Hand position "kayak paddle"??

I’m really enjoying my 1st couple of outings with my yak and my 1st priority has been working on proper form.

I’ve received alot of useful advice on this forum and have yet another question regarding hand position.

Is there a formula to use for proper hand placement,is shoulder distant a good starting point or is the answer simply what feels the best.

While on the topic,

do most grip the paddle like a bat or do you rest your thumb on top.

one rule of thumb
Hold the paddle horizontally and place the center of the shaft on top of your head. Adjust your hands until your elbows form 90-degree angles.

There are some good animations here:


As a start
Put your paddle horizontal on top of your head. With your elbows bent at 90 degrees grab on both sides.


Thumbs under. Loose grip.

use the method above as a start
then go with what feels best.

One of the first things that I did when I got into kayaking was that I took a couple of paddling classes. They’re the best thing that I could have done - it helped me with proper paddling form (torsoe rotation) and rescues.

agree with all of the above
and found Brent Reitz’s “forward stroke” DVD useful too

Did not look @ links but would say…

– Last Updated: Mar-11-08 8:13 AM EST –

closer to 80/85 degrees through an imaginary line through the MIDDLE of your elbow/arm .... this is more accurate than generic 90 which never specifys.

Measure the distance between your hands, center on shaft and place a couple pieces of tape @ the above # where measured. I like to put tape @ inboard-of-thumbs orientation.

Synapsized functions:

NOT set in stone you should stay here but this is your ( close to) max torque position of sorts / reference point and tape is nice to have as you play around with grip spacing AND allows you to experiment with paddle simulated lengths as well as letting you know whats going on with your hands as you paddle in a (cross ) wind.

why 90-degree?
Is there any logic behind this 90-degree angle for double-bladed paddling?

I have seen this advice for single blade paddling too, and there it is complete nonsense.

Thumbs on top
is called a “Monkey Grip”.

Great way to lose control of the paddle at the most inopportune moment. Thumbs go on bottom, and no death grips.


Part of avoiding injury
If you do the rest of it right too. That angle makes that part easier to do with power.

Or you could go out and hurt yourself…

90 degree is a trick
here is why… most beginning kayakers tend to place their hands too close together. Their hands tend to drift even closer as they paddle until they are stuck in a position of mostly “arm” paddling. (Hands too close can also be very hard on wrists.) So when you say about 90 degrees you are setting a reference point that most beginners will come up short of anyway. If they do ‘get it right’ at 90 degrees their hands will drift together as they paddle into a more comfortable position.

It is also related to a torso rotation exercise. Move your hands as far apart as possible on the shaft and paddle forward. This is very hard to do unless you engage a bit of torso rotation. The idea is that the wider your hands are the more torso rotation you need. As it relates to the above paragraph - the ‘90 degree’ encourages torso rotation in beginners.

that makes sense, but why than
90 degrees, and not somewhat wider than shoulderwidth?

Newbie W/A Book
I’ve got a kayaking book from my library, “Sea Kayaking Illustrated”. For paddling, it says to keep your right hand firm on the paddle; this is the control hand and let the paddle swivel freely through your left hand.

I’ve haven’t practiced this yet. I have been grasping firmly w/both hands.


Feathered or Unfeathered?
Control hand is a moot point if you paddle with the blades unfeathered (in line with no offset).

A liaght touch is always the best, even with your control hand.


Lose the control hand part

– Last Updated: Mar-11-08 1:39 PM EST –

That's likely an older book. The current idea about the control hand is that the control hand is whichever one is closer to the water at a given point in the stroke. (Try talking to a leftie about how well the instruction in that book works...)

Also, to help prevent needlessly beating up your hands and wrists from too much tension, practice fully opening up the hand that is furthest from the water as it moves forward in the stroke.

As jsaults mentions, it's easier at first to practice this unfeathered or with very little feather, like 20 degrees or under.

compromise I guess, plus…
it gives an actual reference point to measure. If you tell people to hold the paddle slightly wider than shoulder width, and then put the paddle on top of their head, you will find that often they are still less than 90 degrees.

What we do with our bodies and what we think we do with our bodies can be very different.

I also thought what if a person was a leftie.

The book’s copyright date is 2003.


P.S. - I just noticed a warning on the copyright page. It says the book does not replace instruction by a qualified instructor nor is it to substitute for good personal judgment…it is understood you paddle at your own risk.

I have to admit, in a class last summer with Ben Lawry there was a guy who was a relatively new kayaker who had been inculcated with the right control hand thing. It became pretty comical as, throughout the day’s class, this guy kept trying to tell Ben why it was right and Ben kept explaining why it wasn’t. They managed to match stubborn for stubborn pretty well.

But even if there are some out there promoting it, they are not the dominant voice these days. Do the stuff in the above replies.

This article
Take a look, found under Guidelines on this site:


I guess I won’t be trying that hand movement. It kind of bothers me that some people will get the same book and think that is the way to paddle. He did put a disclaimer in the book that most people won’t notice and even think to second guess him since he’s supposed to be writing as an experienced paddler. The book is by John Robison.