Kayaking: Basic Paddling Techniques Every Beginner Should Learn


Kayaking is a fun outdoor sport. If you are a beginner, however, it might seem intimidating at first. Most people will think that it is easy as getting on the kayak and paddling as you move on the water. However, it is not as simple as it sounds. Getting on the kayak is already a struggle and you might lose your balance if you don’t know how to do it right.

Among others, as a kayaking newbie, you need to learn basic paddling techniques, which is exactly what we’ll be talking about in the rest of this short guide. With mastery of the basic paddling skills, it will be easy to move the kayak while being comfortable and without wasting your energy.

Start By Getting in Your Kayak

The first thing that you need to learn is how to get on the kayak. To do this right, follow these simple steps.

  • Position the boat parallel to the shoreline. This way, the hull is out of the water.
  • Keep your hands in command. This will help to keep your balance. One end of the hand will be at the end of the paddle, which will put one side of the kayak down.
  • Lean and enter the kayak. Sit comfortably. By now, you are ready to learn the basic kayak paddling techniques.

Hold the Paddle Properly

Now that you are on the kayak, it is important that you hold the paddle properly. Otherwise, it will put too much strain on your hand, which will make you tired easily. Grip the paddle with your two hands at about 40 centimeters. See to it that the right side of the paddle is up. Your knuckles should also be the same line as the blade of the paddle. Keep a tight grip but see to it that you are comfortable.

Know Your Strokes

Now, let’s go to the most important part of this article and talk about the different strokes you need to learn as a beginner.

Forward Stroke

This is the stroke that allows the kayak to move forward. It is one of the fundamental strokes that you need to know. It uses more than just arm power. Your core and back muscles are also crucial.

To do the forward stroke, when you dip the paddle, make sure that the shaft is at 45 degrees from the surface of the water.

  • The first step is the catch phase. At this point, you need to rotate your torso and submerge the paddle’s blade on the water and next to your feet.
  • Next is the power phase. It involves a counter-clockwise rotation of your torso while pulling the blade. Keep your elbows close to your body. Your eyes must follow the direction of the blade dipped in water and your torso will follow its movement. Use power from your upper hand to move the paddle.
  • The last stage is the release phase. Slice the paddle out of the water as soon as you reach the part behind the hip.

Rather than using your arm muscles, it is better to use your core strength to push the paddle and move forward. Paying attention to proper technique is important. Otherwise, your muscles will easily be tired and you will be prone to suffering from injuries. Position your body straight and upright to maintain balance and gain better control of the paddle.

Forward and Reverse Sweep Strokes

Your kayak does not always move in a straight direction. There is a point wherein you will need to turn, and this is when the forward and reverse strokes are necessary. The forward sweep stroke will turn the kayak as it moves forward. On the other hand, the reverse sweep stroke will turn the kayak as it moves backward.

First, let’s talk about how to do the forward sweep stroke.

  • Use the regular forward grip as you hold the paddle. You should point the blade’s power face at the opposite direction of the kayak. Maintain a low position of your hand.
  • As you stroke, aim to make a big arc. Start at the bow and end at the stern.
  • During the sweep, rotate your torso. This will help to propel the movement of your kayak.
  • Your kayaks bow will move away from the paddle as you start making your first stroke.

Meanwhile, to do the reverse sweep stroke, these are the things you need to do:

  • Stretch your paddle horizontally on the side of the kayak.
  • Submerge the kayak’s blade on the same side or direction wherein you would like to turn.
  • Push the blade of the paddle from the back to the front. Get the blade out of the water. Do this again until you turn.

This is the stroke that you need to make when you need to back out of a certain area. This is the opposite of the forward stroke.

  • Rotate your torso toward the stern. Look over your shoulder and see where you are heading.
  • Submerge the back face of the blade just slightly past your hip. Unwind with a short stroke to move the kayak.
  • In the end, the shaft should end up vertical at the same line as your knee.

Stop the Kayak

When learning the basic paddling strokes, you should also know how to put the kayak completely to a stop. This is an important skill for beginners as it promotes safety. Otherwise, you might get hit and you can also hurt other people.

  • If you are moving forward and you want to stop the kayak, you will need to use the back face of the paddle.
  • Dip the paddle back and forth on the left side of the kayak.

Get Out of the Kayak

Now that you are done learning the fundamental strokes, you need to learn how to get out of your kayak properly. The key here is to not lose your balance so you don’t get soaked.

  • If possible, run the kayak to the shallowest part so that you can get out easily.
  • Otherwise, put your kayak in a parallel position. Use the paddle as an outrigger. Put the paddle at your back. 
  • Put one hand on the boat and the other on the paddle. Push the back face of the paddle on the shallow part.
  • Lean on the side and push yourself to go up. Step out of the kayak.


If you want to learn the fundamentals of kayaking, one of the first things that you should know about is paddling. The basic techniques mentioned above are crucial to moving efficiently on the water, making sure that you don’t get tired easily.

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