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Kayak paddling technique help

I need help with my kayak paddling technique (which everyone says sucks).
How can I improve my stroke so I'm not always left miles behind and so I won't get so tired?
Do you offer help/instructions?

Thank you,
Jenn Peatman

4 Replies

@suckypaddler thanks for reaching out and asking about suggestions on ways to improve your paddle stroke (we also appreciate the humor in your username!). Although normally we'd be running in-person paddle classes throughout the summer, these are anything but "normal" times and unfortunately our in-person classes are still temporarily suspended. So, here are a few other ideas that may help in the interim:

  • We are hosting a virtual event on paddling where you can submit questions for the instructor - this might be a great opportunity to ask about paddle stroke techniques!
  • We have an Expert Advice article on basic kayak strokes that may provide a helpful tip or two.
  • Nearly all of our stores have reopened around the country, so you could always stop in and chat with an employee about paddling; or, if you aren't able to visit us in-store, you could set up a free virtual outfitting appointment to talk to someone about paddle technique.

Finally, we will tag a few of our community members who know a bunch about paddling for their tips: @REI-EricP @REI-JohnJ @REI-AllieR @REI-AnnaL @REI-RachelL 

At REI, we believe time outside is fundamental to a life well lived.

@suckypaddler It looks like there are some resources available to you!

I don't do ocean kayaking or anything - nothing crazy serious - but somebody told me years ago to be sure to let each side of the paddle do a full stroke, which meant being sure it made complete contact with the water - not just the tip, but the whole end of the paddle - as far forward (relative to the boat) as possible, and then all the way back. If you can keep this consistent on both sides, these full strokes with the paddle totally submerged, that might help! Just be sure not to move in a way that's a serious strain, because if it's a physical stress to start, it could mean something more difficult a while later.

One thing that I've found myself doing when I get tired is to try to engage my core. I'm not sure if an expert would say that's super helpful, but it's a thought!

Good luck!


@suckypaddler Thanks for reaching out, Jenn!

I'm going to piggy back a little bit on the good advice you got from @REI-JenK and @AlexH-C here. If you have an opportunity to tell us a little bit more about your kayak (recreational kayak versus a sea kayak, as an example) and the conditions you are paddling in (flat water versus ocean) that will help us get a better idea of how to provide any further advice. 

I hope you got a chance to read the Basic Kayak strokes article as that has a lot of great information. Here are the two key parts of that article that had the greatest impact on my paddling:

  • Making sure my hands were in the correct place on the paddle (the 'paddler's box' in the article and that I was sitting up nice and straight. Once I got this dialed in it almost forced me to engage the larger core and back muscles more than my arms and it also kept my paddle blades where they needed to be.
  • Remembering that for speed and tracking I want to use a paddling stroke that not only fully submerges the blade of the paddle, but also that stays close in to the side of the kayak. I was a paddler who typically kept my blades out wide to the kayak and that made it hard to paddle straight and was very inefficient.

Hopefully the advice you're getting here helps your paddling stroke. Don't hesitate to reach back out if you have more questions. Thanks!

At REI, we believe time outside is fundamental to a life well lived.

Hey @suckypaddler Ill add a few things!

Speed in a kayak doesn't come from power, it comes from technique. If after paddling for a couple of hours your arms are tired, there is something wrong with technique. 

• Here is a video on Youtube that will show how to do the forward stroke

• Keep your hands relaxed. Blisters or calluses is an indicator you are holding the paddle too tightly. 

• Sit up straight, and have 5 points of contact with your kayak - Feet, thighs, bottom in the seat. 

Good luck, have fun!

At REI, we believe time outside is fundamental to a life well lived.