As we paddle, we're doing a forward stroke for at least 95% of the time. Making that stroke ever more enjoyable and efficient is a life-long pursuit! Read this page, and then go to Scott Fairty's Forward Stroke Discovery Activities to develop your own best form and to Julie Tan's Improving Your Forward Stroke.
An efficient forward stroke is a whole-body exercise! It involves your trunk, your legs, your shoulders and arms. The trunk and legs are the core of the stroke. They are the key to ease, power, and stamina. The arms and shoulders serve mainly to guide the paddle, and only secondarily to provide power.
Let's start with the trunk. Begin the forward stroke action by twisting your body so that your shoulder is in line with the spot in the water where you intend to plant the paddle. If you're starting with the blade on the right side, your chest will be rotated well to the left, as in the first picture. Twist by coiling your trunk from your abdominal muscles up through the shoulders. Now that your trunk is "wound up," you energize the stroke by unwinding from the abdominals to the shoulders. The unwinding motion continues until you are wound up on the other side, poised for another stroke.
What about your arms? As you rotate the trunk and shoulders to the left, extend your right arm to plant the blade in the water next to your foot. With the left hand, hold the paddle shaft just to the left of your head. Be sure that the power face of the onside blade (the blade that's active, or in the water) is perpendicular to the boat. This position is the start of the forward stroke: it's called the "catch" (see the first picture).
Submerge the blade completely. As you uncoil the torso, push your offside (left) hand forward at about face level and pull the onside (right) blade back beside the kayak. Keep the paddle shaft in front of you, well away from your chest, almost at arms' length. This is the "power phase" of the forward stroke (second photo).
When your onside hand parallels your thigh, your offside arm should be nearly fully extended, still more or less at face level. Now, slice the blade out of the water with a flick of the wrist. This is the "exit phase." Continue rotating the trunk for a "windup" to the opposite side, and position the paddle for the catch on the left.
Your legs add energy to the stroke. As you unwind to the right, push against the right (onside) footpeg. This will add power to the rotation and will positively transfer the force of the rotation into forward motion of the kayak. As you rotate left and right in a smooth rhythm, cycle your legs to strengthen the rotation.
Efficiency is fundamental. Watch experienced paddlers and notice how little energy they use. The forward stroke is smooth and steady. Rhythm is key to the ability to paddling over long distances. Go slowly and steadily, using as much of your body as possible. Here's a tip: if your arms hurt at the end of the day, you were using your arms too much, instead of your upper and lower body.
Let's take a moment to consider blade/shaft positioning and efficiency. The "theory" of paddle positioning is this: if the paddle blade is close to the kayak during a forward stroke, it will impart forward motion to the boat, but not much lateral (turning) motion. If the paddle is off to the side of the kayak by a foot or more, it will impart some turning motion to the kayak, with proportionally less forward motion. So, we keep the paddle shaft fairly vertical in order to keep the blade close to the kayak during the forward and reverse strokes.
Your kayak will stay on course better if you keep the arc of the stroke well forward. Plant the paddle blade next to the hull near your feet, and take it out when your hand is even with your thigh (or your elbow is even with your hip). If the blade travels back beyond your hips, it will begin to have a turning effect and you will lose efficiency.
Ready to put it all into action? Click over to Scott Fairty's Forward Stroke Discovery Activities and make it happen!
Table of Contents