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Six Basic Kayak Paddling Strokes

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Redfish Lake

You may think all you have to do to get around in your kayak is jump in and go, but there's actually a little more to aquatic navigation than that. Unlike driving a car, steering a kayak also involves the element of water, which has a personality all its own. Learning the following paddle strokes will enable you to get where you want to go quickly and efficiently. There is a different stroke for every maneuver in the water—going forward, going backward, turning aside, turning around, and coming in sideways.

The first thing to do is make sure you're seated correctly in the kayak: upright but leaning forward slightly. Make sure your feet are comfortably positioned against the built-in foot wells so you can brace yourself while pulling the paddle through the water.

The FORWARD STROKE is the first one you will need to know because, as the name implies, it's what makes the kayak move forward. While you may instinctively position the paddle at more of a horizontal angle away from your body, the proper way is to keep the paddle upright at more of a vertical angle. Insert the blade in the water toward the front of the kayak, rotate your torso counter-clockwise as you pull the blade through the water alongside the kayak, keeping your elbow close to your body. The length of the stroke depends on the type of kayaking you are doing. If you're white water kayaking, pull the paddle through the water from the front of the kayak back toward your hip. For flat water kayaking, pull the paddle through the water from the front of the kayak all the way to the rear of the kayak. As soon as the stroke is completed, snap the blade out of the water and switch the paddle to the other side of the kayak to repeat the process.

The REVERSE STROKE is a good one to know, especially in case of an "emergency.”  For example, if you've overshot your target, find yourself in a tight spot, or need to back up and rescue a companion who's tipped over. To take a backstroke on the right side of your kayak, rotate your torso clockwise so that you are facing to the right and your shoulders are parallel with the kayak. Insert the paddle into the water toward the back tip of the kayak and push it through the water toward the front, keeping the paddle upright and close alongside the kayak. When you've completed the stroke, snap the blade out of the water and rotate your torso to the left side of the kayak to repeat the process on the other side.
The DRAW STROKE will move the kayak sideways when you want to pull up alongside another kayak or closer to a dock or bank. Rotate your body completely sideways in the direction you wish to move the kayak. If you want to “draw” the kayak to the right, insert the right paddle blade into the water on the right as far away from the kayak as you can. The paddle blade should be facing the side of the kayak. Then pull the paddle through the water toward the kayak. This motion draws the kayak toward the paddle. Bring the blade to within a couple of inches of the side of the kayak then rotate the blade quickly slicing it out toward the stern (the back) of the kayak and repeat.

The FORWARD SWEEP STROKE turns the kayak aside, or around, while the kayak is moving forward. Stretching the paddle out horizontally, dip the blade into the water on the opposite side of the kayak from the direction you want to turn. Pull the paddle through the water in a sweeping "c" motion from tip to stern (front to back). Snap blade out of the water and repeat on the same side of the kayak until it has turned in the desired direction.

The REVERSE SWEEP STROKE turns the kayak aside, or around, while moving backward. Stretching the paddle out horizontally over the side of the kayak, dip the blade into the water on the same side of the kayak as the direction you want to turn and push the blade from stern to tip (back to front). Snap blade out of the water and repeat on the same side of the kayak until you have turned it in the desired direction.

The KAYAK SPIN is used to spin your kayak around in a tight circle while it is stationary in the water. To achieve this, you will be alternating between the forward sweep stroke on one side of your kayak and the reverse sweep stroke on the other side. Begin with the forward sweep and once it is completed, rotate your body all the way around to do the reverse sweep stroke on the opposite side of the kayak. Continue to alternate between the two different strokes until the kayak has spun into the desired position.

Of course, reading about it isn't nearly as effective as a hands-on experience, so get yourself out on the water and test these moves out. You'll soon get a feel for it and be in total control. Happy kayaking!

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