in line with each other.

Another thing to check is if you have concave blades. These curved shapes give you an ultra-powerful grip on the water and make every stroke count. Knowing which blade you have is crucial to learning how to use it. And don’t forget to store your paddles safely along with your kayaks!

Make sure you have a good hold on your paddle and that your hands are in the right place. Your knuckles should be facing up, while the shorter side of each blade faces downward. Also, double-check that you have set the concave sides outward; if not, adjust until all elements are in their desired orientation.

4. The forward stroke. 

a kayaker doing the forward stroke
Image Credit: Cool of the Wild

You’re ready to move with the kayak and can start learning the forward stroke. In this stroke, your core and back muscles will do most of the work. You must hold the paddle correctly to get the most out of each pull. 

The forward stroke has three steps. Begin by winding your torso and fully submerging your blade in the water near your feet. As you move, rotate your torso while following the submerged blade with your eyes. Additionally, focus on pushing against the shaft using your upper-body strength when you reach just behind your hip area and “slice” or pull out the blade from the water surface quickly. To start over, lower yourself to the same spot next to your feet and start again on the opposite side.

Your core muscles are the power source for an efficient and effective stroke, so use them! Keep your arms from getting tired by keeping the blade almost vertical and always fully immersed. Keeping yourself as upright as possible will help you maintain balance while paddling faster. Think about tracking inside the “paddler’s box” to stay aligned with each phase of your stroke.

5. The back stroke.

A kayaker doing the back stroke.
Image Credit: Navworld

Need to slow down? A backstroke can do the trick! It’s a simple, three-step process where you wind up your torso and plunge the blade into the water next to your hip. Then rotate before “slicing” it free when it passes even with both feet; then repeat on the other side of the boat for an easy stop or even a back paddle if needed. 

For an effective backstroke, start by twisting your trunk and sinking your paddle completely into the water next to your hip. As you swing the blade, twist your torso for maximum momentum. Make sure your paddle blade is parallel to your feet before you “slice” it out of the water to get the most out of it. 

To do it again, put the paddle near your waist in the water on the opposite side of your boat. Your body should already be coiled properly.

6. The sweep. 

A kayaker doing the sweep
Image Credit: Cool of the Wild

If you keep moving the boat with a forward stroke on one side, you’ll see that it slowly starts to turn the other way. Turning the boat is more effective when done using the sweeping stroke technique. 

To perform a sweep stroke, stretch your arms ahead and submerge the blade near your feet to begin sweeping. To turn your boat in the opposite direction, start at the side farthest from it. For example, if you want to turn right, then do the sweeping stroke on the left side of your kayak.

Guide the paddle in a broad arc toward the back of your vessel. To improve your stroke, turn your body more, especially after you’ve passed the cockpit. Once your blade approaches the stern of your cockpit, “slice” it out of the water, finishing the stroke. 

Think of the hands of a clock as you continue your sweep. Your goal is to touch all twelve numbers while making an arcing turn with as little energy loss as possible. If needed, you can repeat the stroke or return to paddling forward again. Keeping it broad is key; your momentum should remain steady if done properly!

7. The draw.

A kayaker doing the draw.
Image Credit: Pinterest

To pull your kayak sideways, you would use the draw stroke. It is especially helpful if you need to move closer toward a dock or another boat. To execute this movement, rotate your paddle blade so it’s in a flat position against the side of the kayak, and pull back slowly toward the boat.

Extend the blade outward and dip it into the water two feet away from the side of your kayak. During this motion, tilt the shaft sharply and then pull back with your lower hand to keep as much of the paddle’s tip in contact with the water as possible. 

Generally, multiple draw strokes are required to execute the maneuver properly. To do this, rotate your blade 90 degrees after each stroke and slice it out of the water sideways. Afterward, repeat the steps above until you have pulled your kayak sideways.

To stay safe, if you feel the paddle strike the side of your boat while paddling, don’t attempt to pry it from the water, or else your boat may capsize. The best action is to let go of your top hand and begin again.


How difficult is kayaking for beginners?

Kayaking isn’t as tricky to master as you might assume. All that is required are a few basic skills to paddle competently. An experienced guide or teacher can show you how to get into and out of the kayak, how to use the forward stroke to move forward, and how to use the sweep strokes to turn your boat, as well as recommend the best kayak to begin your journey.

What is the proper technique for paddling a kayak?

No matter what the water is like, the most important part of kayaking is to use your core muscles and keep them stable. As you paddle, use your shoulders to push away from your body and your arms and several other muscle groups in your chest and back to pull back toward your body. The techniques are easy to master yet incredibly effective!

What are the three golden rules to paddling in a kayak?

To maximize safety and efficiency while on the water, adhere to these three golden rules: First, use the power of your torso rotation for all strokes. Second, choose a good place to practice. Third, and finally, make a plan for what to do if you capsize.

Paddling Summary

Kayaking can be an incredibly enjoyable and rewarding experience. It’s not as difficult to master as you think. With the right guidance from an experienced guide or teacher, you’ll soon have all the skills necessary for your journey on the water. 

By mastering these techniques, you’ll be able to enjoy kayaking with ease and confidence. Remember, don’t be afraid to get out on the water and put what you’ve learned into action. 

You can enjoy kayaking, exploring calm lakes, or going through rough rapids with all these strokes. With this beginner’s kayak paddling guide, you’ll be well on your way to becoming a pro! So grab your paddle, hit the water, and start your kayaking adventure today!

If you enjoyed this article, you should also read about the best fishing kayak if you want to combine your love of fishing with kayaking! And might as well get the best kayak fish finders on the market today!

Similar Posts