Another great skill we need to master is backwards paddling to do this we use a backwards paddle stroke. The backward paddle stroke is very much like the forward stroke except in reverse. Many of today’s great paddlers spend many hours on river paddling backwards. Entering currents backwards, running rapids backwards (when safe) and much more… just to achieve that level of comfort when the inevitable turnaround happens.
In its most simplest of terms, a backwards paddle stroke starts at the back of the boat, runs parallel to the boat and finishes in front of you. It is the main paddle stroke used for moving backwards.
How to do a backwards paddle stroke.
1. Using good torso rotation, turn your shoulder and chest towards the back of the boat keeping the paddle square with your shoulders in the ‘paddlers box position’
2. Plant the blade in the water just behind your hips near the back of the boat with the paddle vertical in the water.
Your paddle should be vertical with your top hand around eye level.
3. Whilst keeping a relatively relaxed grip on your paddle, initiate the backwards stroke by unwinding from your torso. Use your torso rotation to push the paddle blade along the side of your the boat.
The top hand should stay about eye level throughout this movement. By keeping the paddle nice and vertical you will be able to create backwards prolusion energy rather than the rotational energy created by the low wide paddle stroke of the sweep.
4. Allow the paddle stroke to run parallel alongside the boat.
5. As you push against the power of the water with your blade you will be able to use your core, lower body and feet to guide the boat in the direction you want it to go. Transferring the power from the blade, through your body and into the movement of the boat.
5.Once the paddle passes your knees, you have completed the move. Recover the paddle by slicing the blade out through the water.
6. Then get ready to put it back in the water on the opposite side and perform your next paddle stroke.
7. Continue repeating this process and you will find you are accelerating backwards.
8. If you start to turn you can use an extra paddle stroke on the same side to help you correct the boat or a reverse sweep stroke to turn the boat back onto your desired course of direction.
9. In shorter boats it often helps to weight the bow slightly by using a forward paddling posture. This takes the weight of the stern of the boat and allow it to track and move through the water easier.
Use the back of the paddle blade to perform this paddle stroke. You do not need to spin or rotate your paddle. The back of the paddle blade is designed for reverse paddling.
Try find a point in front of you that is directly opposite the point you would like to travel towards. That way if you keep your eyes and the bow of your boat pointing in that direction you should be travelling in a straight line. Every 4/5 paddle strokes look over your shoulder to check your still on route and that your not going to crash into anything. Again don’t worry if the bow flutters side to side, that normal. Just if you start to see your bow start to veer of course use your backwards paddle and reverse sweep strokes to bring it back in line.
As with forwards paddling try and paddle within the speed limits of your boat. A kayak often responds a second or so behind each paddle stroke and is much harder to control when its moving fast. Keep to a speed you can control and use a smooth controlled paddle stroke rhythm allowing the boat time to respond to each paddle stroke. You don’t need to paddle super fast like a ‘Durracell Bunny’ to move fast. Instead use controlled paddle strokes with good technique.
Try to use the unwinding effect of you torso rotation rather than just pushing on your arms to apply the power to the stroke. This allows you to access the energy from the larger muscle groups of the body.
Its a great idea to incorporate backwards paddling into your warm up as it utilises a lot of muscles not used by other paddle strokes and will help keep you a stronger and more balanced athlete. Try doing 50 paddle backwards paddle strokes as part of your warm up.
Remember one of the tricks when paddling backwards in a smaller boat is to weight the bow slightly by using a forward paddling posture. This takes the weight of the stern of the boat and allow it to track better.