6.1 Forward paddling

Developing an efficient forward paddling strokes takes a lot of time and practice, and all of us are still learning! We’re lucky to have an active community of racing kayakers at the club - getting tips from them, and perhaps joining some of their sessions, is a great way to learn.

The video below (and the associated notes here) is a good start point

For anyone wanting to get into this in more depth, I’d recommend videos of Ivan Lawler coaching (e.g. these or these).

Here’s a few tips that might be useful (if these make little sense, I suggest watching the videos first!):

Get the right posture

  • Keep the chest high and sit tall in the boat. Imagine that you’re being pulled upwards by a thread attached to your head.
  • Look where you are going!
  • Keep the ‘nipple line’ horizontal - avoid dropping either shoulder when paddling
  • Lean forward very slightly
  • As you paddle, the body rotates about the spine


  • Keep the bottom arm straight. With the body rotated, you should be able to reach the blade to enter the water around your feet

  • The upper part of the top arm extends sideways from the body in line with the collarbone. The arm is bent at the elbow, with the forearm roughly vertical and a little forwards - think of the position you’d put it in for a press-up

  • The blade is placed in the water by pushing along the shaft with the top hand


  • Hold the shape - the upper forearm, upper arm and collarbone remain static relative to each other. There is flexing at the shoulder to allow the lower arm to stay straight and track with the paddle as the body unwinds. The top hand does not push forward, rather it acts as a pivot for the paddle shaft. You should see it track across the horizon in front of you.
  • You should push with your foot on the side that the paddle is pulling to transfer force to the boat.
  • The body rotates about the spine
  • The paddle follows an angled trajectory backwards and away from the boat until it is extracted level or forward of the paddler’s hips. The paddle trajectory is the same with wings and flats.


  • Take out with the back of the arm - lift ‘outwards’, not ’inwards, keeping the elbow low.
  • The entire stoke keeps a a positive rake on paddle - generating support from the blade. Once the angle goes negative, the paddle should be out of the water.

Air work

  • The arms swap roles in the air, setting everything up for the next stroke.