Kayak Paddling Basics

Are you going kayaking for the first time? Learn how to hold your paddle and execute basic paddle strokes with these tips.

April 03, 2017

The most important skill you’ll need to hone when you begin kayaking is how to paddle. We’re breaking down the fundamentals so that you can master beginner paddling techniques.


First and foremost, you want to be sitting up straight. Keep your hips and legs relaxed. Having an upright posture could help lessen stress on your back, allowing you to further enjoy your time on the water.


While holding the paddle above your head, your arms should be at a 90° angle to the paddle shaft. Your hands should be about shoulder width apart. Your grip should be relaxed on the paddle with your fingers forming an “O” shape and your knuckles facing up.


The forward stroke is the building block of paddling and is made up of three movements: catch, propulsion and recovery.

The first step is the catch, which is when the blade enters the water. The blade will scoop or “catch” the water.

The next step is propulsion. This movement is when you use your upper torso to pull through the stroke and push the water behind you, propelling yourself forward.

Last is recovery. This occurs when the paddle blade comes out of the water and gets back in to position for the catch.

Repeat those three steps to create the forward stroke.


This stroke enables you to turn the boat. Dip the blade into the water near your feet on the side of the boat opposite the direction that you want to turn. Sweep the blade in a wide arc toward the rear of the boat. You’ll want to finish the stroke by lifting the paddle out of the water as it nears the stern. Follow through with the stroke until you have turned to the location you want to be. For a more detailed guide to turning, watch our How to Steer a Kayak video. 


When you are ready to stop your boat, you can use the reverse forward stroke. This stroke consists of dropping the blade bluntly into the water in order to slow yourself. Use your torso and core to resist the water and help slow down the kayak. Use the paddle to back-paddle until you are slowed down significantly or have come to a full stop.

With these guidelines, we hope your kayaking experience will be the best it can be.