How to paddle

Choosing the right paddle has the greatest impact on your experience. Learn about the important factors in paddling and choosing paddles.

The best part about kayaking is that you can enjoy the beauty of nature around you. Whether you’re kayaking for fun, as a practice, or to fish, you should learn how to be in full control of your kayak and know how to direct it to the spot you intend to go.

Also, you can always use one or two paddling techniques, but before we get to this part, let’s take a look at some of the basics that will get you by whenever you’re in the water.

Understanding Paddling Basics

Paddling is quite simple. It shouldn’t be long before you get the hang of things, but for you to see progress, you shouldn’t be putting yourself to the test as you’re picking up a new hobby. In other words, don’t put yourself in difficult conditions when you’re first trying things out. Instead, start practicing in calm, safe water that you’re familiar with, away from strong currents or awful weather conditions.

It will also help if you leave the kayak out of the water when you’re trying your first strokes so that you don’t feel stressed out while practicing. Moreover, you’ll get to have a better idea about how the paddle feels in your hands and how to move it before you actually start paddling.

Choosing Your Paddle

Choosing the right paddle has the greatest impact on your experience. If you spend your trip struggling with holding a bulky, heavy paddle, you’ll barely focus on anything else but paddling. To pick the perfect paddle, you’ll have to consider its length in relation to your height and the width of the kayak. Also, you need to pick the right shaft style.

Finding the Right Length

If you’re under 5 inches tall, you should go with a 210-240 cm paddle, depending on the width of your kayak (starting with under 23 inches to as wide as 32 inches or more). Those taller than 6 inches can go for a 220-cm paddle for kayaks under 23-inch to up to 250 cm for kayaks above 32-inch wide.

Picking the Paddle’s Style

Parallel Paddles

Parallel paddles are the most basic and the easiest to work with. Some models come feathered, so you’ll have to find the button at the center and rotate the shafts until they become parallel to each other.

Curved Paddles

These paddles allow the paddler to move more water; accordingly, they’re the best for powerful strokes. To make the best of these paddles, make sure the convex side is directed towards the water.

Asymmetrical Paddles

Some pairs come in an asymmetrical design in which one paddle is longer than the other. This design helps the kayak to keep going straight without drifting right or left.

Orienting the Paddle

To hold the paddle properly, follow these steps:

  1. Hole the paddle perpendicular to the water surface
  2. Rotate it so that the large knuckles are pointed up, and the small ones are pointed down
  3. If your blades aren’t symmetrical, make sure that the shorter sides are positioned downwards
  4. For curved paddles, the concave sides should be facing you

Once you put the paddle in the right orientation, rest its center point right above your head, then move your arms to the side until your elbows make 90-degree angles.

Learning Different Strokes

Learning Different Strokes Kayak

Holding the paddle in the position we mentioned above creates a “paddler’s box” that is formed by the shaft, your chest, and arms.

It’s essential to maintain this box while you’re paddling because it forces you to make the right movements. Take a deep breath before you start paddling, then relax your grip and use your torso to move through the water rather than your arms.

Forward Strokes

At this point, your hands should be firmly holding the shaft all around, making an “O” shape.


  1. Immerse one blade on one side of the kayak while directing it forward
  2. Move the blade to the back by rotating your torso
  3. Stretch your body as much as possible to get the blade deep in the water
  4. Move the blade out of the water, then repeat these steps on the opposite side

Important Tips:

  • The blade should be almost vertical when it’s fully immersed in the water
  • Keeping your body in an upright position will help you maintain your balance and end up with more effective strokes
  • The paddler’s box should be at the back of your head while you’re paddling; this will keep you following the correct technique
  • Don’t stress your arms or tense your fingers; otherwise, you might injure them; not to mention, they’ll tire in no time.

Reverse Strokes

Going in reverse is quite easy once you master going forwards; you simply apply the same technique but in the opposite direction.


  1. Immerse the blade on one side while directing it backward
  2. Rotate it to the front by rotating your torso
  3. Move the paddle out of the water once you get it as deep as possible
  4. Repeat these steps on the other side

Turning Strokes

Turning strokes come in handy when you want to direct your kayak to one side. All you have to do is repeat several forward strokes, but on one side only, and you’ll notice that your kayak is drifting in the opposite direction. If you want to speed things up, try wider strokes, and your kayak will be swept away much faster.


As you can tell, paddling a kayak isn’t nearly as complicated as driving a car, so you’ll get it right straight away. When you’re planning your first paddling trip, make sure to accompany someone with more experience who can offer you some help in case of an emergency.