The forward paddling stroke is the main paddle stroke used in kayaking. It is our primary means of forward propulsion and the start point of every adventure. While the basics of this stroke are fairly simple it is one of the most difficult to refine to a high level of perfection. If your racing, surfing, freestyling, kayak fishing, touring, creeking or just having a chilled out paddle on your local lake, whatever your adventure, you will need to use this paddle stroke.
There have been a lot of studies into the forward paddle stroke and there is a lot of information out there. Heres our basic breakdown of a good forward paddle stroke.
In its most simplest of terms, a forward paddle stroke starts at the front of the boat, runs parallel to the boat and finshes behind you. It is the main paddle stroke used for moving forwards.
How to do a forward paddle stroke
1. Using good torso rotation, turn your shoulders and chest towards the front of the boat keeping the paddle square with your shoulder in the ‘paddlers box position’.
2. Plant the blade in the water just past your feet near the front 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 forward stroke by unwinding from your torso. Use your torso rotation to pull the paddle blade along the side 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 forward 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 pull 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 hips, 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 forwards.
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 forward sweep stroke to turn the boat back onto your desired course of direction.
How to utilise the power from good body rotation when forward paddling
Imagine that you are paddling along a street that has posts planted in it.
1. The first post is just out of reach and you need to rotate to grab it.
2. Pull your boat past the post,
3. Now rotate on the opposite side to grab the next post.
Think of this and focus on pulling with your torso. This will keep you using good torso rotation and the correct forward paddle stroke technique.
4. Now repeat and replace the word post with paddle blade. Using the paddle blade as an anchor at the start of the stroke pull against it as you unwind with your torso rotation.
Do not pull the paddle towards you. Pull yourself towards the paddle.
Try keep your eyes on an object in the distance in the direction you would like to go and use your peripheral vision to see the bow of your boat. Don’t worry if the bow of your boat flutters side to side as you paddle, this is normal. However if you see your boat begin to turn, use forward paddle and sweep strokes to bring it back online. If it goes to far off to the side it can be difficult to bring it back to straight.
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 not to pull with your arm, but rather use the unwinding effect of you torso rotation to apply the power to the stroke. This allows you to access the energy from the larger muscle groups of the body rather than just the arms.