How To Paddle a Kayak | Proper Position & Stroke Types

Do you want to go kayaking but don’t know how to paddle a kayak? Look no further. For your convenience, we have made an instructional guide on how to paddle a kayak.

Just follow these simple instructions, and you’ll be on the water, kayaking in no time!

How to hold your paddle

There are three things to look for when holding your paddle:

1. Hand position

When paddling your kayak, position your arms and hands in a shape that is commonly referred to as “the paddler’s box.”

You can find the paddler’s box by placing the center of the paddle gently on the top of your head. With the paddle still on your head, reposition your hands until your elbows are at a 90-degree angle.

Once your elbows are at this angle, bring the paddle in front of your body. Make sure to retain the 90-degree bend in your arms. This position is the paddler’s box. The box should be formed from your arms, torso, and the paddle. As you paddle, make sure to retain the paddler’s box.

2. Paddle position

Once your hands are in place, make sure that your paddle is in the correct position. To check the position, pick up the paddle and hold it directly out in front of you.

With the paddle in front of you, make sure that the blades and your knuckles are perpendicular to the water’s surface. If your paddle is not in this position, turn it until it is. Holding the paddle perpendicular ensures that the blade’s grab the water, which is what pushes the kayak forward.

3. Grip

While maintaining the paddler’s box, you will want to relax your grip. You can maintain a relaxed grip by making an “O” shape with your index finger and thumb around the paddle. Once your index finger and thumb are in this shape, lightly rest the other three digits on the paddle. Keep this grip while paddling.

Having a loose grip will enhance your kayaking experience for two reasons. Firstly, it will prevent your hands and arms from getting fatigued. Secondly, it will force you to power your paddle from your torso instead of your arms.

Power source

Once you are holding the paddle correctly, you can start to paddle. As you’re paddling, remember that you are supposed to power your movement from your core and back, not your arms or shoulders.

Powering the kayak from your core provides more power and protects your arms from fatigue, allowing you to kayak longer.

Stroke types

Once you are ready to paddle, there are four main stroke types to you can use. Each stroke is used for a different kayaking purpose. Knowing the different strokes will allow you to both move faster and better control your kayak.

Forward stroke

The most common stroke is the forward stroke. You will use this stroke whenever you wish to move forward in straight line. This stroke requires arm and core power. As you move the paddle, make sure to engage your core so that most power is coming from your torso, though.

You begin this stroke by turning your torso and fully submerging your blade on one side of the kayak by the end of your feet.

As you move the blade backward, rotate your torso. It helps if you watch the submerged blade with your eyes. When your hand goes right behind your hip, bring the blade out of the water in a slicing motion.

Once the blade is out of the water, submerge the out-of-the-water blade on the other side of the kayak in the same fashion as before. Your torso will already be positioned correctly for proper movement.

Reverse stroke

The reverse stroke is used to back up the kayak. It is the opposite of the forward stroke.

Start by rotating your torso and placing one blade in the water next to your hip. As you move the blade forward, rotate your torso. When the blade reaches your feet, bring the paddle up in a slicing motion.

To continue paddling backward, place the other blade in the water on the other side of the kayak. Your torso will be in the correct position.

Sweep stroke

If you need to turn your kayak around, you will need to use the sweep stroke. Unlike the previous stroke, the sweep stroke involves re-submerging the same blade on one side of the kayak.

Using the blade opposite of the direction you want to turn, place the blade in the water by your feet. Move the blade in a wide arc around the side of the kayak. Once the blade is fully behind your body, remove it from the water in a slicing motion.

Continue this motion until you are facing your desired direction.

Draw stroke

The draw stroke is the least used stroke for beginners. It moves your boat sideways and is helpful if you are trying to get away from the side of the lake or river.

First, rotate the paddle until the blades are horizontal to the water. About two feet away from the kayak, place the blade on the opposite side of the direction you want to move. Using your lowered hand, pull the blade towards your body.

Before the paddle hits the boat, pull it out of the water in a slicing motion. You will probably need to repeat this motion several times until you get to where you want to be.


Learning how to paddle a kayak doesn’t have to be hard. Instead, you can use our easy-to-use instructional guide on how to paddle a kayak, which will let you be out on the water in no time!