First paddle; couple of ???

OK. This morning I finally paddled a kayak! Demo of an Eddyline Nighthawk 17.5. I do have a couple of questions for you experienced kayakers.

  1. Paddled for 1.5 hours straight. A couple of very short (1 min) rests along the way. My feet got a bit numb and my lower back a bit tired.

    The kayak was equipped with a low back seat not backband. I had to take my feet off rests to stretch them a bit. Is this normal? I think i had the foot rests adjusted properly. A bit of bend in the knees , heels slightly towards each other. Easy to flex a bit and contact the thigh braces.

    Is this just a matter of getting used to kayaking? Same for the low back? How do i know if i should order low back seat or back brace?

  2. Kayak seemed to track more to the right. Assuming a straight hull why? I am right handed so i would think if anything more power on right and as a result track left, not right?

    Is it possible I was sweeping a bit on the left?

  3. Regarding torso rotation: is this correct, as I place blade in water on the right I rotate my torso to the right? Sort of pull with lower hand and lever (push) with upper hand. The torso rotation felt correct but its my first paddle so I’m not sure about this. BTW: my obliques are a bit sore. Not in the shape I thought I was. The 6 pack has become a keg!

  4. I was using a demo paddle measured just at 6x15 in. which is 90 sq. inches or 580 sq. c.m. I’m thinking I need more surface area. Although i got a good "grip’ on the water it felt like I could have moved a lot more water and subsequently gotten better speed if i had bigger paddle. I seem to be a high angle paddler. Just felt better than a more relaxed lower angle. I do have big shoulders and am pretty strong for my age. Not bragging just an observation. I think i need a wider yet shorter high angle paddle. How do I know? At $250 - $400 i want to make the right purchase first time around.

    In all a great experience. Felt very odd leaning to left edge to go right . I kept my upper body perpendicular to water to see how far i could lean. I was ready to brace but my mind did not allow me to push it. I was in some deep spring fed water and did not want to swim first time out.

    Now the question is do i enjoy this enough to drop big money on a kayak or am i better served just renting for $35 a day when the mood strikes. I have the boat tomorrow as well so I’ll see how it goes. i am tempted to hit the Gulf tomorrow. Wonder if I can make it from Florida to Mexico by Wed. morning.

    Thanks for the help.


Some of your problems may stem
from trying a new boat out for 1.5 hours with just short rests.

On the torso rotation, if you reach for a stroke on the right, your torso twists to the left. Once the blade is in and you pull, your torso unwinds toward the right. Almost certainly that was what you were doing, but you are probably describing what your paddle-side shoulder is doing, not the direction of twist of your torso.

Experiencing a bit of boat veer in early experience is not unusual.

Maybe you should sink some $$ into a good introductory class.

i know difference between torso and shoulder. Most certainly it was my torso (rectus and oblique muscle groups) that was twisting . My right shoulder was moving rearward (posterior) along the saggital (vertical) plane. As far as initially twisting the torso to the left when placing blade on the right, possibly. I’ll check it out tomorrow. RE: lessons. Not there yet. i am one of those stubborn self taught types. No offense to instructors or instruction but its just “not me”.

Good on you
1. Probably a combination of a new two you seating position, lack of adjustment and tenseness. Typically the seat bottom, seat back, thigh braces and foot pegs all have adjustment. It can take some time to get everything dialed in just the way you like it.

2. Probably you one way or the other.

3. Google “kayak forward stroke”. Lots of videos available.

4. Bigger is not necessarily better. Generally a smaller paddle and higher cadence is preferable to big paddle and a lot of oomph on each stroke. Lots of past discussion here on that subject if you search around.

A couple of thoughts
You are right handed? I bet you are more flexible on one side and leaving the paddle in the water longer over there. Or you are discounting the effect of a little wind too much. Most people paddle a little cockeyed at first.

Blade size - paddling stroke effectiveness is cadence over blade size. Make that blade to big, you can’t get the cadence. Don’t spend bucks on a big shoulder killing blade size until you have gotten some work on your stroke, and know for sure its likely impact.

Bad habits, asymmetry
Be careful - practice makes permanent. You can spend many months, or years, developing poor paddling, bracing and rolling techniques and discover you hate paddling because you are using all the wrong muscles. Then it will be very hard to break the bad habits.

For what it’s worth, I taught myself to roll. To this day, my off-side roll is way better than my on-side roll because I learned to do it correctly in a lesson and I’m still working to break the bad muscle memory of my self-taught on-side roll.

We all suffer some asymmetry - any yoga class will make that obvious. If you are experiencing more yaw to one direction than another, it is likely that you are either catching shorter on one side or finishing longer.

RE: blade size Celia:
I see your point. I guess what I’m asking is if I feel better with a higher angle stroke (and it did feel much better) do i buy a high angle paddle which appears to be wider and shorter or am i over thinking this?

Any input on back band vs backrest. I do want to learn proper posture and so I’m thinking a backrest is not a great idea.

High angle blades are different than low angle blade shapes, but I have been unable to see the diff just looking at them. The nature of the stroke means that for high angle paddling you usually get a shorter paddle - just one with the blade shape for a high angle style. Try paddling high angle with a paddle blade shape tuned for low angle and it feels quite awkward, even if the length is short.

I find that backbands are easier on my lumbar vertebrea, but proper fit is usually a combination of factors. I find that the angle of the seat pan is something can be very wrong for me.

if want to be self taught

– Last Updated: Jul-02-12 3:59 PM EST –

get some videos and books.
It's a lot easier to see what to do than read some description from a forum. Not that you shouldn't ask questions it's just way easier to understand various stroke mechanics from video than description.
The back of sea kayaker magazine usually has a big listing of videos and books
University of Sea Kayaking has a bunch of good videos.
Reitz's or Barton's forward stroke video are also good.
If you want to venture beyond the local pond there are some good books on touring, navigation and rescues.
As far as your tracking, it' likely you don't rotate as much on one side or your stroke is asymmetric. For your low back want to sit upright with out anything hindering rotation both for forward strokes and steering strokes. Once you learn what good technique is, it's best to go out and practice in small doses so you can keep good technique without getting tired and sloppy. Pushing too hard when starting out leads to bad habits and injury.
Work on core strength and flexibility in your off the water workouts.

high versus low angle

– Last Updated: Jul-02-12 6:01 PM EST –

I am with you in that high angle paddles are generally a fatter blade, where low angle are generally skinnier and longer (the GP or Aleut paddle being the extreme version of low angle). But I am also with Celia that there are plenty of exceptions to this generality. The extreme for high angle blade is the wing paddle, but that isn't always a short fat blade.

You should find what works for you and head that direction. But the way to find that is to try different paddles. In the article on the Forwards Stroke by BCU 5 star coach Mark Tozer in the current issue of California Kayaker (read online, he talks about ways to try different paddles to see what works.

Also, there are benefits to having a variety of paddles, and of having a spare on you when you paddle - so don't settle on just one. I generally carry a low angle and high angle paddle when I am out, and choose the one that is better for that day. If rock gardening or surfing, I use the high angle. If cruising distances, the low angle. Ginni Callahan, who teaches in both Baja and on the Columbia River, talks about how on trips she switches off on each day between a GP and Euro blade, so that she can work different muscles on different days.

Some Randow Thoughts About This
In addition to the good advice offered by better paddlers than me:

  • Spend some time focusing on the symmetry of your stroke. Is everything you are doing on one side the same as on the other.

  • One thing that I am working on is a bad habit of pulling back with my arm and thus bending my elbow on one side, which supplies less torso rotation on that side than on the other.

  • A more vertical angle stroke delivers more power when you need it for a situation, while shallow low angle strokes can be more for stabilizing and making corrections. A regular crusing stroke is somewhere in the middle. The instructor on one video I saw a long time ago said a stroke should feel like you are checking your watch on one wrist and then checking it on the other.

  • I have a 16’ Nighthawk, which I believe is a little lower volume and allows for better hip control. You may want to demo a 16’ to see what you think.


what nick said

– Last Updated: Jul-02-12 4:44 PM EST –

If you're asking questions about proper strokes and the proper blade you had better get some instructional sources - books, video, etc. This all relates as you've found. Eventually you'll find the stroke you prefer but there will be reasons you prefer them which comes from experience and proper form. You're not overthinking but missing some factors. When you have the factors at hand it'll click.

First MONTH I paddled a kayak my leg went numb. I have a chronic back injury, bad L4 and L5 discs. Eventually it went away just as my numbness in my hands did after riding a bike again, once I did it regularly. I have to keep my torso in shape and maintain flexibility but I find sometimes I hardly notice the backband anymore.

I can straighten my legs while in the pegs but then I'm really locked in. Otherwise I have a slight bend.

I strayeds to one side as I'm sure most people do at first. Eventually this will go away with practice. I agree about making sure your stroke is symmetrical but ultimately you'll begin to think in terms of stroke combinations, and single strokes and course corrections will happen subconsciously.

the responses I got to my post about backbands. I used the term in a generic way in that post. As I noted my owners manual refers to seat back as a back brace. In all the literature I have read it goes by the term backband. There was lots of good insight in that thread.

I don’t share your scepticism.
I taught myself both kayak and c-1 rolls, and reached a high degree of reliability. I learned canoe and kayak strokes on my own, and everything has worked fine.

When my c-1 roll temporarily went bad, I paid for private instruction from a very competent instructor, and he couldn’t fix it. So he took me into the rapids and tricked me into flipping in a rapid, and I was up instantly.

If the guy fails on his own, he can go and get instruction. It doesn’t hurt, but it may not help.

Tracking might be edging, not stroke
Your stroke might be perfectly symmetrical and your body position might be the problem. The boat might be edging all of the time and that is what makes it turn. Pay attention to how the boat leans when you paddle and you might catch yourself rocking slightly when paddling on one side vs. the other. It’s still a bit of a stroke problem but not one from pulling too hard or sweeping too wide on one side.

I am an amateur and might be completely off base but it’s something to think about.

Heck, my kayak had a bend in it from years of rental abuse and I had to do a bit of heating and bending to get it straight before paddling it. Maybe you paddled a bum boat (but probably not).

Greenland and Aleutian paddles
can be paddled high angle too.

“Low angle” and “High angle” are just reference point, and extreme ones at that. Some people are moderately low angle paddlers,some moderately high angle paddlers. Marketing that condenses the meanings.

Experiment and find your own style.

Personally I would not obsess in these very early stages about flawless torso rotation. Just get comfortable in your boat and get your paddling muscles acclimated. Then you can move on to the subtle skills.

See if you can wait before you buy a top of the line carbon paddle (Euro or Greenland)

Get a good paddle (see below)first and figure oiut what’s going on w. your stroke, and whether you tend to the low or high angle part of the spectrum. Those are a cluster of goals, and you need time and biofeedback to reach them.

for now get a good paddle (fiberglass blade, a carbon or fiberglass shaft) or one of the fine wooden shaft Euros that are made by various companies. Get w. a local greenland group and try a stick - you might like it, and you can always make one, or buy one from a local paddlemaker, for far less than a top of the line carbon Euro.

Carbon top of the line greenland paddles cost about as much, so start w. something simple and wooden if you go that route, as there are many subtle differences in length, width, loom length, shoulder, blade thickness, loom shape, etc.

In any case, your first kayak paddle can serve honorably as a trusted spare, a shallow river’s day paddle, a guest paddle, etc. Then go and get the high end one for which you secretly lust, if said lust remains.

Move the boat, not the water
Welcome. You’ve gotten some good comments so far.

I wanted to address your comment; "Although i got a good “grip’ on the water it felt like I could have moved a lot more water and subsequently gotten better speed if i had bigger paddle.”.

Getting a good mental image of your kayak forward stroke will help you to progress faster.

I recommend that you throw-away the mental image that you are moving water with your paddle. Instead, I recommend that you adopt the mental image that you “stick” the paddle into water (imagine it is stuck in mud), and you lever your boat and body past the stationary paddle.

In a kayaker with a strong stroke, the paddle exits the water at virtually the same point where it went in.

There’s time to delve into the finer points of technique, but sometimes just changing the way you think about something can make big improvements to your technique.

Greg Stamer

This was
one of the very first things I learned about when I knew for sure I was getting a kayak, and I started watching video clips about paddling. Now every time I paddle I spend some time really thinking about “move the boat not the water”. Plant the paddle pull the boat past the planted paddle blade. It is becoming more instinctive with practice.