Paddle Strokes and Maneuvers- Supplemental Materials to Kayak Lesson

Most people, when they first jump in a kayak, can figure out pretty quickly how to get it moving forward, and before too much longer, can learn how to steer it in the direction they want to go. But armed with a slightly larger repertoire of strokes and maneuvers, an experience kayaker is able to exhibit more subtle control over their craft, utilizing a variety of tools depending on conditions to move the kayak most efficiently through the water.

Below is a list of basic and moderately advanced kayaking strokes and maneuvers. This list is designed to work as supplemental reading material to a kayak lesson. It is by no means exhaustive and not meant to be an entirely thorough treatment of each stroke. However, when combined with in-person coaching, it serves as a solid base or reminder of the different strokes and their uses.

Forward Paddling

-When paddling most efficiently, we recognize that we are not moving the paddle through the water, but rather planting the paddle and moving our kayak to and past it.

-We try to employ the larger muscle groups in our body- mainly the shoulders, lats, and core- to spread the work around our body.

-Use the idea of the Paddler's Box to understand that our arms move as a consequence of our upper body rotation, rather than pushing and pulling independently.

-Using pressure (but NOT pushing) with the top hand helps us lock the pivot point with our top hand and use a longer, more effective lever.

Sweep Strokes

-Sweep strokes are used to turn or pivot the kayak about its center. When turning to the right, rotate your body to the right, driving your left blade forward. Plant it next to the kayak in front of you, then rotate your torso the other way to drive the bow away from the paddle. Maintain good body control of the kayak to draw the stern of the kayak to the sweeping paddle, finishing the rotation. Just like in forward paddling, our goal is to set the blade in the water and move the kayak. Make sure the blade stays in the water and the stroke is done slowly.

-Forward sweep strokes can be used to course correct while paddling forward. Only use as much of the stroke as you need to maintain the heading you desire.

-Reverse sweep strokes can be used to halt forward progress and begin turning the kayak 180 degrees. Use alternating forward sweep strokes on one side and reverse sweep strokes on the other side to pivot the kayak in place.

Stern Rudder

-Stern rudders are used most effectively your kayak is being pushed forward by a wave or tail wind, or when continued forward progress is not as important. To turn to the right, rotate your body to the right, place the paddle parallel to the kayak, then place the rear blade in the water near the stern of the kayak, power face facing the kayak and sliced into the water edge first. Apply careful pressure away from the kayak with the rear blade, using only as much as is needed to cause the kayak to carve a turn to the right.

Cross Bow Draw

- The cross bow draw is a powerful stroke which can help you carve a turn with the pivot point near the bow of the kayak, or to turn more sharply into the wind. To turn to the right, while maintaining the Paddler's Box, rotate your body so your left blade comes across the bow of the kayak and is placed fully in the water on the right side of the kayak. The power face should be facing the kayak; try to get as much rotation as is comfortable, but aim to get the blade to at least 1 o'clock if not more. If you are carrying speed at this point, you need only to apply pressure toward your kayak to draw your bow toward your paddle. If you are not moving forward, you will need to apply greater pressure toward your bow, drawing the bow all the way to the submerged blade. If a greater turn is needed, you can then "hop" the blade over the kayak, landing it on the left side and performing a sweep stroke on the left side, finishing the rotation that was started with the cross bow.

Draw Stroke

-A draw stroke is a way of moving the kayak laterally through the water, utilizing pressure from the power face of the blade toward the kayak to draw the kayak sideways. To move to the right, begin by twisting your body to face the right side of the kayak. Extend both arms out over the right side, so that your left arm is your top arm. Place the blade fully in the water, with the paddle vertical. The top edge of the right blade will be facing the stern of the kayak. From here, think about drawing your kayak to the submerged blade by pulling with your right knee and oblique and using pressure, but not pulling, of the right blade. Your kayak should slip sideways toward the blade. Before you your paddle, you should either lift the paddle out of the water, ready to reach and plant again if needed, or even better, rotate your knuckles forward so that the blade rotates 90 degrees. The power face is now facing the stern, and the paddle can be pushed away from the kayak at a 90 degree angle, then rotated back, ready to start another draw. Throughout this stroke, the top hand should try to maintain its position, serving as the pivot point for the paddle, which is acting as a lever.


-Edging is used to steer the kayak while maintaining forward paddle strokes. It also shortens the waterline of the boat, making it easier to turn the kayak using sweep strokes. To edge, it is important to remember that edging is not leaning. To turn to the right, you'll edge on your left. Lift your right knee and squeeze your right oblique, raising your right edge off the water. At the same time, think about shifting weight into your left butt cheek. Try to hold this edge while paddling to allow your boat to carve to the right.

-When pivoting from a static position, edge on the same side that you sweep stroke on, allowing the boat to turn in a tighter pivot in the opposite direction.

Happy Paddling!


Aaron Mearns