Kayaking Expert Advice: Basic Strokes


Different strokes for different folks – this is one thing that holds true in kayaking. To successfully get from one point to another without exerting too much energy, you need to learn the basic kayaking strokes, including those we’ll briefly talk about in this article.

As a beginner, mastery of the basic strokes is crucial for your comfort and safety. Without knowing the right strokes, you won’t move in the water. Worse, you will end with a painful body without executing the right steps. Keep on reading and we’ll let you know how to do it right.

1. Forward Stroke

This is the fundamental stroke that every kayaker needs to learn, which is also the easiest. The premise is that you have to place the paddle on the water and move past through it. This is as against pulling the blade on the water. You will be using this a lot of times, so be sure to learn how to do it right. Arm power is critical. Your core and back muscles will also be involved. Picking up the paddle and making the kayak move forward is not all that it takes. To do the forward stroke, there are three phases that you need to execute:

  • Catch Phase: In the first part of the forward stroke, rotate your torso and place the blade in the water. The position of the paddle should be next to your feet. 
  • Power Phase: As you move the paddle behind you, turn your torso. A good way to do this is to use your eyes. When you are looking at the paddle, the natural reaction of the body is to follow, and hence, you will also end up turning your torso. As you move, focus on using your upper hand to steer the paddle.
  • Release Phase: As your hand reaches the point behind the hips, slice the blade and this will allow the kayak to move forward.

As you do the forward stroke, some techniques can help you become more efficient. For instance, you need to maintain the near-vertical orientation of the blade. You also need to maintain an upright position, which minimizes the likelihood that you will lose your balance.

2. Turning Strokes

You don’t just move forward all the time when you are kayaking. At some point, you will also have to turn. This is when you need to demonstrate the turning stroke. Remember, unlike cars, the kayak turns on the back and not the front, which is why your stroke should focus on steering the rear of the kayak.

When it comes to turning the kayak, the sweep stroke will help to efficiently maneuver it to the desired direction. Like in the case of the forward stroke, it is also divided into three stages:

  • Catch Phase: Dip the blade in the water almost next to your feet to start the sweep stroke. The starting point should be on the opposite side of the kayak from the direction where you would like the boat to turn.
  • Turn Phase: Perform a sweeping action using the blade, making a huge arc. To make the most out of the stroke, exert as much effort as possible as you turn your body.
  • Release Phase: As the blade gets nearer the hull, slice the blade out of the water. At this point, the kayak should have already turned in the desired direction.

If you want to make the kayak turn while it is on its place, the reverse sweep stroke is essential. This is the same as the stroke mentioned above, but the main difference is that you do it backward.

3. Draw Strokes

Do you want to pull your kayak to the side? The draw stroke will allow you to do this efficiently. There are many instances when you will need this stroke, such as when you need to pull yourself closer to another person in the kayak while on the water. It also allows you to steer from obstacles, such as another kayak. For the right way to do the draw stroke, below are the steps you need to execute:

  • While sitting in an upright position, turn your torso to the direction at which you would like to head.
  • Rotate the face of the paddle to move it in a horizontal position.
  • Use the end part of the blade to get in contact with the water. Ideally, the distance should be about two feet away from the kayak.
  • Using your lower hand, pull the blade to your direction. While you do this, make sure that the end of the blade is submerged. Stop paddling before it reaches the kayak’s side.

When you do the draw stroke incorrectly, one thing that can happen is that the kayak will turn instead of just moving straight. An easy solution is to change the angle of the blade as you submerge it. See to it as well that the boat is flat to avoid losing balance while executing the draw stroke.

4. Back Paddling Stroke

This is the stroke you need to do if you have to move the kayak back, such as when trying to avoid another kayak. This is the reverse of the forward stroke. Before anything else, the most important is to maintain a light grip of the paddle, which will make it easier to steer backward. Aside from providing you better control, this also lessens the chances that you will end up with an injury. Here are the simple steps to do this.

  • If you would like to back paddle on the right side, rotate your body clockwise until your torso faces the right side. At this point, your shoulders should also be parallel to the kayak.
  • Dip the blade in the water towards the rear part of the kayak. Push the blade in front while keeping the blade on the side of the kayak.
  • After completing the stroke, take the blade out of the water and move your torso in the opposite direction to do the same stroke.


Kayaking is a sport wherein efficiency is more important than your upper body strength. This makes it crucial to learn the right way to complete the basic strokes, including those mentioned above. These strokes will allow you to easily get from one point to another while saving your energy and minimizing the likelihood that you will end up with an aching body.

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