Kayaking is a fantastic way to get out and explore the great outdoors. Whether it’s leisure kayaking in still water, like an estuary or inlet, river kayaking in rapids, or ocean kayaking in question, all of these experiences can be immensely rewarding. But in order to kayak, you need to know how. More specifically, you need to know how to paddle your kayak. 

That is, accordingly, exactly what us here at Kokopelli, maker of some of the finest, most cutting-edge kayaks around, are hoping to teach you! Looking to purchase a new kayak? Browse our collection at Kokopelli today! Otherwise, we hope you find the following information helpful.

Address Form & Posture Before Paddling

Learning how to use kayak paddles may take a little while to master and feel totally comfortable with, but it’s fairly easy to get started once you know what to do. The best way to paddle a kayak is to follow the “Golden Rules” set forth by Paddling.com. That is:

  1. You need to use the power of torso rotation for all your strokes.
  2. You need to choose an appropriate paddling location.
  3. You need to have a plan in case you capsize.

These are, of course, broad strokes (pun very much intended) but still, they’re important.

For choosing a paddling location, starting off in still bodies of water (with no currents, waves, or rapids), is ideal, to begin with. 

Check out EZDock’s helpful post, “What to Do If Your Kayak Has Capsized”, to see how you can avoid capsizing and what to do if it actually happens.

With those two rules out of the way, let’s talk more about rule number one: the basics of form and posture. When it comes to learning how to kayak paddle, many beginners are surprised to learn that much of the power in paddling (when done correctly) comes not from the arms, but from the torso.

When it comes to kayaking form and posture, you want to be sure that you’re sitting up straight. Be sure to also adjust the kayak seat if you can so that you’re further towards the back of the boat for stability. Place your feet so your knees have a slight bend.

How Do You Paddle a Basic Stroke on a Kayak?

Once you’ve situated yourself within your kayak, the next step is to learn how to actually paddle. Mark Armstrong does a great job explaining this in his post for Kayak Guru entitled “How To Paddle A Kayak – Strokes & Techniques Explained”, which we will summarize below. We’ll also note that not all paddles are alike, so learning how to choose the right one is important.

  1. Have Your Paddle Facing The Right Direction (Scoop Side Faces Backward)
  2. Hold The Paddle Above Your Head (Helps to Have Your Elbows Just Under 90 degrees)
  3. Balance Your Paddle
  4. Keep Your Knuckles On Top
  5. Keep Your Grip Loose (Grip Paddles Mostly with Your Forefingers & Thumbs)

With that in mind, when you go to paddle, what you want to do is:

  1. Lead with one side of your torso (in other words twist so either the left or right side of your body points forward). 
  2. Scoop the paddle on the opposite side to the side that’s forward – it should land around where your foot is
  3. Use your core to push yourself past the paddle
  4. Push your upper hand forward and pull your other hand (the one in the water)
  5. Lift the paddle that’s in the water and repeat on the other side (eventually this will all become like one fluid, continuous motion).

Another way to think about this is to break the stroke into “Catch, propulsion, and exit”.

Different Strokes for Different Moves

We’ve just gone through the basics, but there are many other strokes to master, as outlined in Bethany Cartner’s piece for Kayak Addicts, “How to Paddle a Kayak: Beginner’s Guide to Basic Strokes”, including the reverse stroke, sweep stroke, and draw stroke.

Read More Kayaking Tips 

Once you’ve mastered the basics of learning how to paddle, there’s a whole lot more to discover. Learn everything you need to know by checking out more of our blog, “Things to Know”.
April 28, 2023 — Kokopelli Outdoor