Forward Stroke Technique

Having paddled for a few months on my own (e.g. without formal instruction), I have experimented with several forward stroke “styles”.

Last night I took an instro sea kayaking class and the instructor used a style where the upper “push” hand was pretty much straight. Much like in this video:

Now the question. I’ve paddled tried paddling like that but seem to find it more comfortable to keep my push hand bent somewhat rather than near straight or straight.

I was watching another instructor do a forward stroke instruction and he does it much like I try to do it - with the push hand bent.

Sample here:

So, I’m curious to get some discussion going on the benefits and when to use each style.

Both look good
But notice in the first video how much they rotate thier torso, whatever style you use that is what you want. The sraighter your arms the more you are forced to rotate your trunk. Both videos demonstrate good rotation though.


All depends
If you want to go fast go with #1

#2 if speed is not your thing.


Check out type of paddle being used
In the first video I am pretty sure they are using wing paddles and the appropriate technique for wings. In the second video it looks like a typical Euro paddle.

I paddle with a GP these days, but from my memory it seems it was a easier to use a high angle stroke very close to the kayak if there was a little bend in the elbow to help keep the blade close to the kayak as you rotate. With wing paddles paddlers do not worry as much about keeping the blade right against the kayak during the stroke (moving out a little is actually for efficient with the wings).

My limited take on the issue from experimenting some time ago.


good observations
There really isn’t much advantage to keeping the blade close to the kayak during the stroke with a ‘euro’ paddle. It is probably more efficient for either stroke to use the wing technique you described - letting the blade move away from the kayak.

Is not needing to keep
the blade close to the kayak with a Euro blade a relatively new concept? Years ago when I was getting Euro instruction (especially BCU) they made a big deal of needing to keep the blade close to kayak for maximum efficiency.

I have not kept up with current teaching trends. Is what you are saying generally accepted by instructors today or is it more of a personal observation? Some recent use of a Euro paddle had me thinking the same as you, but since it contradicted what I had been taught I just figured I was doing something wrong.


old but not well known
Manipulating the path of the paddle goes back to at least the 1980’s, but only for Olympic sprint paddlers. This was in the pre-wing days, and there is much belief that the development of the wing was due to observation of what those kayakers were doing.

Keeping the paddle next to the boat certainly reduces yaw. Farther away from the midline of the boat, the more that some of the power will have a turning effect.

Keeping the water side (lower) arm straighter, and making the paddle slice slightly away from the boat, can influence three things. One, it does promote greater use of the torso instead of simple humeral extension (arm pulling past the sideline of the body). Two, the flow across the blade is more uniform, reducing flutter from alternating vortex shedding, even possibly creating a bit of lift. Third, the blade angle stays more perpendicular to the direction of thrust throughout the stroke (not “fanning” the water). But, as the paddle moves away from the boat, there may be some bit of yaw that is imparted to the boat. This is not as bad as keeping as when the paddle is held in a lower angle, as the angle of attack of the blade is very different.

Which way is best? The latter may be harder to coach, and even to understand. There is, obviously, a bit of a continuum between the two as well.

Like so much in paddle strokes, it comes down to balancing one inefficiency to gain an efficiency. There may never be just one way.


you measure yourself using various techniques, and amassing enough data using a GPS and a heart rate monitor to determine “best”.

The results might surprise.

it could have been a couple of things
first, the trend toward shorter paddles meant that the blade was kept closer to the kayak in a generic way. Meaning, you couldn’t use a low angle stroke very well if you had a shorter paddle. People using a longer paddle/low angle are more likely to paddle with an arcing motion of the blade near the surface of the water. So you stick a shorter paddle in their hand and tell them, keep the blade closer to the boat it is more efficient. A pretty generic/over simplified way of saying things, but for a lot of people the change was very dramatic.

second, trends change. So it could have been a few years ago that keeping the blade close through out was popular at the time, but has changed since then.

I haven’t had a sneak peak at Ben Lawry’s new Forward Stroke DVD, nor have I talked with him recently, so things might have changed. But the last time I spoke with him about the forward stroke and efficiency he said something along the lines of this… You could give someone a wing paddle and teach them ‘wing technique’ and they will go faster, sure. Or, you could leave them with their ‘euro’ paddle and teach them ‘wing technique’ and they will go faster as well. In fact, they will probably have better performance increase learning really great technique and using a ‘euro’ paddle, than using a wing paddle with sloppy technique.

Ben could have changed his mind since then, he could be totally off, or I could have misunderstood what he meant. I thought I have heard the same sentiment regarding forward stroke from others though.

racing v.touring

– Last Updated: Jun-26-08 5:40 AM EST –

the first video was obviously a competitive racer the second seemed more designed for the long distance tourer-----Maybe that's the diffence---another difference could be that one, the first one, seemed more of a high angle stroke to me, while the second seemed to have less of an angle--Hi Ken---been paddling much?

Slanted stroke

– Last Updated: Jun-26-08 10:32 AM EST –

I've tried the stroke similar to the "first" video, where they use the wing paddles. I tried it with a regular Euro paddle and it seems to work very well, precisely for the benefits outlined above: better use of the body rotation and less reliance on arm pull, plus the slight off-center direction does not seem to affect the boat direction much if at all.

However, I seem to fall back to my more relaxed way of paddling shown in the second video.

I have not had the chance or equipment to measure how each performs for me with my boat and paddle, but my general "feeling" is that the first works well if I want to go fast, where the second works better if I want to go far.

Is there a way to make the first type of stroke acceptable for longer distance paddling (2+ hours at a time)? Or is it better suited for shorter sprint-type paddling and that there is nothing "better" than the second approach for longer distances (paddle type such as GP vs. Euro aside)?

I also watched this video that seems to show many paddlers use a stroke in this surf ski race very similar to what I am trying to use, with slightly bent foreward arm. I guess it is not considered "bad form" to bend your forward arm...

In fact, I see that the rear arm is also bent much more than it is in the flat water races...

no right, no wrong
From the second video.

Learn them all. Switch them up to prevent repetitive motion irritation or injuries.

First clip is showing folks using wings.

Second clip – My first impression is that the paddle is too long, and the same technique with a shorter paddle would look cleaner.

Wing or not…

– Last Updated: Jun-26-08 1:55 PM EST –

My question was intended to be more on the straight vs. bent arm aspect. Front or rear arm.

The last video link I posted above and here again:

shows surf ski with wing paddles use them much like I tend to use my non-winged paddle in some cases.

I suppose, try and see what works. And I should try a wing paddle some day, may be even tonight if I'm lucky...

The other aspect of it - when to take the paddle out of the water. Looking at the first guy paddling in this video, he drags it much farther back than folks in flat water races.

But then, looking at the final sprint for Chalupski (?) he again straightenes his arms (the front more so) to gain speed. And he wins -;)