How To Paddle A Kayak: Your Complete Guide

Learning how to paddle a kayak will transform your experience out on the water.

If you’re looking to take your kayaking to the next level – choosing the right one is paramount!

Woman in kayak

What matters most for getting started with kayaking?

When it comes to getting your kayak to move gracefully and effortlessly, there are two main things that you should worry about.

The first of which is having a well-balanced sitting position – in short, you want to make sure that your kayak is set up correctly for you to not only fit inside but also be able to row with little to no effort, and without tipping over. 

  1. A good first start would be to sit down in your kayak and get a feel for it. Sit upright and place your feet in the foot-wells or on the pedals. 
  2. Push your legs out against the inside of the hull to maintain a good balance and adjust your seat to make sure you’ve got a stable sitting position.
  3. The second key component to paddling your kayak has to do with picking out the correct paddle.

This is key when kayaking because having the right paddle and technique will transfer the energy as you row into motion the most efficiently. 

In turn, this means you don’t have to use as much effort to get your kayak moving! (Trust me, you’ll appreciate this when you’re on the water)

Two kayaks in a lake.

How to choose a kayak paddle

While some people might not think that a paddle can make a world of difference to your kayaking experience.

A paddle that is tailored to your size will make a world of difference.As a result, using the wrong paddle can complicate your kayaking experience and make it a lot less enjoyable.

Choosing the right paddle length

The general kayaks that you’ll find at rentals or in-stores tend to be pretty wide and very well-balanced. This means that you should opt for a longer paddle that has a broader blade, which would allow you to maintain good posture without having to lean over to get it into the water.On the other hand, if you decide to go with a narrower touring or sports kayak – you may want to choose a lighter paddle with a sharper blade. 

This sort of paddle allows for a more efficient vertical stroke. In combination with the dynamics of a touring kayak, it makes for a great option if you plan to cover lots of distance or will be out for a while.

The importance of the right paddle size

Keep in mind, the size of your paddle compared to the size of your kayak is crucial. Using a longer paddle can give you a significant increase in leverage. However, each stroke will take a lot more energy and power to compensate for that. It’s like using a high gear when you pedal a bicycle – you cover more ground, but have to pedal a lot harder.

When it comes to sizing your paddle correctly, the general rule of thumb is that if you’re between 5’0″ and 5’11” you should look for a handle that’s around 230cm to 240cm in length. Whereas if you’re over 6’0″, you may want to opt for something between 240cm and 260cm instead.

Now that you’ve learned about getting set up for kayaking and picking out the right paddle, let’s talk about technique!

How to paddle your kayak with the right technique

When it comes to the technique behind kayaking, it all starts with learning how to hold your paddle correctly. 

  1. If your hands are too close together, you won’t be able to make proper strokes and will have to put in a lot more effort to get your kayak moving.
  2. To hold your paddle correctly, you should first hold it over your head. You want to make sure that when you’re holding the paddle like this, your elbows are making a right angle (90 degrees) against your arms. 
  3. This position is the most efficient and is arguably the most comfortable as well. However, feel free to adjust based on your personal preference and what feels to be the most comfortable.

Now that you’ve got the right grip – you’re ready to hit the water!

Remembering the upright posture we talked about earlier, start by extending your arm to meet the full reach of your paddle. Gently place the blade of the paddle into the water and pull back from your elbow, as if you’re trying to scoop the water back. You should be able to feel the stroke in your core and between your shoulder blades. However, to be safe, you shouldn’t let your shoulders do all the work – that could lead to injury.

  1. The pull in your stroke should feel natural and relaxed. Twisting your body slightly with each stroke allows you to use your core and pull from your abdomen.
  2. Let your muscles get some rest as you return to a centered position. 

If anything feels strained, remember what you’ve learned, and don’t force it. As you get some more paddling practice – you’ll naturally figure out the best movement is for you.

Kayak making waves on the water.

Closing Thoughts

Well, there you have it, folks! Now you know every crucial detail about paddling your kayak correctly.From picking out the right type of paddle, and developing the correct technique to make your kayaking experience enjoyable and fun. I hope that my article gave you some new insights on what matters so when you get out there, it’s easy and fun.

Here’s to spending less time on trying to tame your kayak, and more time cruising the open waters taking in the gorgeous outdoors!

For another look at learning to kayak, here’s what they had to say at REI.





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