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The basic turning strokes are the forward sweep, reverse sweep and rudder strokes. When you're underway and want to change course without losing momentum, the best turning stroke is the forward sweep. It is both propulsive stroke and turning stroke; it keeps the kayak moving forward without breaking the rhythm. Other turning strokes may change your course more sharply, but they are more likely to slow your progress and break your rhythm.
The full forward sweep is useful for spinning a stationary kayak, and for making turns when underway without losing momentum. It begins in the same position as the forward stroke, but the paddle is swept out in a wide arc, which continues until the blade is about six inches away from the stern hull. Begin by edging to the side on which you will sweep the paddle (that is, to the side opposite the direction of the intended turn). Plant the blade in the water, with the power face away from the boat. Imagine that you are planting the paddle in the ground - that the paddle will be a stationary lever which you will use to spin the boat. As you rotate the upper body toward the stern, push your legs in the opposite direction - in the direction of your new course. Guide your paddle through a wide arc by keeping your onside arm straight, even stiff. Keep your offside hand next to your midsection. Maintain the edge throughout the sweep! If you feel you want some support from the paddle, angle the top of the blade toward the stern a few degrees. Keep rotating until the paddle is close to the stern (you get the most power when the paddle is between your hip and the stern). Finish with your body facing the sweep side and the paddle shaft over the water and parallel to your kayak. As you finish, bring the boat back off the edge for stability.
The above describes a full sweep. When underway, you will usually use a stroke that combines elements of the sweep and the forward stroke. For that, the most important and effective component is the edge. In fact, many experienced paddlers make most of their course changes by edging, without any appreciable change in their forward stroke.
A reverse sweep stroke starts where the forward sweep stroke ends, about six inches from the stern hull (see photo at right). The body is rotated and both hands are over the water as the paddle is dropped into the water toward the stearn of the kayak.
The kayak is edged or leaned toward the onside paddle and the stroke is just the reverse of a forward sweep stroke. Remember: don't change the position of the shaft in your hand. Lead with the non-power face (back side) of the paddle.
For propulsion strokes, the angle of the blade is usually perpendicular to the surface, or vertical. The more vertical the blade, the more propulsive power the stroke has. For support strokes, the blade is flat on the water, or nearly so. During a propulsive stroke like the sweep, the angle of the blade may be changed to get more support. By tilting the top of the blade back when doing a forward sweep, you gain support but lose turning power. Never angle the top of the blade forward unless doing a reverse sweep, because that will cause the paddle to dive.
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