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Photo: from Adam Van Koeverden video


Elements and Sequence of the Forward Stroke

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 descend 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 for your next stroke.
  • Position the blade at a positive angle for the catch - not perpendicular to the water.
  • The high (back) hand for many good paddlers is commonly by the ear on that hand's side at the end of recovery. On the other hand folks may keep the upper hand lower to reduce shoulder strain and make balance somewhat easier in turbulent water.


  • Preload pressure on power foot (same side as the catch).
  • Blade enters the water close to the boat at a positive forward angle - not perpendicular to the water.
  • Put blade into the water with top (back) shoulder and torso rotation, not hand nearest water nor via leaning the body more.
  • 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) particularly at the beginning of the stroke. Splashing that continues toward the later part of the stroke can indicate lifting of the paddle blade and too much drive arm participation (bending).


  • 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 - if this works for you and helps with your hip rotation
  • 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 or almost 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.
  • 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 (or at the level that works for you, but higher than the eyes is really not necessary)
  • Weight goes down shaft, not to the side.
  • Feel the rotation of hips and the torso - in the earlier part of the drive they will move fairly close together
  • Video of excellent hip rotation no spray skirt so hips are visible
  • If you rotate your torso without your hips you will achieve less power in your stroke.
  • Rotate forward moving your bottom away from back of the bucket, not pushing back into the back of the bucket. Watch this overhead video showing rotation
  • Match leg drive to rotation - leg should finish in the down position just as your hip 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)


  • Use the forearm to exit - feels like exiting with the back of your hand. Don't lift shoulder - raise arm while bending at elbow and keeping the elbow down
  • Continue to rotate with your torso if comfortable (can you do healthy stretching that increases your torso rotation to aid this?) after blade exits.
  • Exit hand finishes approx. at ear level (again this is idealized) 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. But 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

Other Strokes

We didn't start to add detailed information about these strokes until year 3 of this wiki, so like many surfskiers we know, we are also guilty of neglecting these vital and very valuable strokes that a surfskier should have command of and which can provide great benefit to their paddling and downwinding.


You can use the sculling stroke to move sideways effectively. (The draw stroke is your other main option) But you can also maintain stability when you are stopped with this stroke. How many paddlers have experienced letting their paddles dive followed subsequently by themselves into the water? You can insure that your paddle remains on the surface and provides active support with a sculling stroke. Your paddle blade needs to be somewhat angled away from your boat to get some upward support. This stroke can feel very awkward at first, but a little regular practice will lead to comfort, competence, and the ability to confidently rely on this stroke.

  1. Use the cupped side of the blade for pressure against the water (just like the forward stroke)
  2. Keep your paddle angled slightly outward away from your boat on the side you are skulling (paddle blade in the water farther out than the top blade)
  3. Your paddle goes sideways parallel to your boat back and forth with the leading blade edge angled slightly farther out/higher than the other edge to provide lift and keep the paddle from diving regardless of which direction the paddle is going. Your bottom hand turns your paddle to keep the leading edge up and the power being applied to the cupped side.
  4. You can adjust the position of your paddle toward the front, back, or straight sideways to control the direction that you are pulling your boat


Pre-swim paddle dive


  • Low Brace - typically putting the non-power side of one blade (occasionally low braces are done with the blade's power side in canoes) more or less flat on the water surface at a 45 degree angle behind you. Your wing paddle1) will generally be as close to horizontal as practical given that it has to angle over your boat. Both hands are kept low vertically. Sometimes people rest the paddle on their legs or lap. (one of Oscar Chalupsky's energy saving tips and how Boyan Zlatarev teaches it) . Boyan teaches a slight lean to the side that you brace on. You can lean more to the brace side if you need to apply more weight on the brace, but the point is to keep your boat upright - generally you do not lean a lot and you just apply very light pressure to maintain contact to sense the available support while minimizing drag and speed loss. This is the kind of brace used by surfskiers (OC's also use a low brace with their single blade paddles). You need to practice and get completely comfortable with both sides (if you feather2) your blade angles, bracing on one side will likely seem more awkward at first). This brace is also often used for support on the side you are turning toward if you are on a wave. With more pressure it can act more like a rudder assisting sidewise turning but also reducing speed more.
  • High Brace - recovery support and sharp turn stroke (high brace turn) on one side with higher (vertically) hand positions using the power side of blade. Commonly used by sea and white water kayakers - proper technique is critical (take care about not letting your hands get too high or too far away from your body) because it can put significant stress on your shoulders.

Back Paddling


stroke.txt · Last modified: 2023/03/01 02:40 by preavley