How to Paddle a Kayak

In this beginner guide – How to Paddle a Kayak, we will discuss in detail the basic strokes to move yourself forwards and backwards in a kayak.  Your new adventure is dependent on you actually being able to move!  So, read on and just have a go, you might even find that it’s far easier than you expected.

Basic Kayaking Strokes


We are assuming you do not have a Kayak instructor to show you how to paddle a kayak so we are going to discuss a few basic paddling strokes here for you. Once you understand these simple strokes, you will be ready to enjoy your very first kayaking adventure.


The Forward Stroke

Firstly, you need to learn how to paddle a kayak using a forward stroke. This is the paddling stroke used most often during kayaking and is used to propel the kayak in a straight, forward motion. Begin this stroke while sitting correctly in your kayak. Lean forward just a little, holding the paddle firmly with both hands. Keep your left elbow bent with that hand level with your chin as you extend your right arm completely, placing the right paddle blade into the water. The blade should enter the water slightly in front of your body, near the position of your feet.

Remember to use your entire body as you paddle, rotating your upper body with the movement of the paddle blades. Use this movement to push the right blade through the water, pulling it back towards you, parallel to the boat. Stop the blade once it reaches your hip and quickly pull it out of the water. At the same time, you will need to reposition the paddle so the left blade is ready to enter the water near your feet. Now, you will want to bend your right arm while fully extending your left arm and repeat the same process. Now you know how to paddle a kayak forwards!

The Reverse Stroke

Once you are comfortable with the forward stroke used in kayaking, it is time to learn how to paddle a kayak using a reverse stroke. This is the stroke used to move your kayak backwards and is very similar to the forward stroke, only reversed. Remember, again, to use your whole body as you execute each step of this stroke.

Begin the reverse stroke on your right side, placing the right paddle blade in the water at your hip. Keeping your left arm straight and your left hand near the center of the deck, bend your right arm and push the paddle forward. Move the blade in the direction you are moving, extending your right arm as you bend the left, and ending the stroke when the blade reaches your feet. You will then take the right blade out of the water as you reposition your paddle, continuing the same process on the left side.


The Turn

Now that you know how to paddle a kayak forwards and backwards, you need to learn how to turn your kayak. There are a few different paddling strokes that can be used to turn your kayak, but most kayakers find that the bow sweep helps keep the boat stable as it turns. To make a left turn using the bow sweep, you will want to straighten your right arm while turning your body slightly to the left, keeping your left arm bent. Begin to move your body to the right as you propel the blade through the water in an arc away from the boat. At the same time, straighten your left arm and bend the right, stopping the stroke near your hip. This paddling stroke will turn your kayak quickly, without losing speed and will usually keep the kayak stable.

These tips will really give you a basis for learning how to paddle a Kayak and once you have mastered these simple strokes you can move onto some more advanced techniques.