We encourage everyone to get out on the water during the summer, and kayaking is a relatively accessible way to do so. Whether you’re investing in your own boat and paddle, or renting from a local facility, it gets you out of the house and engaging with nature in an exciting way. Kayaking is a fun family activity and kayaking is a great way to exercise! There are a few things to prepare for if you’re new to kayaking, and that includes the technique that’s behind how to paddle a kayak.
You might not think it a technical ability right away, but any seasoned kayaker will confirm that skillfully paddling a kayak takes some work. From choosing the right paddle to maintaining the right posture throughout your paddling session, your technique and equipment matter in facilitating an enjoyable outing. Thankfully, it shouldn't take too long to get the hang of, especially if you have some tips to work from first.
Choosing the Right Kayak Paddle
What novice kayakers don’t always understand when they’re first starting out is that not all kayak paddles are the same. They differ in length and shape depending on what type of kayak you’re using or the environment you’re intending to use it in.
As a general rule, you want your paddle to be as short as possible, taking into consideration the type of kayak you’re in as well as your height. If you’re using a recreational or fishing kayak, those boats tend to be wider than something like a touring kayak which is longer and narrower. The wider your kayak, the longer your paddle will need to be, and a longer paddle will be necessary if you’re taller, as well. These proportions will allow for maximum leverage without sacrificing control of your kayak.
At Brooklyn Kayak Company, we recommend lightweight materials, such as fiberglass, and adjustable kayak paddles so you can easily customize the paddle’s length to meet your specific needs.
How to Paddle a Kayak: Technique
Once you have a properly- sized paddle, the next step will be learning how to move it through the water, so you actually go the direction you’re aiming for. It’s easiest to practice on calm water, like a lake or placid river. There will be different strokes you’ll learn for more intense conditions, such as rapids or ocean kayaking. However, here are some essential tips to keep in mind regardless of what stroke you’re going for:
- Check your hand placement. If your hands are in the right place on your paddle, executing the techniques of your stroke will become easier. An easy way to identify where your hands should be is to lift your kayak paddle over your head with your elbows bent at 90-degrees (like a football goal) and move your hands in or out so that they’re in line with your elbows. The center of the paddle should be in line with the center of your body, so that the blades are the same distance from your hands on each side.
- Adjust your grip. How you’re gripping the kayak paddle will impact how easily you’re able to move and control it in the water. Make sure your knuckles are facing upwards, and you’re applying firm, but flexible, pressure on the ends of the paddle.
- Engage your core & stabilize abdominal muscles. Everything will be smoother, and you won’t tire as fast if your core is strong and consistently engaged throughout your kayaking adventure.
- Push from the shoulder. When you pull or push the blades of the paddle through the water, you should be doing so from your shoulder. Your abdomen shouldn’t move much, and you should try to keep your elbows bent at 90-degree angles.
- Keep your blades close to your kayak. This should be aided by your paddle being properly sized, but the closer you can keep the paddle blades to the sides of your kayak when they’re exiting and entering the water, the straighter your trajectory will be through the water.
- Use a sweep stroke to correct your path if necessary. This stroke is handy for beginners as it allows you to turn your kayak in the water. The goal is to create a “C” shape in the water by inserting a paddle blade into the water at your toes and then fully extending your arm out perpendicular to your body as you bring the blade around to the back of the boat. The further you extend your arms, the more your kayak will turn in the water.
These may seem like basic tips, but they’re the most helpful fundamentals in developing expert kayak maneuvers. Mastering these kayak paddle techniques will ensure your foundation is strong and help you conquer more advanced strokes more quickly.