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Basic Kayak Paddling: The Power and Sweep Strokes

Here we'll review the power and sweep strokes for forward motion and making turns (assuming the standard right-control of a feathered blade). You'll find alternative techniques

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and tips for stopping, shifting sideways, and reversing your boat elsewhere on the site.

Forward Power Stroke
Paddling your kayak forward in a straight line seems like the simplest maneuver of all, but doing so correctly and efficiently takes honed skill.

To perform the forward power stroke, twist your upper body so that your right hand extends fully outward and the right kayak blade enters the water as far forward as you can manage and near the boat's side. Your left arm should be crooked, raising the left paddle into the air.

Then pivot, pulling with the right hand while pushing with the left--the two should work together seamlessly to drag the kayak forward with the power blade submerged and parallel to the craft's direction of movement. When the right blade comes about level with your hip, bend the right arm to lift it from the water as your left arm extends fully forward. Flex your right wrist to cant the left paddle blade to its entry position, and maintain that "cocked" position as you pull--and push--the left blade through the water.

Sweep Stroke
To turn a kayak without killing its forward motion, perform a sweep stroke. Say you want to make a left turn. Extend your right arm fully forward and dip the paddle as far ahead as you can near the bow. Then, instead of pulling it parallel to the kayak, describe a broad arc on the right side, keeping that arm completely extended and twisting your upper body around and leaning toward the right paddle. When it's nearly to the stern, pull it from the water and perform a regular power stroke on your left side. Repeat the right-side sweep stroke until you've nosed toward the desired direction; just a few of them, alternating with the opposite power stroke, are usually enough to turn you completely around.