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Photo: from Adam Van Koeverden video


Elements and Sequence

Below are stroke tips picked up from fellow paddlers, blogs, videos, etc. This is an attempt at detailing the ideal stroke. Given the differences in paddling philosophies, bodies and abilities this is not meant to be how we should all paddle. It's a framework to think about the stroke as we all find what works best for each of us.


  • Straight back with slight lean forward.
  • Sit up on sit bones. Don't roll hips.
  • Chest open and shoulders down firmly in sockets. Don't over-reach; this can lead to injury.


  • Pause at the front of the stroke. Feel the run of the boat. (This is not really a complete stop in movement, but rather a short moment between when the powering blade comes out of the water and the front blade starts to dive toward the water. This “pause” seems to be the dominant technique as of 2020, but some paddlers instead adopt a more continuous cycle without what looks like a short moment with the front hand kept at the same height as the recovery hand is coming up)
  • Rotate beyond where your blade exited the water. Feel coiled beyond your comfort zone.
  • Position the blade at a positive angle for the catch - not perpendicular to the water.
  • The high (back) hand should be by your ear - the further the hand is away from the body, the stronger the stroke and harder it will be on the shoulder. The closer the high hand is to the ear the easier and less powerful the stroke will be.


  • Preload pressure on power foot (same side as the catch).
  • Blade enters the water close to the boat at a positive angle - not perpendicular to the water.
  • Shoulders still in their sockets - don't overextend as this can lose power and lead to injury.
  • The catch arm should be almost straight.
  • Make a minimal splash, slight whiff sound. (sprinting will cause more splash)


  • After the blade is fully submerged, initiate power by driving down heel on catch-side of the boat.
  • When driving down the heel pull up with the opposite foot - think about the bicycle pedal stroke.
  • Try to stand up by pushing on heel – straight and tall from heel to head.
  • Put weight down on the paddle, not pulling back. To offset the weight transfer down slightly shift your upper body weight to the non-stroke side. This is subtle, but it will keep your boat flat and allow for a much greater transfer of power. Think about a door with the hinge being along the paddle shaft and the door swinging wide over the non-stroke side of the boat. (If you watch videos of good sprint kayakers the shift to keep the boat balanced is not necessarily that subtle - you will see their non-stroke side bow out and their torso shift to the non-stroke side pretty significantly - but keep in mind that this may be augmented for sprinting as opposed to what is adequate for a longer distance surfski stroke.)
  • Key to a powerful stroke is power at the beginning of the stroke.
  • Keep lower arm straight. Imagine you are pivoting around the spot with the blade stationary in the water; boat moves past the blade, not vice a versa.
  • When driving heel down hold toes back - don't tap your steering with each stroke.
  • Power from heel drives down the knee and rotates hips, core, arms, and paddle.
  • Shoulders push down, chest pushes up in a squeeze feeling.
  • Keep paddle shaft parallel to your chest as chest rotates and arms are fixed. Don't let hand outpace core.
  • Upper hand travels across at about eye level.
  • Weight goes down shaft, not to the side.
  • Feel the rotation of hips and torso in unison - lock them together and concentrate on your hip rotation
  • Video of excellent hip rotation no spray skirt so hips are visible
  • If you rotate your torso without hips in unison this can contribute to lower back torque and strain
  • Rotate forward moving your bottom away from back of the bucket, not pushing back into the back of the bucket.
  • Match leg drive to rotation - leg should finish in the down position just as your rotation finishes.
  • Keep knees centered. (like much of these kind of instructions this is a generalization that will vary in terms of your specific body type - but the idea is to have your knees “centered” in terms of how your knees work - ideally not completely splayed outward or held too tightly against each other)
  • The ski bow should rise on the drive and settle on the recovery.


  • Use the forearm to exit - feels like exiting with the back of your hand. Don't lift shoulder - raise arm while bending at elbow
  • Continue to rotate after blade exits.
  • Exit hand finishes approx. at ear level for setup.
  • Keep pressure on foot stretcher.
  • Relax hands and body on exit and for setup.


  • For downwind runs you must be able to rapidly switch gears and increase your cadence to catch runs. Power in catching waves often has to be applied when you feel the tippiest, so you have to overcome the tendency to drop cadence or brace in order to learn to catch waves well.

Strategies for Improvement

There is no substitute for a good coach. If you don't have a coach, have a friend videotape you. Compare your stroke to videos of paddlers you are trying to emulate. Since the stroke is complex one strategy that can be helpful is to pick just three elements to work on during a practice. Focus on one element at a time. Rotate among the elements during your practice.

Stroke Balance

Putting it All Together

If/When you want to advance to rougher conditions and stronger downwind paddling


stroke.txt · Last modified: 2021/06/03 22:32 by preavley