Forward Paddle Stroke - Sea Kayak

In Derek Hutchinson’s book “The Complete Book of Sea Kayaking” the author writes:

“The body should be upright and curved slightly forwards. NEVER LEAN BACKWARDS.”

He doesn’t say why we should never lean backwards… not on the next few pages anyway. Anyone know why?

forward stroke
as you paddle the pivot point of the boat moves forward so leaning slightly forward keeps the boat in trim while you are paddling


“Never Lean Backwards”
“because something might be gaining on you”, Oh, wait, that was somebody elses quote.

I believe its because a slight forward lean allows the paddler to have better control of the boat especially engaging the hips. In whitewater circles the instructors are always stressing to avoid leaning back. If you get lazy and lean back in the low volume whitewater boats you can easily catch an edge and be flipped in the waves.

Hard to rotate

– Last Updated: Oct-26-06 6:19 PM EST –

Much harder for most to rotate properly if leaning back, also gets in the way of pedaling motion when needed by putting more stress on the low back. (editing for yet another bad spelling/typing moment)

Guys like me
lean back and fall asleep !

Good paddling posture promotes good torso rotation because it grants you access to the range of motion needed. Leaning back promotes arm paddling by inhibiting this range of motion. You cannot rotate the torso when all your weight is leaning back onto the backband or (heaven forbid) backrest.

Simply put, its easier to rotate the torso if you are sitting up straight, or with a slightly forward lean. Paddling is an athletic endeavor, need to sit in an athletic position. Also as another previous poster put it, you may need a more agressive stance for more agressive conditions.


Must be a natural thing.
I just commented to my wife (paddling partner) the other day that I am surprised when people complain about their seat backs.

I never use mine.

Well maybe if I am on a smell the lilly pad paddle, but most other times I am always forward.



Inefficient stroke
Leaning back will make for an inefficient stroke. Leaning forward will allow the paddler to make the best use of body/boat/blade.

With all the stroking we guys do, it’s important to keep it efficient.

Leaning back will
inhibit your body rotation and keep you from obtaining the most efficient paddle stroke. One thing I have found intersting is that you can get more stability from a kayak when you lean back. Maybe thats why some people like to paddle that way. If you get into conditions that make you feel uncomfortable, try it.

it’s the…

– Last Updated: Oct-26-06 9:41 PM EST –

...mating ritual for the welsh sea monster.

You don't want to attract unnecessary attention.

thanks LOL really no lie lol (NM)

look at the spine
if you lean back you’ll be leaning on the back rest, pressure going back is not pressure going forward.

Also it blocks movement/hip rotation at the point where you’re resting.

the “barcalounger” paddling position does go best with sipping a hot toddy from the travel mug in the cup holder while drifing among marsh grasses. Going to be converting to that before long up here - it’s getting nippy for outside roll practice.

Seriously, one thing that Hutchinson is probably trying to discourage with that comment is the tendency of many, myself included, to handle following seas by leaning back and ruddering rather than using a more forward position and strokes for maintaining forward speed and directional control. Not that leaning back is entirely ineffective, it’s just not always going to be the most effective response.

Boy - - I don’t know about you folks -
I did a rental tandem a couple years ago, and the back band/seat was busted. It wouldn’t stay up. My back and hips were killing me after 5 miles.

I have had back problems in the past, but nothing that kept me away from most normal activities. (I’m not gonna be doing competative weight lifting for sure) I’m also one of those folks who has never been able to touch there toes without doing squats - - It ain’t gonna happen. Even when I ran high school cross country, I couldn’t do it. Warm up excersises do very little - Lifting the boat off the truck has the same affect as 30 minutes of trying to stretch except stretching is tripple the pain. (Who wants Tylenol after stretching.

The original plastic seats in my old sea lion are gonna have to be padded out so that the back band/rest/whatever applies pressure to the lower back better than it does. If not, I’ll be done in 10 miles, and you’ll have to pry me out of the boat and unfold me.

The Reason I Ask…

– Last Updated: Oct-28-06 6:03 AM EST –

Being a bicycle person, I'm always comparing the kayak thing to the bike thing. On the bike the handlebars are designed for you to change positions for comfort and aerodynamics. Bikers routinely move the butt forward or backward on the saddle for comfort or leverage.

I've been on some very long paddle trips and switched from leaning forward to leaning backward occasionally for comfort. I arrived safe and sound at the destination right along with my buddies. Then I read that Derek Hutchinson says I should never have done that.

Taking A General Prescriptive…

– Last Updated: Oct-28-06 6:20 AM EST –

and making it an absolute prescriptive is... well, taking it too far.

As stated above a slightly aggressive forward posture allows one to engage the torso more and the stroke becomes more efficient. If you're in shape and racing, then you can maintain the posture much longer. If not and various parts of your body begin to tired or strain, you will obviously make brief adjustments to give some relief but you know it would be a loss of some efficiency for comfort.

On a bike, you may move your butt back and forth, but if you're racing, you know staying tucked will give you better aereodynamics. However, if your arms are cramping up (now they have those elbow/forearm rests on the handle bars...), then of course you may pop up to give the arms a rest, or to stretch your back. But, you do it knowing full well that you are losing a certain amount of efficiency because you're not longer as aereodynamic.


If you lean back . . .
even just a little bit, and occasionally at first, then – before you know it – it becomes a habit. Then you’ll be doing it all the time. And then you’ll become “laid back.” And that in itself is pretty dangerous. Who knows, you might grow your hair long, quit your job, start paddling every day, and write a book about kayaking – maybe one that’s even better than Derek Hutchinson’s. (I think that’s the reason for the warning).

Yulester if you get a chance,
try moving your foot pegs back towards you a couple clicks just to see how you like it … bet it feel pretty good.

all I know is
the best thing I did to my kayak was remove the backband. Sounds silly right? But for me I found myself using it when I really didn’t need it. I think that by having it in place, I unconsciously used it when i could simply straighten my back and have better paddling posture without it. With the backband in place, I found myself wanting to lean back into it to get comfortable and while not paddling this was great but on the move it was crippling to me. After several years of paddling without it, I can tell you the difference to me between using a backband and not using a backband is dramatic. It is a crutch I never needed but enjoyed while not moving. Thing is when I am in a kayak I spend very little time lounging.

My forward stroke improved by leaps and bounds by improving the position of my spine and engaging my lower body to fully realize a better torso rotation by leaning slightly forward. Boat control also improved by leaps and bounds.