How To Paddle A Kayak – Beginners To Advanced Guide

Kayaking is a wonderful way to explore the waterways and enjoy the beauty of nature while keeping your body productive. The best part about kayaking is that it lets you be free to explore any part of the waterway that you want to. But that’s only when you know the basics of paddling a kayak and are able to let it take you wherever you intend to go. 

Now paddling a kayak at first may look complicated and confusing. But once you get the grip of it, it’s easier and more fun than anything else. As a beginner, before you get on the kayak you must keep the basic idea of the equipment and kayaking skills, learn a few stroke style so that you can handle the kayak safely. This article is designed as an introduction to the basic kayak equipment and a guideline to how to paddle a kayak straight and maintain the most efficiency. So, if you are someone who has decided to indulge in the kayaking sport, this article is definitely for you.

In this article, we will introduce you to some basic kayak equipment, help you choose your kayak paddle and teach you how to hold the paddle. Then we will talk about a few types of kayak strokes and finally share some tips. So let’s get started.

Basic Equipment To Paddle a Kayak

The fun part of kayaking is that as a beginner, you don’t need a lot of stuff to get started. If you have a good kayak, paddle and a life jacket known as a buoyancy aid, you are good to go!

Kayak:

The most important equipment of your kayaking journey is definitely your kayak. Now, all kayaks are not the same. In the market, various types of kayaks are designed according to peoples need and budget. So before you buy your kayak you need to consider a few things.

  • Where do you want to use your kayak? As there are different kayaks for different types of water, for example, a beginner level kayak won’t do well in rapid III water, you need to consider where you will be using your kayak. Is it a sea coast, a lake, a river or even in the ocean? Decide on your waterway and then narrow down your choice.
  • The Type of Kayak: There are mainly two types of popular kayaks. Sit-in kayak and sit on top kayak. Some recreational kayaks come with both sit in and sit on top kayak options. Sit in kayaks are the traditional kayaks that protect you from sun, rain and other harsh weather conditions. Sit on top kayaks are great if the weather is good and you want to enjoy the lovely bridge. So choose the type you want wisely. Then learn how to how to paddle a sit on top kayak or a sit-in kayak.
  • Size and Shape: Choose the size and shape of your kayak based on the number of people that will be using the kayak, the cargo, and the waterway condition.
  • Budget:When you are done making your priorities, go for the one that suits your budget. But remember, a good durable kayak may last your lifetime. So be sure to invest in something good.

Paddle:

The next most important thing about kayaking is the kayak paddle. There are many kinds of kayak disciplines, so choose your paddle thoroughly. Paddles come in different length and sizes. The wider your kayak is, the longer your paddle should be. You’ll basically get more leverage if you use longer paddles, but it can wear you out easily. So consider your body strength too while choosing your paddle.

How to hold a kayak paddle: 

  • Determining the Type of Paddle Blades: Knowing the type of your paddle blades can make your paddling way easier. If the blades are parallel to each other you can just grip it keeping the blades at the same distance from your grip. If the grips are feathered which means they are in an angle with each other, look for push button and press it and rotate the blades to keep them parallel. If the blades are asymmetrical it will help to keep the kayak to go straight without any spin. If the blades are slightly curved it will let you grab more water for a better stroke.
  • The Orientation of the Blades: First, keep the blades of the paddle perpendicular to the surface. Keep the shorter blade on the bottom if you have asymmetrical blades. If your paddle blades are curved, hold the paddle in a way so that the concave sides face you.
  • Adjusting the Grip: Put the paddle above your head, hold the grip keeping your elbows at 90-degree angles. Then get the paddle down and keep your grip relaxed. You are good to go.

Buoyancy Aid AKA Life Jacket: 

As kayaking involves getting into the water, it has its risk. So you must get a coast guard approved jacket that fits you perfectly. Make sure to clip in the bottom strap as it will keep the jacket in place and make you feel comfortable while paddling.

The Complete Guide to Paddling

Now that you have become familiar with the basic kayak equipment and know how to use it, it’s time to get to the technique of paddling. Paddling may seem a bit complicated at first but once you get the hang of it it’s pretty easy. You have to start at a slow pace at first, practice a while and then you can go faster. While paddling, make sure that you are sitting in a straight posture with a slight bending in your knees keeping your nose straight over your belly button. One of the common mistakes here is that some people lean backward in the seat which makes them a bit unstable and causes back pain later. So always sit straight in the seat so that you can be more efficient.

Paddling Forward: The Forward Stroke

Now that you know how to sit on the kayak properly and how to paddle a kayak without getting wet, you can start with learning how to paddle a kayak straight. The forward stroke is the most common paddling stroke. It’s the stroke that you will have to use the most while paddling. So you should spend more time to develop the perfect forward stroke so that you can go forward faster and more efficiently with minimal effort.

Technique:

  • First, sit straight on the kayak and look at where you want to reach with your kayak.
  • Then engage your torso, immerse one of the blades of the kayak fully into the water next to your feet.
  • Pull the paddle toward your body and when your arm reaches behind your hip and just before the blade reaches your hip, get the blade out of the water.
  • Repeat the same with the other blade.
  • Continue altering the process with the blades until you have reached your destination.

Tips:

  • Keep your body as straight as possible. It will give you more strength and efficiency.
  • If your kayak isn’t going straight, focus on an object where you want to reach and then paddle.
  • Don’t look at the blades too much, it will make you lose your balance.
  • Try engaging your torso and strong muscles more while paddling.

Paddling Backward: The Reverse Stroke

After learning the forward stroke, people, in general, learn the reverse stroke to paddle backward. The reverse is exactly the same but opposite of the forward stroke. You can even use it to do a brake and then go backward. It’s a very handy stroke if you want to take your kayak backward without turning it, which saves a lot of time and effort. Besides, it helps to balance the body muscles that tend to get overused and sore due to forward stroke.

Technique:

  • First, sit straight on the kayak just like you did in the forward stroke and look behind at where you want to reach with your kayak.
  • Then engage your torso, anchor one of the blades of the kayak behind your hip.
  • Then sweep it towards your hip and slice the blade of the paddle out of the water.
  • Repeat the same with the other blade.
  • Continue altering the process with the blades until you have reached your destination.

Tips:

  • One of the common mistakes while doing a reverse stroke is leaning backward. If you lean back while doing the reverse stroke, it will put more stress on your back which can lead to long term injury and will also decrease stability. That’s why keep your body as straight as possible for better stability.
  • Try taking smaller strokes first and then opt for bigger ones, it will help you to learn fast how to paddle a kayak straight backward.

Doing Turns: The Sweep Stroke

For doing the sweeps, there are two kinds of sweeps, the forward sweep, and the backward sweep. The forward sweep is for keeping the forward momentum and backward sweep is for decreasing momentum and changing directions quickly.

Type 1: Forward Sweep Technique:

  • The forward stroke is basically used to keep the forward momentum.
  • If you want to sweep using the forward sweep, you have to use opposite blades. For example, if you want to go right, you have to engage the left blade and vice versa.
  • First, sweep the blade of the paddle slowly in a wide range toward the rear of your kayak.
  • Then get the blade out of the water.
  • Continue altering the process with the blades if necessary.

Type 2: Reverse Sweep Technique:

  • The reverse stroke is basically used for a quick direction change decreasing the momentum.
  • If you want to sweep using the backward sweep, you have to use the same blade for the same sweep. For example, if you want to sweep right you have to engage the right blade and vice versa.
  • For a reverse sweep, first put the blade of the paddle into the water as close as possible to your kayak behind your hip.
  • Sweep the blade of the paddle slowly in a wide range in front of your kayak.
  • Then get the blade out of the water.
  • Continue altering the process with the blades if necessary.
  • Then get the blade out of the water.
  • Continue altering the process with the blades if necessary.

Tips:

  • Always start with anchoring the blade of the paddle deep into the water.
  • Remember to keep your hand below your chest.
  • For a sweep, always sweep the blade of your paddle in a wide range far from your kayak and keep it slow.
  • One of the major problems is getting wet while paddling. That’s why you need to make slow sweeps to know how to paddle a kayak without getting wet.

Stopping Your Kayak

Last but not least, if you have learned how to paddle a kayak, you also need to know how to stop it. As kayak doesn’t have any brakes or stopping buttons, you can use your paddle to stop the kayak.

Technique:

  • To stop the kayak with your paddle, you need to use opposite strokes.
  • For example, if you are going forward use 3 to 4 short and powerful reverse strokes.
  • If you are going backward use 3 to 4 short and powerful forward strokes.

Tips:

  • Make sure to keep your body as straight as possible. It will give you more strength and efficiency and keep you stable.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is paddling hard?

Paddling may seem hard at first, but once you get the grip of it, it’s pretty easy.

How to paddle a sit on top kayak?

If you know how to paddle a kayak, you already know how to paddle a sit on top kayak. The techniques are mostly the same.

How to get into a kayak from the water?

While staying in the water hold one side of the kayak with one hand and the other side of the kayak with another. Then in the count of 3, pull your body towards the kayak and make your body jump so that your belly is on the kayak. Then get back to your sitting position. Now you know how to get into a kayak from the water. Quite simple, right?

Final Verdict

Now that you know how to paddle a kayak, there’s only one thing left. Paddling! Go into the water with your kayak and start paddling. First start with small strokes staying near the shore, practice a few days and then you are good to go! Never forget to take you Buoyancy Aid with you, as safety always comes first.

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